Sheldon Dorf – Key Founder of Comic-Con and OBcean – Focus of Rolling Stone Article

by on December 29, 2017 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Shel Dorf-ed

Editordude: the OB Rag has experienced a resurgence of interest around Sheldon Dorf, OBcean and one of the founders of Comic-Con, and the history of Comic-Con; we repost the following article about Sheldon, originally posted on July 21, 2017.

By Frank Gormlie

Sheldon Dorf was one of the founders of Comic-Con and he lived in Ocean Beach for many years. “Shel” was living in OB when I met him in the mid-1970s. He passed away at the age of 76 in 2009, but now he’s a key focus in a current Rolling Stone article, entitled “San Diego Comic-Con: The Untold History” by Chris Chafin.

It turns out Dorf was quite a character, even a tragic figure gathering from Chafin’s brief recounts of his early history. Here’s a quote about him from the article:

Many of the founders [of Comic-Con] would go on to successful careers. Barry Alfonso … Mike Towry … Richard Alf …  Scott Shaw … For Dorf, things were less smoothly. In a cruel bit of irony, the man whose primary asset was unabashed fandom and an ability to connect fans with creators – skills which he used to help found the most successful fan convention of all time – lived the bulk of his life feeling slighted by his creation and jealous of the younger people who found the creative and professional success he never had.

Though everyone interviewed for this article had positive things to say about Dorf’s involvement in the con – to a large extent, it was his idea – he was also a prickly personality, hard to get along with for even those who most wanted to support him. He died in 2009, alienated from the convention and having pushed away many of those he worked with.

Stories of his bad and inexplicable behavior are numerous, from personally handing out hundreds of free tickets to the convention at a San Diego shopping center in the days when tens of thousands of people were regularly attending, to sending an original founder a note on the birth of his child which said, “If you didn’t lose weight, your son will grow up ashamed of you.”

I met Sheldon in the 1970’s and here’s what I wrote upon his passing in early November 2009:

Sheldon Dorf dies – OBcean helped start Comic-Con

OCEAN BEACH, CA. I met Sheldon Dorf back in the mid-seventies here in Ocean Beach. The OB resident passed away on Tuesday, November 3rd, to diabetes complications. He was 76. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most culturally influential OBceans as he was a co-founder of San Diego’s now infamous Comic-Con.

Comic-Con – now the convention that draws tens of thousands every year to San Diego. The City jumps hoops just to keep the event local.

But I didn’t meet “Shel” over comics, or even art. He got involved, ever so briefly, with a local community group called Common Ground back in 1975. Common Ground, started by a handful of OB activists, became a coalition in an early attempt to field a progressive city council candidate that would represent all the beaches. It never went very far, after holding a district-wide convention of its own. We did hammer out some great planks, like “health care is a right,” props for mass transportation, and other stances ahead of our time.

I recall Shel remaining interested and he stayed on our mailing list. I never became friends with him, but he would always greet me when I ran into at the Post Office, library or xerox place.

Here’s today’s Union-Tribune obit:

Dick Tracy, Charlie Brown and the entire comic strip pantheon lost a friend yesterday, with the death of a Comic-Con founder. Sheldon “Shel” Dorf succumbed to diabetes-related complications at Sharp Memorial Hospital. He was 76.

Mr. Dorf, a resident of Ocean Beach, spent 15 years as a leader of the annual convention, serving on its organizing committee. But even before and after his time with the Con, Mr. Dorf was a tireless promoter of comics, their creators and fans.

“The guy just lived and breathed comics his whole life,” said Mark Evanier, a TV and comic book writer. “The Con was built on his passion and his cheerleading.”

For the remainder of the U-T obit, go here.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

AF July 21, 2017 at 12:59 pm

My Mother was Shel’s next door neighbor for almost 30 years. They both lived alone, in small cottages on Abbott St., and my Mom always made mention of how thoughtful Shel was. I would visit my Mom often and Shel would always give me a polite hello. It’s nice to see him remembered. Thanks O.B. Rag.


K.B. January 1, 2018 at 2:06 pm

The early years of Comic-Con were so different, but still wonderful. I saw Sheldon Dorf around but didn’t really know him. I was lucky to know two cartoonists that were very active in the Comic-Con in 1975-1976. They were Dave Stevens, creator of the “Rocketeer”, and John Pound Creator of “Howard the Duck”. I met the two of them while I was taking a ROP Applied Arts Occupation Class during high School. Both these talent men helped out in class and inspired many of the students. Stevens did his first ink sketch of the “Rocketeer “ while he sat next to me as we were talking. I was so excited years later when Disney did the Rocketeer movie!
The comic-Con at that time was in the El Cortez Hotel. There were about a dozen tables including a Star Trek table. I was able to sit around and talk with the artists for hours.
Sadly, Stevens died in his early fifties. Pound moved to Oregon and that is the last I heard about him.
My husband Ray (a cartoonist/animator) gave me a Rocketeer doll and book a few years back. These bring a flood of memories back of the Comic-Con in the early days.
Hats off to Sheldon Dorf and friends for bringing us the Comic-Con.


Geoffrey M Gersuk February 16, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Sheldon Dorf was my father’s first cousin. He was always a caring and loving person. When I attended UCSD, I visited him often. I remember the preparation he put into the first few conventions. He very much enjoyed his work, which was lettering for comic artists like Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon). He also had the ability to do some artwork. The family strongly adored him, and misses him.


Jacqueline Cummins January 29, 2020 at 10:13 am

Shel was a personal friend of mine whom I met at the OB post office. He went to monthly meetings with comic artists which he invited me to join him. I met several local comic artists there no to mention any names. One was published in papers all over the country. He introduced me to Ray Bradbury once when Bradbury was speaking in San Diego. I was a fan of Ray Bradbury back then. He also introduced me to Jack White with one of the local news channels and his wife. Jack had a comic store on University Ave or El Cajon Blvd in north park. I can never remember which of those two streets I’m on. For several years Shel gave me free tickets to the ComicCon. I was able to introduce my sons to the ComicCon this way and they could take their friends too. I met Shel’s brother once or twice and Shel had the opportunity to meet and talk with my father, a physicist. My memories of Shel will always remain in my heart.


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