Monday, July 8, 2024

Lettering: 1931 La Revue Yearbook

Birmingham-Southern College
Birmingham, Alabama

(Next post on Monday: IBM Typewriter “Lettering”)

Monday, July 1, 2024

Comics: Shel Dorf, Comics Fan and Collector, Convention Founder, and Letterer

Sheldon Lee “Shel” Dorf was born on July 5, 1933, in Detroit, Michigan. His paternal grandparents were Meyer and Sarah (Cohen) Dorf, both Russian immigrants. Meyer arrived in New York City on February 18, 1905. The 1910 United States Census said he had six children all of whom, except the youngest child, were born in Russia. The fourth child was Benjamin, who would become Dorf’s father. The family lived in Manhattan at 137 Allen Street. Sometime after the 1915 New York state census, the Dorfs moved from 225 East 10th Street to Detroit, Michigan. 

Detroit city directories said the Dorfs’ address was 9168 Goodwin. Benjamin was a clerk (1920), grocer (1922) and salesman (1928).

In the 1930 census, The family of six continued to live at 9168 Goodwin Avenue. Dorf’s father was naturalized and a self-employed commercial artist. 

On April 10, 1932, Benjamin married Sarah R. Goldener in Detroit. 

According to the 1940 census, Dorf (line 2) was the older brother of Michael. Their father was a candy salesman (enumerated on the previous sheet). The family of four lived in Detroit at 15369 La Salle Avenue.

The 1950 census counted Dorf (line 23), his parents and brother at 16808 Manor in Detroit. 

Dorf attended Cass Technical High School. 

Top row, fourth from left; 1951 Triangle yearbook

The Detroit Times, April 27, 1951, said
For the fourth time in seven years Cass Technical High School art students captured top honors in the American Automobile Association national safety poster contest, winning four of the six highest prizes in this year’s competition. 

... Sheldon Dorf, 17, of 16808 Manor, won second prize of $50 in the “Obey Your Safety patrol” division. 
He graduated in 1952. The yearbook said
The Cass Art Department is made up of students who have a particular talent in art, and who hope to follow some kind of work as a career. Graduates are usually first employed as apprentices, but become commercial illustrators, lettering and layout artists, sign writers, fashion artists, teachers, camp counsellors, occupational therapists, dental technicians, creative craftsmen, industrial designers, and art directors. Many continue to paint and are represented in local art exhibitions. A few are now nationally known artist[s].

Art Director & Studio News, September 1953, featured Detroit talent. In a contest, Dorf was one of the eight finalists. 
This month’s Art Director and Studio News cover was selected from over 100 entries submitted by Detroit artists and art directors for our “Art in Detroit” edition. Contest judges—a Detroit Art Director’s Club member, an artist, and one of our editors—sought fresh ideas and good design, and finally narrowed the field to eight well-executed covers. In addition to the winning design, submitted by Doug MacIntosh, these are the entries which reached the final round.

At age 19, Dorf had a job in the art department of the Detroit Free Press

The Free Press, April 23, 1965, announced the contents of its Sunday magazine which included: 
Dick Tracy, Meet Shel Dorf. Van Sauter inspects the world of the comics collectors by focusing on one Detroiter whose specialty is (who else?) the great detective Tracy himself. 
Dorf was a fan of Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould.  

From 1964 to 1968, Dorf was involved with the Detroit Triple Fan Fair, a comic book convention.

Dorf’s name appeared in two comic strips. 

Wayout by Ken Muse, May 1, 1967

Wayout by Ken Muse, February 24, 1968

The San Diego Union-Tribune (California), November 4, 2009, said
Mr. Dorf, a Detroit native, attended the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a freelance art designer in New York. But his life was changed early in 1970, when he helped his parents move from Detroit to pursue their retirement in Southern California. “He took one look at San Diego and said, ‘I’m staying here!’‚” recalled his brother, Michael Dorf.
In the Comic-Con International 2009 Souvenir Book, Robert C. Harvey said Dorf moved, in fall of 1969, to San Diego where his parents had retired. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune said
A prominent collector of “Dick Tracy” comics and memorabilia, Mr. Dorf had run Detroit’s “Triple Fan Fest,” a convention dedicated to comics, sci-fi science fiction and movies. When he met Ken Krueger, owner of Alert Books in Ocean Beach, they and a band of teenaged enthusiasts began planning something similar for San Diego.
According to the San Diego Union, March 21, 1970, their first convention was called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon. The paper said
Getting the material together is the job of Shel Dorf, a Clairemont commercial artist who arrived here last May from Detroit with the dream of establishing a museum for what he calls “comic strip art.”
The Union, July 23, 1970, announced the second convention.
Comic Book Fans Slate ‘Convention’
Jack Kirby, originator of comic book super hero Captain America, will be the guest of honor at San Diego’s second Golden State Comic-Con Aug. 1–3 at the U.S. Grant Hotel. …
The Union, August 2, 1970, covered the convention.
Comics Connoisseurs Here for Golden State Convention
More than 200 persons who take their funnies seriously gathered in the U. S. Grant Hotel yesterday for the start of the first San Diego Golden State Comics Convention. …
Most of the article was about Ray Bradbury. Additional information about the San Diego Comic-Con is in Comics, Between the Panels (1998). 

Below are selected San Diego Comic-Con items.

RBCC #81, 1971


The Monster Times #16, October 18, 1972, convention report

Mirk-Wood Times #5, 1973






The Comics Journal #57, Summer 1980





In Graphic Story World #6, July 1972, Dorf wrote about collecting comics, writing to cartoonists, and meeting comics dealers. 

The National City Star-News (California), February 15, 1973, published an article about Wonder Woman and comics collectors. 
... Shel Dorf, 39, a pasteup artist for The Star-News, is another collector. In fact, he organized conventions for the last three years in San Diego—800 collectors attended the 1972 gathering at the Hotel El Cortez. 

“People collect comics for the same reason people collect stamps—for the artwork,” Dorf said. ...
San Diego city directories, from 1971 to 1975, listed Dorf, a commercial artist, and his retired parents at 3133 Clairemont Drive, Apartment 2. The 1976 directory said Dorf’s address was 2144 Abbott Street.

In Meanwhile—: A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon (2007), Robert C. Harvey described how Dorf started lettering Steve Canyon.
... [Letterer Frank] Engli’s first replacement didn’t work out. …

For a brief time, he [Caniff] lettered the strip himself. As he did, he’d mutter about the tedium. Once Willie, hovering near the drawing board as she went about her duties, overheard him.

“You know who can do the lettering?” she said. “Sheldon Dorf.” “Oh, no,” Caniff said. “It would scare him to death.”

He had known Dorf for several years. Living in San Diego, Shel had been a frequent visitor to Palm Springs. The more Caniff thought about it, the more he realized that Willie was right. He broached the subject with a cautious note to Shel in September 1975: “How is your strip-quality lettering looking these days? Lemme see, hmmm?” Dorf was flabbergasted—honored, flattered, intimidated. But he did well enough on a test run. His first published lettering in Steve Canyon appeared on December 1, 1975, and he would letter the strip until it ended June 5, 1988. …
Steve Canyon, December 1, 1975

In Cartoonist Profiles #81, March 1989, Dorf said
… I absolutely hated the first month of lettering I did. It was awful. I had been doing layout and design graphics and had not done lettering since high school (Cass Tech in Detroit). As a child my father gave me cartoon lessons from the Landon course he found in a used bookstore. Lettering was part of those lessons. After I got the job with Milt, Dad was so proud his son’s lettering was seen all over the world (including the evening San Diego paper). But like I say, the first month I did was awful. I hadn’t found the right pen and I was tense. But I guess Milt knew that by repetition I would improve.

It was important for me to follow the style Frank Engli had established. A photo in this very publication showed me that Engli was right-handed. I was fighting the pen he used because I am a leftie! So I ended up using an Osmiroid Left Handed Medium Italic fountain pen (which I dipped). From that time on the lettering improved. …

... I always used Higgins “Black Magic” ink. We worked on Strathmore 3-ply kid finish Bristol board. … 
Milton Caniff and Dorf, 1974 San Diego Comic-Con. Photo © Alex Jay

Dorf’s father passed away on May 1, 1981. 

A full-page of Dorf’s lettering appeared in Cartoonist Profiles #62, June 1984. 

Milton Caniff passed away on April 3, 1988. Below are the last two Steve Canyon strips published on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5, 1988.

Dorf advertised in Cartoonist Profiles #90, June 1991.

Comic Book Marketplace #12, April 1992, published Dorf’s four-page story “Dick Tracy and Me”. 

Dorf had a half-page profile in the The National Cartoonists Society Album 1996.

In 1994 Dorf created a comic strip called “Family Popcorn” and was seeking a syndicate. He placed classified advertisements in Editor & Publisher for the weeks of June 18, 25, July 2 and 9.

Three years later, Dorf tried self-syndication for “Family Popcorn” whose characters talked about movies. The strip, drawn by Tom Reese, was announced in Editor & Publisher, February 15, 1997. 

Dorf had an entry in the Directory of Syndicates section of Editor & Publisher, August 2, 1997. 
Dorf, Shel Graphic Design.....DGI
PO Box 7531, San Diego, CA 92167
(619) 224-5224
Shel Dorf, Principal/Writer/Art Director
Tom Reese, Cartoonist
Dorf’s mother passed away on August 20, 1998. 

Comic Book Marketplace #72, October 1999, published Dorf’s letter about the San Diego Comic-Con.
Thought you might be interested in a few anecdotes about the San Diego ComicCon from the old days.

It wasn’t easy to find a home for our darling innocents, our nerdy, bookish folk who loved comics. I had a real fight with some of the hotels that did not take us seriously at all. But that was in 1970. Today, in 1999, we rent the largest amount of rooms of any convention all year long.

But who knew? Not me. I was just organizing the San Diego Con as an extension of what I did in Detroit in 1964. There, we called it “The Detroit Triple Fan Fair” and it was a joy to put it on. I still write to friends back in Detroit who were a part of it all. So when I moved here to San Diego in 1969, I did a new version of it here.

When I retired from it in 1984 I’d reached “burn-out.” I’d been in comic fandom for 40 years by then. It was time. Luck would have it that a good group of true believers kept it going and built it to the “Mega-Con” it is today. It does a lot of good for so many people. But through the years I realized that like everything in life, it had a dark side. 

For instance, host hotels originally focused on things one might not expect of a Comic Book gathering. Before the San Diego ComicCon moved to the Convention Center we had it at downtown hotels. I remember one of the hotel people asking me, “How big a bar bill can we expect?” I replied, “Hey, these are kids who read comic books, not a bunch of drunkards.” That ended the session, of course.

But unknown to many, we had to hire an all-night security staff early on because our darling “innocents” did some interesting things from time to time. One enterprising chap broke the lock on the hotel liquor storeroom and made off with several bottles of booze during the A.M. hours. Another propped the elevator doors open and rolled a grand piano down the shaft. One threw a heavy sand urn out of a window onto the lower roof and knocked out the air-conditioning for one side of the hotel (on one of the hottest weekends that summer). One kid put on a Superman cape and jumped from one hotel balcony to another (ten-story drop). Two dealers were robbed in their room of thousands of dollars.

One enterprising actress rented a dealer’s table to sell a frontal nude poster of herself. Nearly porno paintings appeared in the Art Show. X-Rated videos began to show up as well as “adult” material. Gays demanded their own panel and dance. (Why not?) Dealers were caught stealing from a neighbor who was late to get to his table in the morning. T and A books began to appear. “Working girls” were known to be around plying their services. A 3 A.M. a kid was spotted spray-painting the expensive wallpaper on the suite level of the hotel. (He was caught and went to jail.)

As a matter of fact, when ever a dealer caught a thief, security took him to a little office, several dealers came and identified their thousand dollar books and the thief went off to jail. All of this was done very discreetly, of course...but the headaches and problems were a bigger and bigger part of the Con.

Stolen original art would appear on a table of some innocent dealer who’d bought it not knowing it was stolen. Old enemies ran into each other and fights broke out. Counterfeit good were confiscated. But compared to all that, the good stuff far exceeded the bad.

Along that line, some really extraordinary people became a part of the “Con.” In 1973, we hastily set up the dealers room at the Sheraton Airport Inn on Harbor island. Two dealers came to me with major complaints about the way the sellers tables were arranged. One of the guys was Irving Bigman. The other dealer was Tom French. Tom, a draftsman who designed air conditioning systems for new homes. Layout was one of his skills. 

To their criticism I replied, “Listen, you guys, if you can find a better layout, go do it, but I have to open the doors to the public in 15 minutes!” So they quickly moved tables around and it was better. After the Con I told Tom French how much he improved the dealers room and since he was a local guy, I asked if he would like to be in charge of the dealers room. All it would involve was for him to attend a few meetings a years. He said, “OK.” Little did either of us know it would lead to a 25-year commitment for he and his wife Virginia.

As we grew, Tom’s skills...his easy way with people and his problem solving talents...would make him the most valued committee member the Con ever had. I say that with no hesitation. Tom and Virginia had friends all over the world due to their loving care with the dealers room and the “hunters” who populated it. He took our expansion in his stride. Nothing was too much of a challenge for Tom.

On the whole, the “dark side” had gotten weaker and weaker through the years. Overall, so much positive has happened, that all the negatives are forgotten.

I started the whole thing to honor those guys (and gals) who sit long hours at the drawing board all alone fighting once a year they can come out to meet their audience. The old-timers we honor were never treated this kindly in “the good ol’ days.” They’ve got some REAL horror stories to tell. But we give them their “last hurrahs” and money for original sketches. And maybe it all comes out in the end. I’d like to think so!
Shel Dorf, California
Dorf passed away on November 3, 2009, in San Diego. He was laid to rest at Home of Peace Cemetery

Further Reading
Bleeding Cool, No One Told Us We Couldn’t—The Founders of San Diego Comic-Con
Facebook, The Shel Dorf Fan Club-West Coast
News from ME, Shel Dorf, R.I.P.
Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2009, obituary
The New York Times, November 12, 2009, obituary
The Guardian, November 24, 2009, obituary by Mark Evanier
The Comics Reporter, Shel Dorf, 1933–2009
Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Shel Dorf (1933–2009) “The Supreme Fan of Comics”
Comics Buyer’s Guide #1342, August 6, 1999, Fandom Friendships
Milton Caniff Conversations (2002), Dorf’s two interviews with Caniff in 1978 and 1985
Comic Book Marketplace #16, August 1992, reprint of Dorf’s 1978 interview with Bill Gaines
Comic Book Artist #14, July 2001, Dorf’s interview with Wally Wood
San Diego Reader, July 21, 2022, In defense of San Diego Comic-Con co-founder Shel Dorf

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(Next post on Monday: 1931 La Revue Yearbook)