Remembering Shel Dorf, Founder of the San Diego Comic-Con

Posted by on December 16th, 2009 at 12:01 AM


R.C.Harvey, left, and Shel Dorf, right. Photo courtesy of R. C. Havey

The supreme irony of Shel Dorf’s last years is that what happened to him echoed the original sin in the comics industry. For virtually all of the 70-plus years of comic-book history, the industry’s continued prosperity has been built upon the four-color fantasies of longjohn legions—do-gooders in brightly colored costumes, all inspired, at first, by the startling newsstand success of Superman, a super-powered being invented by two Cleveland teenagers, who subsequently sold their rights to the character for a 1938 page rate, $130 total. The publisher of Superman’s exploits was no more grasping and venal than the publishers of other pulp periodicals at the time; publishers always took the rights to the material they published, and the creators were paid a fee or a salary, but they lost ownership. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented Superman, but, after accepting their check for his debut appearance in Action Comics No. 1 (dated June 1938), they no longer owned the character and weren’t, therefore, entitled to much of the revenue he brought in to the publisher. Syndicated comic-strip cartoonists were in the same boat: their syndicates owned the cartoonists’ creations. Like Siegel and Shuster and scores of syndicated comic strip cartoonists, Shel was not able to enjoy a reward commensurate with his creation.

Friends of Shel’s knew for months that it was only a matter of time. Plagued by diabetes, he had been hospitalized for over a year, dialysis three times a week. Finally, at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, November 3, Shel died of kidney failure. He was 76.

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2 Responses to “Remembering Shel Dorf, Founder of the San Diego Comic-Con”

  1. Russ Maheras says:

    Thanks for this great retrospective of Shel!

  2. […] a lengthy article about Shel by R.C. Harvey posted to The Comics Journal web site at It contains a lot of good biographical information and kind words of appreciation as well a some […]