Friday, November 06, 2009

Shel's burial

Thanks, Ellis, for the invitation to join the group. Someone had sent me an invitation years ago--it may have been you, Ellis, but I don't recall at this point. Back then when I saw that I had to register for a Google account to join, I ignored it. During the intervening years, I established a Google account for other reasons, so this time it was easy to join.

It was good to see many of you at Shel's burial on Wednesday. I have some photos of Shel from the '80s, so one of these days I should scan and post them. My relationship with Shel back then was contentious at times--as some of you may remember. I lived two blocks from him so I saw him in situations that maybe others didn't usually see him in. Sometimes he didn't have very good boundaries and, heaven knows, I could be really tactless. I was still in the process of coming to terms with being gay back in 1987-'88. Shel remained in the closet all his life, as far as I know, so this also caused conflict between us--more conflict then I realized at the time. Only in retrospect years later did I realize some things that were going on--Shel never approached me directly about problems he had with me.

When I moved back to San Diego in the late '90s, however, he phoned me and we re-established contact. It had been long enough that any contentions had been left in the past--at least as far as I was concerned--Shel and I never confronted each other with any conflicts. He and I spoke on the phone every once in a while--often he encouraged me to attend SCCS meetings, which I'd gone with him to several times back in the '80s. But I didn't, and actually never ended up seeing Shel until he was in the hospital last year. Last time we spoke on the phone was maybe 2002. I know he attended the Con in 2003, because someone sent me photos he'd taken of me at my booth talking to a mutual friend. I was disappointed that Shel hadn't come forward to say hi because I would've liked to see him.

Every once in a while I'd say to myselft that I needed to go visit Shel. I didn't get to Ocean Beach much any more, but every time I drove out there, I'd drive by my old place and because it was on the same street as Shel's place, I'd drive by Shel's too. But I never stopped. I ran into Ben Herrera at the San Diego Con in July 2008. He mentioned Shel and I said I'd been meaning to go visit Shel sometime. Ben said to call him when I went because he'd like to go too. Steve Schanes sent out a letter last December to friends of Shel, announcing that Shel was in the hospital and would appreciate visitors. So I decided that if I was going to see Shel, I'd better do it quick. I called Ben and we made arrangements to meet at the hospital. I was late, so Ben and his girlfriend were leaving when I got there.

I went up by myself to see Shel. He was in a hospital bed asleep. Ben had mentioned that Shel was in bad shaped and not really responsive but that the attendants had told him that Shel was taking in what people said, even though he looked like he was asleep. I was prepared to see Shel in really bad shape, but when I got up to his room, he didn't look as bad as I feared. He looked basically the same as I remembered from the last time I'd seen him about 18 years before. So I stayed for about half an hour, telling him what was going on with me, talking about people we both knew, saying whatever came to mind that I thought might interest him. I don't know if he heard me. He was a little restless, and every so often some nurse or doctor would come in to take some little test. They always called him "Sheldon," which sounded weird to me. I'd always known him as Shel.

I called Steve Schanes afterward, because I had no idea if Shel had anyone left to help him out in his situation. Steve said that Shel's brother was overseeing things and that a few other friends of Shel's were paying attention. I decided that I'd try to visit Shel again, but that plan slipped away in procrastination and the call of other things in my life.

So it was a bit of a surprise on Tuesday when David poked his head into my studio to tell me that Jeff had posted on Facebook that Shel had died. It wasn't so surprising that it had happened at last, just surprising that it was now. I'm working on Age of Bronze issue #30 currently. Interestingly, When David told me about Shel, I was penciling the character in the story who has some physical and personality characteristics that I based on Shel Dorf.

Anyway, at the burial on Wednesday, I did a lot of remembering of times with Shel Dorf, a number of memories that I hadn't thought about in years. All the tributes to Shel about him being the father of Comic Con he deserves and it's good to see him getting that credit. However, that's not the side of Shel I knew very well. When I knew him best, his relationship with Comic Con had begun to deteriorate and there was real friction. I also saw him during the time Milton Caniff and--just weeks later--Mrs. Caniff both died. That was a hard time for Shel personally, not just because he'd lost these close friends, but because it also meant his lettering job on Steve Canyon was gone. I gave Shel a little advice about getting lettering work elsewhere, and he got a few jobs. Unfortunately, the experience of lettering Steve Canyon did not prepare him for lettering comic books and that didn't work out. Those were also the years Shel was boxing a lot of his comics memorabilia up to send to the comics archive at Ohio State. He was cleaning out the storage unit at his apartment complex. Part of it was just so that the University would have a lot of his Caniff-related stuff, but Shel was also sending them stuff that wasn't Caniff-related. I don't know the details, but I wonder if he was down-sizing because his income was shrinking. This was also about the time Blackthorne went out of business, so the Dick Tracy reprint books stopped.

This is getting gloomy. There were also good times with Shel. He took me to SCCS meetings, to Blackthorne, to a local paper company. First time I ever went to Souplantation and to the Corvette diner it was with Shel. Shel and I went to life drawing classes together at some night school in the eastern part of San Diego--I don't remember where now. Then we both attended life drawing at David Cody Weiss's place--that was before TAG--although I generally went with Brent Anderson to those sessions and Shel didn't attend them regularly. I think David Scroggy introduced me to Shel. Shel introduced me to Brent. He also introduced me to Jim Dunn, who I think most of you don't know. Jim assisted Shel for awhile on cleaning up the Dick Tracy reprints. Jim and I became friends and spent a lot of time talking over our frustrations with Shel.

One thing that Shel did for my partner David was to put him in touch with Willie Tuck, Caniff's secretary/business assistant. David was at NYU in the late '80s and one of his teachers was researching Kurt Weill. The Caniffs were good friends with the Weills and Milton Caniff had Kurt Weill's piano. After the Caniffs died, Shel arranged for Willie to loan David a bunch of Weill papers that had belonged to the Caniffs so that David's instructor could use them.

Anyway, that's enough--probably way too much. But I've been wanting to say some of this since Shel died.


Tom Carroll said...

A fitting tribute ... shades of gray, not black or white. Thanks so much for offering up your time and words.

rickart said...

Thanks for post, Eric. I hope we will have a chance to see some of your posts here in the future under happier circumstances.

MrGoodson2 said...

Shel was definitely full of vinegar. I made a couple of jokes about his hot temper and contentiousness with people I barely knew at the funeral and got laughs. Shel was flawed on that count almost to the point of it being schtick. He'd hear something mentioned about someone you didn't know he was mad at and the volcano would erupt. At that moment you'd be sure Shel would kill the guy if he was in the room.
Welome Eric. Great post

Jeff said...

Welcome Eric!! Thanks for posting that memorial of Shel. Good or bad it's comforting in a way to hear these stories. It makes that person real again.

It was nice seeing everyone in the same place. Just like old times.
Keep posting and post some drawings too!

ericshanower said...

Thanx, everyone. Don't worry, I'll post on other subjects eventually

Just a correction: I wrote above that Shel was at the San Diego con in 2003, but it was actually 2002.

Tom Moon said...

Yes Eric. Welcome. Thanks for the post. I'm sorry to say I never met Shel. He sounds like he was a great guy.

I look forward to seeing other posts and drawings from you. As you may know I'm a great fan of both your Age of Bronze and Oz series, plus I'm curious as to what other art projects, if any, you are at work on.