Making Comic Books Respectable: You’re a Good Man, Richard Alf!

Ain’t no place nobby like San Diego, babies! I knew it when I transplanted from Boston during Prohibition, Lucky Lindy knew it when he test flew the Spirit of St. Louis here before making tracks for Paris and a geeky teen named Richard Alf knew it when he convinced fellow geek Sheldon Dorf from Michigan, not to mention Ray Bradbury, that America’s Finest City could also be America’s Comic City.

Smile, you’re at SDCC! Photo: Parka81

Not only does this swell apple have the keenest weather anywhere on this dizzy planet, but it’s also got a vibe that attracts, nay welcomes, the most creative, odd and inventive of funky souls. Whether you’re a tech industry torpedo, a bio-tech wiz, a jazzin’ musician, a visual artist, a jolly good writer or just all-around loose cannon, San Diego is waiting for you with open arms! Goths, geeks, punks, dorks, goobs, gamers, nerds, hippies, preppies, fashionistas, vintagistas, dancers, pin-ups, skaters, singers, slackers, surfers (I dig those Carlsbad surfers, I must say. Zowie!) and ghosties alike … San Diego makes room in its sunny and mild heart for all. Even America’s Mom lives in America’s City: Marion Ross of Happy Days, a.k.a. Mrs. Cunningham lives the quiet life on one of our crazy-beautiful beaches. What more comforting arms than that of Mrs. C? Been thinking about kissing off your burg and heading for the the sparkling limelight of L.A.? Skip it. Try San Diego: cleaner water, better coffee, snazzier bars and sunnier folk. Plus, we S.D. girls are plenty friendly and tend more toward the au naturel look. Ya keen?

So, what better place to invite all the geeks, the world over, to the biggest geek fest ever? San Diego Comic-Con is back in town, kids! I get myself to Comic-Con every year; being a ghostie girl, that’s easy beans. In fact, I’ve been there since the first big event in 1970 when one Richard Alf, Kearney High Schooler and a Detroit-transplant named Sheldon Dorf, after meeting via one of Alf’s regular ads in the back of Marvel comics to buy and sell comic books out of his parents’ garage, set up in town at the U.S. Grant Hotel: first attendees included sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury and comic book artist Jack Kirby.

San Diego Comic-Con Mural Photo: Jason Persse

Initially dubbed San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con, this three-day gathering was the birth of what would eventually become the wildly costumed, Hollywood-frenzied, world-media covered, global wingding more in line, business-wise, with France’s MIP and MIPCOM media conventions than a community garage sale and meet-up for comic geeks and their wares. Later knighted San Diego Comic-Con International, it and our fair city are now synonymous with comic geeks, fantasy and wicked hot cosplay the world over. They also now produce SDCC’s baby sister: WonderCon. Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg may not have been at the earliest shows, but I was!

I did a brief fly-by the year Alf took advantage of his matriculation as a U.C.S.D. music student and moved the Con to campus,even renting dorm rooms to attendees for “discounted rates”. Murder!  What a keen kid! No wonder he ended up in advertising and stocks. Tell me Campus Con wasn’t bonkers! Comic dorks, college scrubs and, unfortunately for their study needs, a meek Montessori group found themselves housed alongside each other in cramped quarters one week back in the early ’70s. Since then, if it’s a biotech dork dressed like The Flash or a college kitten dressed like a hot preschooler, it must be summertime in San Diego.

Even though Alf and his fellow founders delved into other passions throughout the years, Comic-Con would remain cognizant of its nexus. Savvy? At the 2009 show, Richard Alf, Mike Towry, Sheldon Dorf and Ken Kreuger were saluted and honoured by Comic-Con International. Eerily, all but Towry have now since passed away; the honours came too late and none too soon. San Diego State University had even been in the midst of researching the phenomenon that is SDCC and talking with Alf and Towry about their early days for S.D.S.U.’s Comic-Con Tales when Alf took ill.

Now, while I’d never met Richard Alf personally, I’d certainly seen him about town on occasion. Heck, I’ve been here since the 1930s; I’ve seen everyone on occasion. Plus, no one could miss those Central Casting, nerd glasses and beaming smile of the 6’6″ Alf! Last year, just prior to the commencement of the 2011 Con, while checking out all the pre-show jitters around town, I buzzed a dedication ceremony at the airport for San Diego’s newest tribute to the visionary mind. Running gleefully along San Diego International Airport’s pedestrian walkway hangs a mural titled The Sky’s the Limit, dedicated to the city’s aviation and cartooning history. Sweet kazoo, a city that appreciates animation! Snoopy, as the Red Baron, and Shel Dorf himself grace the mural’s colourful, historical tale. Who was there to help commemorate this embrace of flight and funny? Richard Alf and Mike Towry themselves.

"Sky's The Limit" mural, Lindbergh Field (Mr. Alf: second from the right) Photo: San Diego Int'l Airport archives
“Sky’s The Limit” mural, Lindbergh Field (Mr. Alf: second from the right) Photo: San Diego Int’l Airport archives

By the way, babies, I wish I’d had the ability to shutterbug as easily over the decades as you do today. Luckily for all of us, there were folks who did have such abilities and I refer you to the Richard Alf memorial website brought to you by the pips at The Museum of Modern Mythology and Pop Culture. You’ll find loads of snazzy snaps of the first Comic-Con Souvenir Book, the legendary Alf V-dub Bug and keen snaps of young Richard, Mike, Shel and more.

You’re a good man, Richard Alf. Rest in peace. Last year’s Comic-Con was just wild! This year’s is looking even finer than that! Thank you, Mr. Alf.
By the by, you can read Jennifer Devore’s (Hannah’s alter ego and a Comic-Con geek of the first level) 2010 SDCC Souvenir Book article on Peanuts (cited by TIME magazine, no less!) and her 2012 article on Tarzan (which garnered her a Meet & Greet with Dr. Jane Goodall!).
Abyssinia, cats!

 

Hannah Hart’s fave places to haunt online? JennyPop.net amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore & @JennyPopNet

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