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May 20, 2008


Rory Root, 1958-2008

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Rory Root, the prominent comics retailer, the owner of Comic Relief, a believer in the notion of comics as a book publishing field and a general comics industry advocate passed away at an Oakland hospital shortly after 4 PM local time on May 19. Initial reports indicate he had slipped into a coma following surgery for a ruptured hernia. Root was 50 years old.

Root told Sequential Tart in 2007 that he first sold comics at flea markets and in his mother's antique store. That interview and other written commentary suggests that Rory Root came into comics retail proper through the gaming industry, another loose confederation of businesses from the 1970s consisting of converted stores and start-ups run to great extent by fans of the field. He was a player in the Bay Area role-playing gaming group run by Arduin Grimoire creator Dave Hargrave. Attending the University of California at Berkeley, Root dropped out of school just before graduating with a degree in computer science in order to pursue a future in the retail end of the gaming industry.

Root managed The Gambit, a gaming store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. It closed in the early '80s, perhaps as soon as 1980. From there he moved into a staff position at Robert Beerbohm's comic book store, also on Telegraph, The Best of Two Worlds. (Sources dispute on whether there was an interim stop at Games of Berkeley, on Shattuck Avenue, and if Beerbohm's store was actually called "The Best of Both Worlds.") By the time he worked at TBOTW, Root had rediscovered comics as an adult, later citing Will Eisner's work as a spur to doing so. He was also a great lover of prose, which likely had some effect on his hope -- if not expectation -- that comics would become a vital participant in American book publishing. It was while at The Best of Two Worlds that Root began making some of the social, professional contacts by which he would eventually become known.

Root and then-partner Michael Patchen opened Comic Relief on April 15, 1987. "We were shooting for April 1st, All Fools Day, but like so many good things in the DM, shipped late," Root told Sequential Tart. (Patchen would leave the store in the mid-1990s.)

Root would put into a practice a philosophy of comics retailing that helped make Comic Relief one of the world's best comic shops, and perhaps this country's outright best. Root placed an early emphasis on trade paperbacks and collections as renewable stock and perennial sellers, a great number of which he kept, by necessity, in a space off the retail floor. He combined this stocking strategy with an enthusiasm for comics' wide range of reading options, a third position he staked that was neither the embrace of American superhero comic books as the one true use of the medium that many shops and major industry players advocated nor the rejection or pushing away of those comics that some of the leading art comics supporters believed in. He worked on his store's physical plant and lighting. He made Free Comic Book Day every day when it came to giving a kid his or her first comic. He made a point of hiring knowledgeable staff and emphasized their hand-selling to customers, something he was delighted to do himself given the opportunity.

"One time I saw him talking to a mother and young girl in the shop recommending comics, and he was pretty damn good at his job," Eric Reynolds told CR. "No hard sell, just supremely helpful."

Root's philosophy extended to all aspects of retail operation. He kept diverse the sources from where Comic Relief ordered books, and castigated shops that fell into a trap of servicing customers on specific pre-orders as opposed to having a wide-ranging stock and matching customers to books on the shelf. He eschewed maximizing profit on certain out-of-print or rare books in favor of getting them on the floor and into readers' hands. He supported joining booksellers associations, attending those trade shows and using those resources as well as any more specifically focused on comics. He embraced local creators and treated visiting comics professionals like guests in his home.

"Comic Relief was one of the first stores to carry my mini-comics when I was a teenager, and it was the first place that made me feel like I might have a future in this business," Adrian Tomine wrote in a note to CR when informed of Root's passing. "At the time, there were a few stores that were politely selling my comics on consignment, but CR was the one place that called me in Sacramento asking if they could get more copies because they'd sold out."

Root specifically encouraged young cartoonists of all stripes. He purchased loads of mini-comics and small press items to present them for sale, held a staggering number of signings and events, and became a fixture at and sometimes co-organizer of west coast conventions. This included the Bay Area shows but also San Diego's Comic-Con International, where his store's booth would by the early 2000s became one of the anchor locations on the floor for comics purchases and where Rory himself, perched on a stool, became one of the show's iconic figures.

"The news of Rory's passing really is devastating," Comic-Con International's David Glanzer said to CR. "He was such a good and long time friend of Comic-Con that it's difficult to believe he is no longer with us. When I first came on board at Comic-Con, Rory was one of the first to offer his help and opinion on anything having to do with the comics industry."

The end result of Root's hard work and that of several devoted staffers was one of the industry's first destination stores and a model for comics retail that made those who shopped there feel better about the possibilities of the medium. Comic Relief was in 1993 along with Moondog's and The Beguiling one of the first recipients of the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award, a lifetime honor that had gone to Root's store after a little more than a half-decade of operation.

One of Root's most important endeavors was to cultivate relationships with and facilitate sales to libraries and other, similar, secondary markets for comics, doing so as soon as the early 1990s. When by the late 1990s and early into the 2000s this started to became a major market for comics sellers, Root dispensed informal advice and made appearances at professional gatherings to speak on these sorts of possibilities for the comics market. He exhibited at some of these shows in partnership with Diamond and then later on his own. Root's advice wasn't just a boon to comics shops that might forge such relationships but also provided librarians and other groups with a valuable service by letting them know what was out there for purchase so that they might enhance their offerings and attract readers. He was a featured speaker at the 2003 Book Expo America's comics programming track.

One of the moderators at that show, Calvin Reid, spoke of Root's importance within the idea of book format comics. "His prophetic sense that it was inevitable and necessary for comics to be part of book culture -- both literary and retail book culture -- was clearly way ahead of its time. His work with libraries was just the same: prescient and practical. He not only saw how important libraries and librarians would be to book format comics, but he took the steps and did the hard organizing work to make it happen." He added, "I'd have to say from my view, he was an absolute retailing visionary and someone who managed to make their vision into a reality."

Because of his enthusiastic support for creators, his general raconteur-type air and gentlemanly manner, his ability to informally network and his displayed enthusiasm for socializing during conventions (anyone who ever smoked in comics seems to have a Rory Root story), in addition to the status and effectiveness of his store, Root had an enormous number of fans in comics retail and throughout the industry. He served as a mentor and resource for a number of western US stores that opened 1987-on, and it wasn't unheard-of to see a retailer or two from a different store working at Comic Relief at one of the big, west coast conventions.

"When people see the glory that is Comic Relief what they're really seeing is the passion of Rory manifest as a the greatest comic bookstore I've ever had the privilege of seeing," Dan Shahin of Hijinx Comics told CR. "His mind was as sharp as any I've encountered and he had a wealth of experience he was always willing to share with just about anyone. Rory knew from the beginning that there was so much more to comics than just superhero monthlies. He was the first to truly embrace the bookstore model for comic shops as opposed to the collectibles model that is still predominate in the industry. Rory knew that there was an adult, literate market for comics that was not being addressed and set out to make Comic Relief address that market." Dan Clowes called Comic Relief "a national treasure" in a statement to Comics Reporter; publisher Alvin Buenaventura likened his occasional trips to the store as a youth to going to heaven.

In late 2004 into early 2005, when landlord difficulties and some physical plant concerns caused Comic Relief to seek out a new location on Shattuck Avenue, Root's many fans rallied behind the move. Fans bought old stock at a number of sales and through mail order, the writer Warren Ellis scheduled a late 2004 signing in direct support of the move, and patrons even went so far as to help move some product to the new location by hand. The new store with its copious floor space became a signature retail stop for the usual Comic Relief virtues and the staggering amount of material now on display, far more than was available within reach at the University Avenue location.

By the time of the move, Root had begun to experience a number of health problems, which in some cases had led to him working from home on certain days rather than in the store itself. While he remained relatively youthful-seeming to many of his peers, signs of some physical deterioration became more and more obvious. The cartoonist Jeff Smith told Comics Reporter that time spent recently with Root found the retailer in better health and spirits than he had been in quite some time; Root had even quit smoking.

Store manager Todd Martinez has the immediate responsibility for the location upon Root's passing. Although details of its ultimate dispensation are as yet unknown, it is widely believe the store has been left to Martinez.

"There's no one else like Rory Root," wrote Charles Brownstein, the current executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund who was encouraged by Root as a teenager when working on his magazine Feature. "He was a member of the founding generation of comics retail, and may one day be credited as the founder, or, at minimum, foundational influence, of graphic novel retail. He was a tireless champion and advocate for new talent. And he was always trying to build a better future for our field -- with his support of young artists, his mentorship of new retailers, and his robust participation at industry functions that ranged from the industry's summit and down into its foothills. Even if you didn't know Rory, if you love comics, you owe him a debt of respect."

Scott McCloud summed up the feelings of many professionals and comics fans huddled in various comics chat rooms and message boards this week. "Rory was great friend to our community, and a great friend of comics. He'll be terribly missed." A memorial service for Rory Root is in the planning stages, and the Comic Relief site will be temporarily converted into a memorial page for the late retailer. Root is survived by a mother, Nancy Root; two brothers, Roger and Reynolds; and a sister, Karen. He is preceded in death by two brothers, Ivan and Randy, and his father.

*****

Below please find full testimonies to Root solicited for this article. I thought they were too lovely and heartfelt to only be presented in truncated form. A Collective Memory on Root's passing can be found here.

*****

Marc Arsenault, Wow Cool:
When I first walked into Comic Relief at it's old University Avenue location in Berkeley in 1992 I wasn't quite sure what to make of the place, but I knew it was something special. I hoped that it would last (being obviously too good to), and that it was a sign of things to come. To me it was extra special. Here was a comic shop that not just sold, but prominently displayed and promoted minicomics and zines and devoted serious shelf space to small press comics. And Rory employed a dedicated buyer to find the best of this stuff. And the books sold. They sold well. He didn't seem to mind much that I stole away that buyer to set up Wow Cool as a small press distributor. In fact, he became our first, and best customer, and later our landlord.

Rory Root did things as a comic book shop owner that most other DM Retailers (then and even now) would probably consider quite mad... Like selling off his back issue stock (a 1,500 square foot warehouse lined with floor to ceiling shelves) in one lot. He then rented the space to us. Wow Cool spent four long years there. It had a great loft that had been built by the late Bob Callahan (he moved across the hall years back).

Rory Root was the best friend that small press comics ever had. Of course he was also the most enthusiastic supporter of good work in any medium. His passion for quality entertainment was so great it was hard to believe. I wonder how many people first got turned on to Miyazaki's films or Optic Nerve or Cometbus by Rory?

The 'Zine Explosion' of the 90s would have still happened without Rory Root, but the numbers would have been alot smaller.

Here's a tip of the mug to Rory Root, a pioneer in rejecting the back issue/non-returnable business model and creating an example for the future.

Charles Brownstein, CBLDF
Rory was one of the most generous people I've met -- in this business, and, most especially, in life. As the hundreds of comments and blog posts accumulating in his memory attest, he had a passion for comics, but that passion was second, I believe, to his passion for people. His true contribution was believing in and championing the people who believed in comics.

Rory took a sincere interest in people -- whether you were a business professional, a name creator, a young cartoonist with a mini-comic, or a walk-in from the street. Rory's empathy is what made him shine in the province of the retailing business. He took care to understand who you were and what you liked, and he remembered. If you were a creator or a professional, he took an interest in what you did, and invested himself in your work. As recently as WonderCon, I recall Rory proudly telling the story of how, the first time he met Eddie Campbell, it was a shock not only that Eddie knew who Rory was, but he was coming by to thank him for pushing his work over here. Eddie isn't the only cartoonist in that boat. In the short time that I lived in the Bay Area, I saw Rory take an inventory position on dozens and dozens of small press creators. Some of those early mini-comics sold to Comic Relief set a few of their creators off on trajectories that have made them award winning graphic novelists today.

I met Rory sometime in the mid-90s when I was publishing Feature, a small interview magazine. I met him early on -- I must have been 15 or 16. He didn't dismiss me because of my age, he engaged me with the respect of a peer, and shared his knowledge of this business (which he'd been a part of for longer than I was alive) freely. Rory was supportive of Feature, because he was supportive of me and my goals for comics. Once I paid Diamond to deliver a report of Feature's retail penetration, and was not surprised to find that Rory bought more copies than any other store in the country. I know I'm not the only one. Rory believed in people, and I was lucky that he believed in me.

That belief, and that friendship, didn't change as my circumstances and occupations within comics did. I have spent literally hundreds of hours talking to Rory these last several years, and it was my privilege. He had an unwavering curiosity for and interest in people and their creative expressions. It made him a great mentor, a great ally in our common cause, and a great ambassador for our common field.

There's no one else like Rory Root. He was a member of the founding generation of comics retail, and may one day be credited as the founder, or, at minimum, foundational influence, of graphic novel retail. He was a tireless champion and advocate for new talent. And he was always trying to build a better future for our field -- with his support of young artists, his mentorship of new retailers, and his robust participation at industry functions that ranged from the industry's summit and down into its foothills. Even if you didn't know Rory, if you love comics, you owe him a debt of respect.

All night my phone has been going off with text messages and phone calls. All night the email and IM has been buzzing as we share our feelings about Rory's passing. He was as beloved as anyone our business has ever produced, and is already deeply, deeply missed.

Ed Brubaker, Writer:
I came to CR as an employee in 1990, if I recall correctly. Back then the store was next to the Wasteland (jesus, I can still hear the Pixies playing constantly through the wall) a block from the Berkeley campus, and only a few years old, it was still clearly the best comic store you'd ever seen. Rory, Mike, and Christine were running the place, and while I was probably one of the worst employees in history, it was a great place to be. Half the staff seemed to also work at the University theater (or were part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturdays), so we got free movies all the time as a perk.

There were a few days I'll always remember, spent in the CR warehouse with Rory, digging through overstock and constantly finding things I'd never heard of that Rory would drop everything to tell me about, and show me other obscure Euro or underground books he thought I'd like. Like Jack Dickens in San Diego, Rory was one of the few people to really help me find a path in comics. I was already starting to get published back then, and didn't work at the store that long, but I never stopped shopping there until I left town. I would often just hang out as if I still worked there, anyway, and it was the CR employees and Rory who turned me onto the mini-comix of Jason Lutes and Dame Darcy and Adrian Tomine, and many others. And through those comics, I ended up contacting Jason Lutes about his work and ways to get it published on a wider level, and nearly twenty years later, Jason is still one of my best friends in the world.

Over the last two decades, Rory became one of my biggest supporters. I apologized repeatedly for being a shitty employee, but he would always shrug it off and then get me to sign a bunch of books, instead. And as I worked in the industry more and more, Rory was often that guy that I ran into at conventions who would tell me how I was doing. When I was down in the dumps about sales on Sleeper, I remember Rory pulling me aside at a Wondercon and reminding me that good work was its own reward, and that I was doing fine. Little moments like that always helped.

Like a lot of people who knew Rory, when ex-CR employees would run into each other, we'd always comment on Rory's health and worry about him a bit, but I can't believe he went so quickly. When I look back at my life so far, some of my fondest memories are from those Berkeley days, hanging at the shop and talking comics with Rory and the rest of the staff back then, all the cool locals who would come in -- Jonathan Segal from Camper Van Beethoven (who I turned onto Eightball), Aaron Cometbus, all the underground cartoonist signings and the parties afterward. It was a great place to be young and wide-eyed, and that's what Rory wanted it to be. A cool comics shop that paved the way for the future of comics shops. I always told him if he'd franchise CR all of comics would benefit from it.

In my wallet, I still have the now partially-disintegrated Comic Relief VIP card that Rory gave me when Lowlife first got published. It's #132, and I'd always drag it out at the register every time, even when I didn't have to, somehow proud I'd hung onto it so long. Rory always laughed at me for that.

A few years back, when CR was going through their move and some financial trouble, I called down to order some books (an out of print EC box set) by way of helping out a bit, and I'd like to encourage people to do that now, to help Todd (who is inheriting the shop from what I understand) get through this awful time, and to ensure that this shop that is a beacon for what good shops can be stays around for a good long time. Go into CR and spend some money, or call them and order that GN you've been thinking about, and do it in honor of Rory, who saw what comics retailing could be and made it that way in his part of the world.

Alvin Buenaventura, Buenaventura Press:
As a kid I would look forward to coming to the Bay Area to visit relatives knowing that I'd have the chance go to Berkeley and visit Comic Relief -- it was heaven, easily one of the best in the world one of those few that offers everything in the comics spectrum. As an adult, I've since moved to Oakland I'm realizing that I've grown to take for granted what Comic Relief has to offer since it's just around the corner.

Having recently gotten in to the comics business I'd fortunately gotten to know the man behind this exceptional store. I'm now realizing just how lucky and helpful it was to be able to call or visit him any time I had a question regarding just about anything that would come up as a young publisher. Not only did he always have the time to talk and an incredible vast wealth of knowledge of all aspects of the comics biz, he also had a invaluable enthusiasm for it all. I'll always appreciate his very kind, generous support and friendship and will miss him dearly.

Dan Clowes, Cartoonist:
I just heard the news and even though I've known of Rory's health problems for several years now (though I was never sure what they were exactly), I'm still in shock over this news. I can't believe I'll never see him again. He was such a singular character and he knew more than anybody about "the business." It kills me to think that all that knowledge is gone, inaccessible. I hope he kept a journal or something... He really loved the world of comics and his place in that world, and he always made you feel appreciated for producing the work that filled his bookshelves. He was a good man and his store is a national treasure...

Andrew Farago, Cartoon Art Museum:
The last time I saw Rory Root (and I'm tearing up over the fact that I'm starting a sentence with those words) was two weeks ago, on Free Comic Book Day. It's very appropriate that's my final memory of him, since that's what Rory was all about -- not just getting people to read comic books, but making sure that they were going to read comic books that they'd love to read. A steady stream of customers passed through Comic Relief all day, and Rory effortlessly shifted gears from one visitor to the next, chatting up thirty-somethings who'd just seen the Iron Man movie, mothers with eight year olds, manga-reading high schoolers, librarians, 'zine creators and all of the other curiosity seekers who came through his shop that day.

The reason that Rory's the gold standard for comic shop owners, though, is that's how he ran Comic Relief every day. Whether you'd never set food in a comic shop in your entire life or you observed Wednesday afternoon as your Sabbath, Rory was able to recommend the perfect book for anyone. I think the only thing Rory loved more than reading was getting other people as excited about reading as he was.

I think that my favorite thing about Rory is that he wanted everyone in the entire comics business (creators, editors, publishers, reviewers, retailers, readers... everyone) to know everyone else, probably in the hopes that we'd achieve some sort of comics Utopia if we all came together as a big, happy comics family. Rory corralled me after the Eisner Awards one year to make sure that I got to introduce myself to Neil Gaiman, and Rory was just as enthusiastic when it came to introducing me to some high schoolers who'd just printed up their first mini-comics. As long as you'd made some attempt to be part of Team Comics, Rory welcomed you with open arms.

I could go on and on about what Rory's done for the Bay Area comics community, and for the global comics community, and as I type this, my inbox is filling up with messages from dozens of people who could also go on at length about what Rory's done for each of them. I'll miss him as one of the most valuable resources of comic knowledge in the world, but I'll miss him even more as a friend.

Shaenon Garrity, Cartoonist:
Of the many things I admired about Rory, one of the most wonderful was his generosity toward cartoonists and his efforts to give a boost to struggling new creators. He stocked mini-comics in Comic Relief when most retailers wouldn't touch them. Every year at APE, he made a point of buying up new books by unheard-of artists. He even sold my books, and there aren't many retailers who can say that. He loved hosting book signings and release parties, especially for locals. He did all this with such contented good humor it made you wonder why this behavior is so rare in the comics industry. He was just so interested in everyone and their work.

I really love him. I don't know what else to say right now.

David Glanzer, Comic-Con International:
The news of Rory's passing really is devastating. He was such a good and long time friend of Comic-Con that it's difficult to believe he is no longer with us.

When I first came on board at Comic-Con, Rory was one of the first to offer his help and opinion on anything having to do with the comics industry. And as cool and diverse as his store is, so was his knowledge about so many things. Rory was a great supporter of our shows, which meant he often offered praise and criticism, but always with a genuine effort to help us make things better.

He will be terribly missed. It really is a very sad day. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rory's family and friends

Brian Hibbs, Comix Experience:
Rory was a pioneer, way ahead of anybody on the importance and value of the Book to comics, and he changed more minds of more publishers, creators, distributors and retailers than any ten other men, always for the wiser and the better.

Comic Relief after the move was the best comic book store I'd ever been in in my life -- if they asked me to face Mecca, I'd turn east and pray to CR across the bay.

I'm still kind of not processing this....

Larry Marder, Cartoonist:
I met Rory Root in 1984 at the ill-fated Petuniacon in Oakland. I think Rory was still working for someone else at the time. I was still in my free fanzine days and I'm pretty sure Rory had never heard of Beanworld before. But he was enthusiastic that Beanworld might find its way to the racks someday.

Rory was always a vigorous Beanworld booster and after the titles went out of print, he was very good at tracking down odd lots of Beanworld comics and trades that he'd secure at amazingly reasonable prices.

That was the great thing about Rory, he had that unique "Dealer" characteristic of not being to speak about any given back issue or obscure comic book in his store without going into a fascinating and detailed explanation of how it had come to arrive in his possession. His stories were always amazing in that way.

I really got to know the business side of Rory during the hey-day of the Direct Line Group (DLG). His firm belief that his destiny in comic book retailing would be driven by a store centered around a focus of graphic novels and trade paperbacks was something that he pursued through many up and downs over the next decade and a half.

Rory was right. Comic Relief was the proof.

Matt Maxwell, Writer:
I'm sure that I can not remember the first time that I met Rory, as Comic Relief booths had been fixtures at SDCC before I set foot in his store in the early nineties. This is an odd thing to say, as he cut quite the figure, even if you never had a moment to speak with him. Big as life was he, or even bigger than that.

We'd spoken many (but still too few) times over the last several years, when I was just toying with self-publishing, but was still trying to fill holes in my comic collection (that Sandman: World's End volume will now be a thornier rose, should I find myself reading it again.) And always, Rory was filled with good humor, but that was tempered by his many years in the business as well as practical experience that some zealous types may find themselves lacking. And when I would speak up with naive sureness, he was there with a firm "but on the other hand...", in particular regarding the comic to book-store transformation that is still ongoing in the industry.

When I finally announced my book after interminable delays (some of my own creation, mind you), his reply was along the lines of "When can I order it, and what can I help with?" There was no eye-rolling at another anemic indie publisher or impatience when I revealed that I was skipping serialization altogether. Instead, he replied with kindness, suggestions and ultimately happiness that another book would be out there to connect with readers.

That love of readership informed everything that Rory did. When you step in his store (I know that Todd runs the day-to-day, and has for some time, but it will always be Rory's store to me), you would see books. Books upon books. Towers of books spined-out on countless shelves, rife with characters both diluted by overexposure and muted with dusty obscurity. It did not matter. Batman: Digital Justice could be bought right alongside A Jew In Communist Prague. It didn't matter that one of those might sell in a year. Or ten. Or that a copy of Alien: The Illustrated Story (oh wondrous Simonson treasure) could rest on a shelf, just long enough to be spirited away, much to Ian's chagrin (he was just inches behind).

Though I'm only recently arrived to the chorus, as it were, I'll miss our conversations at every APE and Wonder-Con. He leaves behind some very large boots (no, really, his feet were huge). I don't expect that they'll be filled, but with some luck, others will continue to walk a path not far from the one that Rory set himself upon. Even so, we won't see his like anytime soon. Perhaps his infectious love of books (illustrated and otherwise) will continue to inspire. We should be so fortunate.

Scott McCloud, Cartoonist:
For many, many years, Rory owned the very best comics store in America. Rory was great friend to our community, and a great friend of comics. He'll be terribly missed.

Calvin Reid, Publishers Weekly:
I heard late yesterday that he was in a coma and obviously I was terribly worried. But your email is the first I've hard of his death. The comics community has truly lost one of its best friends and advocates. And yes, we were both on a bunch of panels on comics in bookstores and libraries and I believe he was quoted in more than a few PW articles on comics retailing. I'm going to did into the PW database and see what I have. I think Jessica Abel wrote a piece about comics retailing for me once that included a few quotes by Rory, but I better check first.

I'd have to say from my view, he was an absolute retailing visionary and someone who managed to make their vision into a reality. I've never actually been to his store Comic Relief but what I hear and from what he told me, it was a bigger and better Rocketship (the wonderful comics bookstore here in Brooklyn) before there was a Rocketship. In fact, Comic Relief existed before anyone thought a comics store should be run like a general bookstore.

His prophetic sense that it was inevitable and necessary for comics to be part of book culture--both literary and retail book culture--was clearly way ahead of its time. His work with libraries was just the same: prescient and practical. He not only saw how important libraries and librarians would be to book format comics, but he took the steps and did the hard organizing work to make it happen.

I believe he was one of the first comics retailers to work closely with public library systems to put together reading lists, to consult about collection building and make sure that libraries were an integral part of the new comics eco-system. And we've seen just how important librarians have been to this category over the last 10 years or so, establishing it as both significant category for both recreational and educational reading.

I always tried to chat with him at San Diego and of course his store at SDCC was the bomb -- every comic you could possibly want, right at your finger prints. Its just very sad to hear that he has passed but boy or boy did he make a mark on the comics landscape. He really got a chance to see the category stake its claims as serious and important platform for American literature and business.

Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics Books:
I'm stunned. Rory Root was more than a business colleague, he was a good pal and we had the opportunity to "break bread" -- as he always put it -- many times over the last 15 years, and logged many more hours on the phone in between. I've gone to literally hundreds of comic conventions in my lifetime, and I bet I'm not the only one who can say I've spent more time outside on convention center benches with Rory than I have anyone else on the planet (gossiping away over coffee and cigarettes, usually). I could always talk to him about even the most contentious business matters -- our mutual respect always trumped the petty details. And he was a great talker and storyteller. He was a friend, he was one of the genuine good guys in this business, and he was a true giant in his field. What can I say about what he built? Comic Relief is just about the perfect comic book store. The thought of a Comic Relief without Rory is just much to even think about right now.

Dan Shahin, Hijinx Comics:
Rory was more than just a colleague, he was a dear friend and a mentor to me and I'll miss him more than I can adequately express. When people see the glory that is Comic Relief what they're really seeing is the passion of Rory manifest as a the greatest comic bookstore I've ever had the privilege of seeing. His mind was as sharp as any I've encountered and he had a wealth of experience he was always willing to share with just about anyone.

Rory knew from the beginning that there was so much more to comics than just superhero monthlies. He was the first to truly embrace the bookstore model for comic shops as opposed to the collectibles model that is still predominate in the industry. Rory knew that there was an adult, literate market for comics that was not being addressed and set out to make Comic Relief address that market.

Of course he was right, and this was decades before the fairly recent industry move towards more trade paperbacks. He was a true visionary who knew more about every aspect of the book trade, not just the comic book direct market, than anyone I've ever met. His knowledge ranged from obscure comics trivia to the intricacies of bookbinding and I learned something from him every single time we talked, and we talked many hundreds of hours on the phone and in person.

There will never be another man like Rory Root, and the world is poorer for that. He spent his life proving the legitimacy, both artistic and financial, of the comics industry. He was proud of his store, but was also always striving to improve it. I'm proud to say I knew him and called him my good friend.

Jeff Smith, Cartoonist:
Vijaya and I just saw Rory in Vegas during the ComicsPro meeting there and he was looking healthier than he had in while. He'd quit smoking and seemed in good spirits.

Rory was one of the comics retailers who really cared about comics, especially indie comics, at a time when very few others even carried them. His store Comic Relief in Berkley was one of the first that I know of that regularly carried and restocked a full range of graphic novels - - a move that looks prescient today.

Rory, along with Jim Hanley, Joe Field, and a few other big players in retailing were the first people I met in comics, even before I met Neil Gaiman or Dave Sim. Probably at a retailing conference put on by Diamond or Capital distributors.

Rory was encouraging, and welcoming to Vijaya and me when we moved to the San Fransisco Bay area in the early 90s, often inviting us to the store and taking us out to dinner back when we were just starting out, and constantly introducing us to other cartoonists and important players in the retailing field.

We would see Rory every year in San Diego at the Con and he always greeting every member of my Cartoon Books staff with hugs and good humor the moment we stepped on the convention floor. Every single year he wanted to be the first person to see what little goodie we were going to unpack from our crates. And every year he put his money where his mouth was, supporting me and many other smaller publishers at the end of the Comicon by taking any unsold books off our hands (at a pretty hefty discount, of course, but that was Rory!). I will miss him.

An era has ended. Goodbye, Rory.

Adrian Tomine, Cartoonist:
Comic Relief was one of the first stores to carry my mini-comics when I was a teenager, and it was the first place that made me feel like I might have a future in this business. At the time, there were a few stores that were politely selling my comics on consignment, but CR was the one place that called me in Sacramento asking if they could get more copies because they'd sold out. I think that's indicative of Rory's overall approach, and it's what made the store so great: a consistent interest and respect for all types of comics.

In terms of marketablity, the chasm between "mainstream" and "alternative" has lessened considerably over the years, but I think Rory was way ahead of the curve in terms of promoting things other than the latest superhero junk. He created a store that I think has been (and should continue to be) a model for future retailers. On a personal level, he was unfailingly friendly, polite, chatty, and supportive. I'm kind of in shock as I write this, because even though I don't live in Berkeley anymore, Rory has been a presence in my life for so long, and I always assumed I'd see him every time I went back to visit.

Dan Vado, SLG:
I have known Rory for quite some time, first meeting him as one of maybe three people who attended a convention called Petunia-Con (a tribute to Cerebus and probably the first ever small press convention) which had the dubious distinction of taking place on Mother's Day. I could tell that Rory's love and support for alternative and small press comics was a genuine and that he truly believed that the people who worked on comics which appealed to a non-superhero crowd were the future of the industry. In the years that I would work with him first as a retailer and convention promoter and later as a publisher he never wavered from the thought that comics in America, both as a medium and a business, could be so much more than they were.

Lots of people believe that, Rory was one of the few retailers who put his money where his mouth was buying and supporting many small creators work sometimes at a detriment to himself. My own personal recollection of Rory would be of him coming to me at the end of a convention and seeing just how cheap I might be willing to sell him some of our key trade paperbacks. I have to admit, it used to annoy me, but then Rory was one of the few people out there who would go out on a limb and really push the books on the lower end of our sales chart and actually succeed with them.

In my last conversation with Rory during the ComicsPro meetings in Las Vegas I asked him, somewhat metaphorically, what the hell happened to our industry. "The Weasels got us" he replied, "We can't let them win."

Rory was a good guy, and I guess I'll miss him most come Sunday at Comic-Con when he doesn't come ambling by my booth with his signature coffee mug and his hat asking me what he can get at 80 percent off. I know, that sounds kind of rude, but that was Rory. The industry lost a great friend.

*****

2003 photo by Whit Spurgeon

*****
 
posted 4:10 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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