Rory Root in his element, SD Comic Con 2004. Photo from geekspeak.org.
Devastating news for the comics community: Rory Root is gone. The driving force behind Comic Relief died earlier today following complications from a hernia operation. Rory’s “comic bookstore” in Berkeley, CA is arguably the most important sequential arts hub in the country, housing a gasp-inducing variety of zines, art books, manga, indie magazines, self-published strips, trade paperbacks, and underground comix in addition to more mainstream fare.
Rory was a tireless promoter of all things weird and wonderful. His pure, unclouded love for the medium proved highly contagious. Ask anyone who ever spoke to him for more than five minutes and they’ll likely tell you Rory was the most kind and giving businessman they’ve ever met. The man’s knowledge was vast and he had an uncanny ability to read people. Once he’d sussed you out, he could almost always intuit what undiscovered title you’d most enjoy. He was known to give free books to newbies at his store. “Just bring it back if you don’t like it.” With that enthusiasm and generosity, he won untold legions of longterm customers.
The Comic Relief bookstore in Berkeley, CA. Photo by Allan Ferguson.
He championed underdogs, queers and iconoclasts in his store and on the web, went out of his way to support artists and writers he believed in, acted as a kind of Yenta for kindred spirits in the biz, and campaigned fiercely to get graphic novels into public libraries. In 1993, San Diego Con-goers were delighted to see Rory and his store receive the very first Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. No one, no one deserved that honor more than he did. Quoting Carl Horn over on Warren’s post of Rory’s passing: “There’s no reason a comics store can’t be a successful part of the community and a progressive cultural force–I saw it work with Comic Relief.”
Encountering Rory in his element at Con or in his shop always put a smile on my face. Although I only knew him in that context, I’m having trouble keeping it together, so I can’t imagine what his loved one are feeling right now. My condolences to his friends and family.
I’m sure they’re a bit overwhelmed over there at the moment, but I can’t think of a better way to honor Rory’s passing than to browse Comic Relief online or in person at some point in the near future. There is so much obscure beauty in that store that spoke to Rory Root, and through him. Pick up something you’ve never heard of before that speaks to you.
EDIT (5/20/08): Comic Relief just updated their site: “If you would like to make a contribution to the cause that Rory kept very close to his heart, you can make a donation to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) in his name.”