Goodbye, Rory Root

Rory Root in his element, SD Comic Con 2004. Photo from

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.”


8 Responses to “Goodbye, Rory Root”

  1. Nadya Says:

    Without a local comic book shop we had in East Meadow, Long Island, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And that was probably just a tiny fraction of what Comic Relief was to so many people. I can only imagine how enriched my life would’ve been if I’d had something like that growing up. I think that what you suggested people do to honor Rory Root is the best thing anyone could suggest; I think he’d be happy if he knew that people honored his passing by discovering something weird and strange and new. The Comic Relief website looks like it just got replaced by a temp memorial, but I’ll keep checking back, and do what you suggest. Even though this post is very sad, it made me inspired.

  2. Tequila Says:

    Rory Root was the kinda guy every comic book fan wished ran their local shop. Few retailers saw comics as he did let alone ventured beyond the collectors market. Warren nailed it with “So pissed off right now. We couldn’t spare you.” That’s the raw truth of it…so many shops have closed or switched to selling whatever card game or kids game is trendy at the moment that they just don’t have that “feel” a comic shop should.

    It’s a sad day for all involved with comics…but the example he leaves behind is one hopefully many will aspire to emulate and push forward.

    I was lucky to grow up with a comic shop similar to the spirit of Comic Relief. While it was sad to see it close I walked away having been exposed to the best work out at the time from all over the world. That’s a real gift and no doubt those who visited Rory Roots comic bookstore can say the same. He was one of those rare people who open others eyes to things that shape and inspire on a gut level.

    Mer your idea on how to honor him is perfect…I look forward to hearing the things people pick up.

  3. Mark Says:

    I knew of this guy – only very vaguely, mind – through IRC chats with other comic book fans right back at the beginning of my relationship with the interwebs. This is a lovely tribute to what looks like a lovely man. It also makes me doubly sad that these sorts of shops, hubs and personalities don’t really exist here in the same way – or at least, to the same extent – as they do there. I would’ve loved to be able to drop into a place like Comic Relief, and chat with a guy like Rory, on the Saturday afternoons of my early teens. Would’ve made all the difference. I’m sad on everyone’s behalf that he’s gone.

    Still, I will definitely do what you suggest Mer, and hit up the Comic Relief Online store in due course. And, as Tequila suggests, I’ll post my new discoveries on here. (Hehe, maybe we should draw up a list of random publications to try, assign one randomly to each poster who’s interested, and have a mass book report back here in a month? ;P)

  4. Jennifer dG Says:

    Mer, what a great tribute! I was so shocked when I heard the sad news, but when people I know started posting about it, it really started to hit home. Like you, I knew Rory from conventions, a few brief conversations. He was always enthusiastic about comics and friendly. His booth was my go-to place for extravagant graphic novel purchases, and it always will be.

    I never did get to go to Comic Relief’s new location, and I regret it. I would have loved to see Rory in his element.

  5. Andrea Ferrante Says:

    This saddens me greatly. I have been shopping at Comic Relief for at least 13 years on and off and had spoken to him only briefly, but loved his shop passionately. I just moved back to the Bay Area after having lived in LA for several years and was horrified when I thought the shop had gone out of business. I found that they had simply moved down the street (to a much bigger location!) and sighed with relief and marched right on over with my boyfriend to show him the greatest comic book store ever ;)
    Last week, I went out to my favorite local breakfast shop, Mama’s Royal Cafe. It was late so they were blissfully quiet and empty. I sat in the window on my own, and shortly after a large, friendly, and familiar faced man was seated at the table next to me. It wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation, started talking all things books and music and I placed him as being the owner of Comic Relief. Rory and I had a lovely hour-long conversation (something rare for me with strangers) and I had promised I would come in this week. I am so saddened I will not have the opportunity to have further discussions with him, but I will go and make my pilgrimage too CR nonetheless. May you be at peace Rory, you were surely a force to be reckoned with and a beautiful spirit.

  6. Shay Says:

    Oh wow.. As a meager comicbook store employee, I’m really awestruck by how loved it appears Rory was (and is), and not just by his friends and family, but people in the industry, and hell, even those damn customers. He must have been a really special guy.

    I will definitely visit Comic Relief when I’m in the bay area in a couple of weeks.

  7. Eric Arden Says:

    i’m out in the wilderness here in niagara falls, ny. never heard of the man. articles like this make me fifty kinds of happy. he sounds like a hell of a guy.

  8. christy wilson Says:

    I went to High school with him and hadn’t heard news of him until today, and was very shocked to hear of his passing