|Rory Root, 1958-2008|
CBR was saddened to learn this week news of the passing of Rory Root, beloved proprietor of Berkeley, CA’s Comic Relief, The Comic Bookstore.
It can be said without hyperbole that Root helped revolutionize the institution of the comics shop. In the early days of this new century, Root and a small handful of other American retailers declared war on the “Comic Book Guy’s” Android’s Dungeon stereotype of the Comics Shop experience, and put in its place a true comic bookstore; a clean, cool place where readers and fans (and girls!) could gather to meet one another, enjoy uncommonly relaxed access to their favorite creators, and, most importantly, discover new comics books.
Said “Casanova” and “The Immortal Iron Fist” writer Matt Fraction, “Across its two different locations that I’ve visited over the years, [Rory’s Comic Relief is a] bookstore full of absolute wonders, long-lost treasures, and most of all, comics, comics, and more comics. It’s almost like the retail experience of a comfy chair– the sort of place to lose yourself for hours.”
Root himself was an unforgettable presence. He was big, bearded, walked with a cane and wore a black fedora, but more memorable really was the fact that Root always remembered your name, even if he’d only spoken to you a few times on the old Warren Ellis Forum or the other corners of the comics internet community. He remembered because he listened, and he listened because he was so incredibly friendly, and because he just cared about comics. All retailers care about the comic book industry, but Root saw a bigger picture. He cared about the art of comics itself, about what kind of comics mattered to people, and about what kind of comics should matter to people, and that catering to those things was the way forward.
Often, this meant Root suggesting a book or two or three you might like, meaning a book or two or three… or four or five or six that you would almost certainly buy from his store. Hey, he was a great retailer, after all.
I was just a kid when I first encountered Rory in person. We’d exchanged words online on the old WEF and elsewhere, but that he knew me by name was surprising, as I was just another fanboy on the internet with some friends in common. At the time, I was trying to get into Comic-Con International in San Diego a little early so I could buy a piece of original John Cassaday artwork from a dealer who said if I wasn’t at his booth before the Con opened, he’d sell the piece. Foolish child that I was, I never considered how I would gain early entry without an exhibitor’s badge. The art dealer was willing to sell me one, but was too busy to come outside and give it to me. I could have still lost the art in the wait.
Rory heard me negotiating with the art dealer on the phone and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “How much is he asking for the badge?”
“Fifteen bucks,” I said.
“Done!” Rory laughed, throwing me one of his store’s extra badges.
I got into Comic-Con early, bought my Cassaday art, and to this day it remains prominently in my living room.
It’s not a very epic story, but when you’re quite young and still getting high on just the Con and the comics themselves, it was a fabulous moment; like sneaking in backstage at a concert, and Rory was the bouncer who could see how bad I wanted it. I never forgot that.
Rest in peace, Rory, and thanks again for the help.
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