Comics has lost one its great souls in Rory Root. The man seemed timeless and immortal, despite all his health issues, and also ageless, but many people are reporting he was 50. The web is filled with outpourings of grief testifying to his endless supply of generosity, wisdom and support. Words like “trust” and “help” keep coming up, from customers from cartoonists, from friends. You did trust Rory because he did help. In an often fractious business he was always level-headed and far seeing.
His store, Comic Relief, was a model of the future, long ahead of its time. I remember visiting it for the first time back in the early 90s and Rory showing off, with justified pride, the handsome fixtures and the track lighting which made it not just an android’s dungeon but an attractive shop where people felt comfortable and enlightened shopping. He supported graphic novels long before everyone else figured out the were the future of the business, and knew his stock like no one else. Whenever I was writing a story about any business aspect of comics, Rory was on my short list of people to call, and our conversations were always full of information, humor and wisdom.
A few years ago Rory and I were both staying at the US Grant for San Diego and we shared a few cab rides home. He praised the hotel’s bunch and we agreed to meet on the Monday after the con for breakfast. In my brain dead state I couldn’t have imagined more pleasant company, or a better friend to share a meal with. I also remember him saving me a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I was happy to purchase from him during the show.
Everyone will have tons of Rory stories, but he was such a fixture everywhere — standing outside with his hat, and the stainless steel coffee mug seemingly grafted to his hand, always with good advice for those who wished to follow it. Like another retailer sadly taken too soon, Bill Liebowitz, Rory exemplified the comics retailer who made a difference. People pick on retailers as a group, but men like Bill and Rory showed how important and vital this end of the business is. That they were so boundlessly generous with their time and knowledge was their real gift and legacy.
I want to quote some of the things being said about Rory because everyone needs to know how one person can make a difference:
Like many other people I know (including Ed Brubaker, Sophie Crumb, Adrian Tomine, Charles Brownstein and others) Rory encouraged me in this business at a very young age when he had nothing to gain from doing so. I first visited his mecca of the world cartooning, Comic Relief, on a spring break from Southern California as a teenager in the late-1980s. I didn’t meet him then, I just fell in love with his store. But when I became the news editor at The Comics Journal in my early 20s, Rory became one of the first people who encouraged me and supported me with advice and contacts. I don’t even remember meeting him — he just feels like one of those people I’ve known forever. He was a great person to get perspective from, and when I switched over to the publishing side our relationship only grew. I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who was a stronger advocate for the kinds of quality cartooning being published by not just Fantagraphics but also Drawn & Quarterly, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink, Top Shelf, Buenaventura, etc. The man knew his shit, and he quite often knew how to sell it better than we did.
But there are few retailers, publishers or creators who spent any amount of time with the man and didn’t walk away learning a dozen things about how comics work the way they do, and what things that could be done to make things better. It is the loss of that generosity of his knowledge (and it was truly encyclopedic and broad) that is going to be the loss that the comics industry is going to face over the next years. If only we had a few dozen Rory Roots, we could have utterly transformed the entire industry.
He was a great big burly guy, with long blonde hair and a constant hat. And I spent many, many late nights at conventions talking comics with Rory. Comics business, comics medium, comics philosophy. Once at Comicon, we actually sat in a hallway of the Horton Grand Hotel talking for so long that the spell was only finally broken by the morning newspaper delivery to the rooms.
Rory loved that store, he loved the business, he loved the art and he loved the people, and we loved him. Whenever we were in San Francisco we always visited the shop, and spent far too much money there. In San Diego every year at con, I would always find Rory and hang out for a bit. Neither place will be the same without him.
We lost one of comics’ gentle evangelists today, a man named Rory Root who preached from an overcrowded store crammed with graphic novels and comics of all description, or in the middle of a bustling convention floor, or really, almost anywhere that someone would listen. Oversize coffee mug brim full and ever-present in his hand, he’d move through his wares with the sure hand of a man who knew each of his customers — even ones he’d never met. He knew what you’d like, well enough to bet that you’d keep a book he guaranteed to take back. And he’d remember, even from year to year.
Rory was massively supportive to me, to Laurenn, to everybody. The only people who ever had a bad word for him were the people who thought he should give them all his fucking blood just for showing up, when he’d already given them half of it because they were in comics and he wanted to help. Rory was always a class act, and, in a field that has way too few of those, we really couldn’t spare him.
So pissed off right now. We couldn’t spare you.
Dan Curtis Johnson:
Every time I walked into his store, or saw him at his booth at Con, within two minutes he could lay hands on something in his inventory that he knew I’d like, that he thought maybe I’d missed and would be damn glad to have heard about, and he was right every time. He was that kind of comics store owner – knew what was good, knew what his customers were into, knew a good match when he saw one.
There are many many more notes of condolence at this Newsarama thread, and more to come. Rory was such a lovely, lovely man, and we are all going to miss him terribly.
[Picture taken from Brett Warnock]