One Fan's Opinion

Fri, May 23rd, 2008 at 12:14pm PDT | Updated: May 23rd, 2008 at 12:16pm

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

Rory Root, 1958-2008

It's been a pretty hard week at the Image office.

Image is located in Berkeley, California, just a short walk from Rory Root’s store Comic Relief: The Comic Bookstore. We all go to Rory’s store on a weekly basis and two of our employees used to work at Comic Relief.

And now he’s gone.

Rory passed away on May 19th, 2008, after complications from surgery.

I can't begin to express the loss people are feeling for Rory. He was one of the good ones. Rory loved comics. He always helped people find what they were looking for, he made excellent suggestionsv--vhe didn't look down on people for reading books that he didn't care for, but he'd gently suggest that they check out superior books in a similar vein in addition to the book which they enjoyed. He carried a very eclectic bunch of books and his store is a veritable treasure trove of cool stuff. This is the kind of store most readers can only dream about and Rory was the glue that held it all together.

Rory was one of those rare “think outside the box” retailers. If Chris Ware (of “Acme Novelty Library” fame) illustrated a movie poster, Rory would find a way to hunt it down and get copies for his customers. He would find all sorts of unusual goodies to bring into his store. Rory would get old weird books featuring Russian propaganda posters or photo books featuring cute Japanese girls or tattoos or toy robots or movie posters. Rory was always on the prowl for new and unusual things and he’d usually find them.

Rory was a big trades guy. His store was well stocked with hard covers and trades years before they became popular, you could find damned near any that you might have missed in some nook or cranny. His old store on University Avenue was packed from floor to ceiling with cool stuff. New comic book day would mean crushing yourself into this closet like a mess of college students trying to fit into a phone booth.

When his store moved to a larger place on 2026 Shattuck Avenue things really improved. It had always been a terrific store but with room to move �" and breathe �" it was that much better. And new comic book day was less of an ordeal.

The Bay Area is blessed with a lot of great stores. From Michael Pandolfo’s clean, well-lit, well-stocked and friendly store on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to all the awesome funnybook stores in San Francisco -- James Sime’s hopping and hip Isotope, the Comic Book Lounge on Fell Street, Al’s Comics Collectable Cards on Market Street, Brian Hibb’s Comix Experience on Divisadero Street which emphasizes the independent and out there comics and the wild and wonderful Neon Monster on Castro Street. There are plenty of others, I know, but these are the ones I’ve stuck my head into. The point is, we’ve got no shortage of terrific comic book outlets in the Bay Area. Moving to a new neighborhood may mean getting used to the eccentricities of a new store but it doesn’t mean getting used to a lousy one. The Bay Area may be lousy with comic book stores but few of them are lousy. Rory Root’s Comic Relief is one of the best.

Over the years I saw Rory less and less. His health was not especially good and his visits to the Comic Relief were less frequent as his health declined. It was sad to watch happen. Rory indulged in life and we all saw it coming. He smoked too much, he was overweight �" he got little to no exercise. It’s a shame that he didn’t take care of himself as well as he took care of his customers and his amazing comic book store.

Rory threw a party at his store a month or so back and he seemed to be in fine form. A lot of the Image guys were there as well as local legend Steve Englehart and “Bomb Queen’s” own Jimmie Robinson. It was a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a worthy cause if ever there was one, and good times were had by all. And it wasn’t one of those events where pros were instructed to sit here and sign this �" it was an open exchange between a number of fans and pros who came to talk about ideas and the past and future and everything in between �" who came to talk comics �" and it was a nice event in which everybody was invited to participate in the conversation.

And I guess that was really where Rory shined: he made you feel invited. When you came to Comic Relief: the Comic Bookstore, you felt at home, you felt comfortable, you felt invited. It’s one of those places where you’re immediately at ease. There was never any pressure �" never any judgment �" we were all there on Wednesday because we loved comics and Rory welcomed all of us with open arms and a hearty smile.

I wish you could have met him.

Comic Relief will endure, I have no doubt. Rory has an excellent staff of dedicated professionals that know their business, but Rory himself will be sorely missed. He was an intelligent, articulate, caring and engaging human being and a friend to everybody that knew him.

Damn.

TAGS:  rory root, comic relief, erik larsen, san francisco, retailing

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