Yesterday was a really really sad day for anyone who knew Rory Root (and sad for people who didn't get to know Rory). Rory went into an Oakland hospital either Sunday or Monday for a ruptured hernia and some time thereafter went into a coma before dying yesterday afternoon. Rory Root was the owner of Comic Relief, THE Comic Book Bookstore in Berkeley. Rory has been in comic book retailing for something like 30 years and I always told people when I talked about his store (Comic Relief) that his store was the comic book store that all good comic book stores want to be when they grow up.
I first heard that Rory was in a coma via the CBIA (a comic book retailer delphi forum) when Joe Field (of Flying Colors in Walnut Creek, California) posted a link from the ComicsPro (a retailer trade organization) site. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Rory wasn't in the best of health or shape, but I'd seen him at the DC retailer summit in Austin in March and just this past April here in Vegas for the second ComicsPro meeting. When I'd talked to him in Austin he told me that he was taking steps to turn his health around (was going on a diet and had quit smoking sometime last year). So I thought things were starting to swing around for him. So hearing that Rory had gone into a coma and then dying all in one day hit me hard.
I'd only really got to visit with Rory at either the San Francisco Wondercon, the San Diego Comic Con, or at various industry trade shows over the past few years, but I remember when I first meet him at my first DC retailer summit (in 1997 at Burbank), he welcomed me like a long time member of the comic retailing community. Over the years I'd had several great chats with Rory but even before I knew him on a personal level, what I knew about his store has served as my biggest inspirations for what a comic book store should be.
Last year after Wondercon, Kate and I stayed an extra day in San Francisco and we went over to check out Rory's new store location. Rory gave us a guided tour of his store (you could just feel his excitement when he talked about what this great big new space allowed him to do) and afterwards the three of us went to a great nearby Indian restaurant for lunch. Rory's endless knowledge of the industry, his commitment to always having a comic book store that represented all of what the comic book medium was capable of, and just his sheer love of books and sequential art had no equal.
It's going to be an especially sad San Diego convention in a couple of months because Rory had a big presence there (not just his huge sprawling retail operation he set up there and at Wonndercon, but he also has been a long time sponsor of the Eisners) - hell, just seeing Rory work the show finding new homes for great comic books always re-energized me. This year has been especially hard for those that love the comic book medium, with Steve Gerber (Howard The Duck), Dave Stevens (Rocketeer), Jim Mooney (Supergirl and numerous other comics since the 1940's), and now Rory (and Gene Colan artist on Tomb of Dracula and Howard The Duck and billions of other comics isn't doing that well either - I really really hope he gets well).
Rory created such a great foundation / template for a great comic book store (seriously if you're ever up in the Bay area you have to go to Comic Relief because you WILL find a comic book, graphic novel, or manga that you won't see almost anywhere else, displayed with great visual flair) with his Comic Relief and I'm happy to hear that his long time manager Todd Matinez has been passed the torch as per Rory's request so Rory's legacy is in good hands.
As much as I miss him now, I'm sure that none of us who've known Rory are really prepared for how much we'll miss him in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
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