Widely respected comics retailer Rory Root of Berkeley's Comic Relief passed away a few days ago at the age of 50 following complications from surgery for a ruptured hernia. Rory had apparently been in poor health for quite awhile and counted diabetes among his health issues.
Living 3000 miles away from Comic Relief's base in northern California, I didn't know Rory personally, but he was one of the first retailers to order The Comics Interpreter back in its nascent stages as a sloppy little zine. The one time I spoke to him on the phone was under odd circumstances, in which I had to ask him to please remove an insert I initially included in TCI #4 Vol.1 from the order he had just received. Sounding more than a bit tired and flustered, Rory was quick to tell me that I could call him any time...any time but on Wednesday that is, which was new comics day and the very time which I called the shop even as it was swamped with that day's deliveries.
We also crossed paths many times on message boards in which Rory was always thoughtful and opinionated. On one such message board Rory was kind enough to declare TCI a "great interview zine" which I of course took as meaning that our reviews weren't up to snuff. Even with such limited exposure, Rory always felt like an important ally on a landscape where allies , especially among retailers, are few and far between. But Rory never seemed like a retailer so much as simply a patron of the medium.
To that end he made a lot of friends in comics. There's a plethora of memories from readers, artists, and friends on the Comic Relief site (linked above). And also a typically comprehensive list of links to memorials and tributes at The Comics Reporter.
Probably the best of these that I've read, one that really brings Root's personality to life and makes his loss more palpable is this one by Jesse Hamm. There's also an audio clip on the site of a 2007 panel featuring a discussion between Scott McCloud and Rory.
On his blog Neil Gaiman wrote:
"I've known him for nearly 20 years. And he was fifty -- only three years older than me. Last time I saw Rory I told him I'd stolen his omnipresent bucket-size cup of coffee for Mrs Higgler in Anansi Boys. He was introducing me at a speaking event, something that made him uncharacteristically terrified. And I told him about the time I'd popped into Comic Relief
when he wasn't there, because I was walking past and I thought I'd wave, and had come out having bought $300 worth of books..."
There's also a blog where the question is asked if Root was the inspiration for The Simpson's Comic Book Guy. Root got wind of the post and this was his reply:
Nah,when I first met [Simpsons creator] Matt [Groening] long, long ago I was quite a bit thinner and beardless. And I generally avoid ponytails, just at conventions were it can get just a bit warm on the floor.
And while I can be a tad sarcastic at times; I actually like helping customers find the right book for them.
But in the spirit of the GWS, “Worse Stereotype ever!”