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Rory Root

My old friend Rory Root, a groundbreaking comics seller from the Bay Area, died a little while ago, apparently following complications from extensive surgery for a ruptured hernia.

Rory’s store was Comic Relief in Berkeley. Rory called it "The Comic Bookstore," and so it was. It always had the ambience of a bookstore. As a writer, you felt good being there.

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.

Published in brainjuice


  1. Robert Plunkett Robert Plunkett

    As someone who “got to know” Rory through the WEF and the later on-line haunts, his love of the medium and his kindness were evident. I witnessed him offering to go above-and-beyond to help someone out–creator or fan.

    I’m going to go cry now.


  2. Dude… This is just… Dude. I barely even knew Rory, and it doesn’t matter. I went out of my way to visit CR when in California, and always made a point of saying hello. Along with a few other select West-Coast retailers, he did a huge amount to improve and change the perception of comics retail out there, and always did it with total dedication and idiot enthusiasm. And mostly, (to use a term I hear often in reference to Rory) he was a “big hippie”, with none of the negative modern-view inferences one could put on that, and all the old-school optimism and friendliness and generosity that it can (and should) imply.

  3. Man, that’s rough. I’m just a longtime customer at CR and while I didn’t know him on a personal level, it was great to chat with him — he was such a nice and knowledgable guy.

  4. Thank you for writing this. Spending time with Rory on Friday nights was one of the absolute highlights of my week. I saw him almost without fail every week for the past few years until his health took a turn for the worse a few months ago, but I never expected this.

    He was the most unfailingly gracious, warm, and welcoming person I’ve ever met in the industry.

    I’m going to the store tomorrow to see if there’s anything I can do for them or for his family or his kitties.

    RIP, Rory.

  5. James Friel James Friel

    I just heard.
    I knew Rory for 26 years, since I was working for Bud Plant and he for Bob Beerbohm; and I work at Comic Relief part time now, as the old book buyer. He was one of the good guys, as others have said. And he was always a good friend to me, in good times and bad.
    My head’s still not wrapped around this yet. We can’t afford to have lost him, dammit…

  6. Shit.

    I can’t believe it. I can’t conceive of a comic book Convention or industry gathering where Rory is not present, and dominating the scene with his amazing wealth of knowledge and insight. I knew his health was not good, but somehow I thought he would stick around out of sheer determination. Like Jim, I knew Rory for 26 years. He has led the field of comics retailers. This is a huge loss for all of us.

  7. Carl Horn Carl Horn

    I remember buying issue #1 of the Epic edition of AKIRA at Comic Relief in 1988. Its original site was only three blocks from where Animag, the ancestor of Animerica magazine, was edited, and four blocks from the meeting site of Cal-Animage Alpha, then the largest anime club in the English-speaking world. Rory would come by the Viz office in San Francisco (back when it was called Viz Comics) to give advice and input on promoting manga in an often dubious comics market, and he himself always supported Japanese artists; his was the first store I saw to move the manga graphic novels to the front. Even this last year, Jason Thompson’s Eisner-nominated “Manga: The Complete Guide” was researched with the generous assistance of Rory Root and Comic Relief, which allowed their unsurpassed backstock to be used as a library of the last two decades of the field.

    I haven’t even had the chance to visit their new, expanded store these past few years, but there is no doubt Comic Relief’s success has come about because of Rory’s outward-looking vision and belief in comics of all kinds and for all readers, a vision that more and more came to share. He was as hardcore a fan as they come, but the complete opposite of the “Comic Book Guy” in mentality. Despite being a mecca for the collector, the store was always ready for the newcomer and the questions of the curious passer-by, who may have known little about comics at first, but might soon end up a regular customer. Some comics retailers learned from Rory’s example, and for the many who haven’t, they still can. There’s no reason a comics store can’t be a successful part of the community and a progressive cultural force–I saw it work with Comic Relief.

    I feel selfish to remember Rory Root only in terms of what he did to support manga and anime fans such as myself, and especially so when I reflect that I have an industry to work in partly due to his support. But he did do these things, and it was only a small part of a life, for which I am grateful, and that I won’t forget.

  8. Peter Wong Peter Wong


    I lived across the bay, so I wasn’t a weekly Comic Relief customer. But whenever I visited Berkeley, I made damn sure I set time aside to visit Rory Root’s store. To me, he treated the world of comics as a cornucopia of gateway drugs. Sure, the superhero fan base was catered to. But for those who wanted more, who wanted to learn about Eddie Campbell and autobiographical zines and imported Jacques Tardi graphic novels, Comic Relief was mecca.

    I admit I didn’t know Rory that well. But one could easily pick up what a warm and generous guy he was and how supportive he was of the local comics scene.

    Rory, you will be missed.

  9. Rory was kind, understated, and smart. He promoted the underdog publishers. the zinesters, the ideas, gay comics, weird comics all had homes at Comic Relief, and not hidden away in the back but front and center. His immense knowledge was not a self important one, as he often took time to discuss comics to untrained aunts and uncles who happened to wander in.

    As Indy publishers, there’s nothing like seeing your publication on the shelf at Comic Relief.

    I’ll miss my long talks with you Rory.
    This is a huge loss for so many people.
    goodbye my friend.

  10. David Lasky David Lasky

    Comic Relief was where I first sold my mini-comics, on consignment, in 1991 (or late 1990?). Besides CR’s willingness to take on an unknown artist, it was where I discovered the work of so many of the artists who have influenced me as a cartoonist. I’ve long considered it to be the best comic book store there is. Rory was always such a nice guy. I’ll really miss him.

  11. I used to work for Rory and although working for him at times was trying, he was a friend. Even years later after I moved on, he always had a smile and a hand shake waiting. He will be missed.

  12. rob rob

    kept the store open hours and hours becuse I was stuck there.

  13. Robert Conry Robert Conry

    I’ve worked as part of Rory’s San Diego set up crew of comic con for 4 years now. Each year I’ve looked forward to his call asking how many of my friends I had to help him and his wonderful staff set up for the big show. He would give us badges and pay us cash or trade and would always buy us dinner and lunchs. I’ll really miss seeing him at the bench outside hall “c” this year smoking and rubbing elbows talking about the heat and sending anyone in a comic relief shirt out on a mission.

  14. Eric Sadoyama Eric Sadoyama

    Rory was the guy who got me reading comics in college. I’d wandered into The Best of Two Worlds, and Rory had struck up a conversation with me. Eventually he pressed a copy of SWAMP THING into my hand, at no charge. “If you don’t like it,” he said, “then just come back and return it.” He knew he wasn’t taking much of a gamble. The next day I was back, all right — he’d gotten himself a new customer. That was almost 25 years ago. I haven’t seen him in more than 10 years but I’m still sorry to know he’s gone.

  15. Chris Shumway Chris Shumway

    Dammit…I’ve been shopping at Comic Relief for probably 12 years now, and always loved to hang around and chat with Rory. My kids did too…we’ll all miss him.

  16. Dave Hawksworth Dave Hawksworth

    We lost a truly fine man of the comic industry and a fine man to know and talk to . I will never forget him and I’ll miss him as long as I live.

    Rory, I hope your looking down on us from the great beyond because I want to say thank you Rory for who you were and what you accomplished.

    You had a heart of gold.

  17. Sean Cleveland Sean Cleveland

    I’ve known Rory for the last 10 years. I was the guy he called when his computer needed fixing and/or upgrading. We would spend long hours at his house, or at the store, working on computers and talking about comics, books, and life. I’m going to miss that.

    I was always surprised by just how many people he knew. On numerous occasions, while helping at Comic Con and other shows, he introduced me to some amazing people Eisner, Spiegelman, Miller, Gaiman, and even Ellis. He always made sure that proper introductions were made. He had a heart of gold.

    If you’ve never heard Rory speak, I urge you to listen to Rory’s Commonwealth Club appearance with Scott McCloud on Graphic Novels:

    Rory, you will be sorely missed.
    My heart goes out to Todd and the other staff at Comic Relief.

  18. Joe Szilagyi Joe Szilagyi

    I remember the first time I ever met Rory, at APE in SF. I’d chatted with him all the time online, but had no idea what he looked like. This big guy comes up to me in APE–he knew what I looked like ahead of time, from one of the “Fuck you, Fraction!” photos I think, back on the WEF. I clearly remember thinking, Who the heck is this guy with the coffee and the hair, and WTF? Force of habit from growing up where I was, I guess–strangers suddenly materializing like they know you are surprising, and this was early in the Internet days, before it was no big deal to meet someone the first time and get a hug.

    We chatted for several minutes, and that silly little strangernoia was just obliterated by how incredibly nice, and gracious, and wonderful Rory was. I had no idea who he was, and he says, “Hey, lets go outside. I want air,” and we’re outside, and I think Dan Evans then introduces us. It was like, holy shit–YOU’RE Rory! Every time I’d see Rory after we’d just have the most wonderful talks, just rambling all over about comics and whatever else happened to pop up. I joked to Andi ever since that Rory also drove me batshit nuts. I could never, ever walk away from the guy at any show without dropping $100+, easily. I told him the joke online one day, and he absolutely denied it.

    The last time I saw him, at SDCC 2003, the first day of the con I lead Andi up to the Comic Relief store, right up to Rory, and hand him my credit card, and said, “Two bags”, and he burst out laughing so hard.

    Then the wonderful jerk sold me two bags of comics, and I let him choose all of them (except one Batman book).

  19. Rory was an old friend, though never an extremely close one. We got to know each other in the early 1980s, when I was part-owner of Other Change of Hobbit and he was working at Gambit Games. We’ve shared a lot of laughs, a lot of books. He knew my fussy taste in graphic novels, and loved to hit the mark with me.

    I last saw him on New Year’s Day 2008. He didn’t look well, but he climbed our flight and a half of stairs to our annual party, and was terrific company. We found a shared love for The Wire and after the party he sent me some superb links.

    I’ll miss that snaggle-toothed grin.

  20. Donald Reents Donald Reents

    Sad News. My first boss was Rory when he was the manager of The Gambit (game store on Telegraph Ave.) back in the late 70’s. When we worked together, we were a good team as we both were there because we wanted to be working in a field of our interest while also earning a wage we could live off. In 1980, we were told by the owners of The Gambit they would be closing their Berkeley store at the end of the year. After I opened Games of Berkeley that June, Rory would frequently call to me to send customers for games they did not have in stock or could not get any time soon. This was very helpful in developing a clientele for my shop. As others have noted, Rory was always there to help as much as he could and this was just one small example. The comics industry has definitely suffered a loss today. Obviously, my condolences go to the family and close friends.

  21. Daniel Burk Daniel Burk

    The first time I went to Comic Relief was when I was about 6 years old. I really didn’t know the man personally but the people at that store were always great, and I can remember my mom hanging around talking with Rory and the other guys while I looked around the shop when I was a kid. I’m sorry this happened. It’s a shame.

  22. im his sister and it was a big shock to us all im still reeling afer all i was his favorite sister ill talk more later lots of his love to all

  23. Ben Card Ben Card

    the world if comics just won’t be the same without rory.

  24. I will really miss that guy. I was one of the guys driving a truck for Rory last year, for Comicon, and spent a fair amount of time with him. That trip was kind of a debacle, but Rory showed a lot of class in dealing with the difficulties, and I was always appreciative of that.

    A character, a raconteur, smart, funny, and also an old-school Phan, which is probably why we got on so well.
    Genuinely a nice human being all the way ’round, and there’s never enough of those in this world.
    My condolences to his family and many many friends, and I will now go hoist a scotch to his memory.

  25. Finally got my feelings on the subject together, posted about it here. I ramble a bit in that post; wound up having more to say than I realized.

  26. Noah Nelson Noah Nelson

    Found out while at work by reading the tweets you and Fraction put up. Went into a small amount of shock. Got on BART and hid tears from the other passengers. Made a beeline for the store where the staff was coming out of the back room, putting it all together, their reactions all over the map. The eldest trading stories with each other Irish wake style, one of the newest staff- who was a friend before she worked there- in an obvious amount of shock.

    I picked up a book he had recommended to me a long time ago- when the store was still on University- but had never got around to getting. I’ll never get to talk about it with him now, but at least I finally listened to the man. Its the absolute least I can do. Hard to believe I won’t see him later this week. I grew up in his store.

  27. Liz Schiller Liz Schiller

    I haven’t been to San Diego in years, and I barely buy comics these days, but when I was up in Berkeley a couple of months ago, WonderCon weekend actually, I made a point to drop by Comic Relief and picked up the perfect gifts for my husband (the Jim Woodring fan) and six-year-old son. The kid loved Leave it to Chance a lot, and Owly. Where else can you find a shelf of comics and graphic novels just right for young kids but Comic Relief?

    Rory put Beanworld and Cerebus and probably some other things into my hands when I wandered into Best of Two Worlds somewhere around 1984. He supported the books that Derek McCulloch and I published a few years later, and he supported Friends of Lulu from the start. Someone else said it very well: he was a gentleman, and a true supporter of comics. I wish that there were a Comic Relief down the street from me where I am now, in Southern California.

    I was in town for a memorial service when I stopped by the shop. Guess I’ll be back a lot sooner than I expected.

  28. I just got the news and feel sort of numb. I worked for Rory several times in Comic Relief’s first decade of life. Like anyone who’s worked at Comic Relief, I saw many facets of Rory. But his gentility, his compassion, his raconteurism, and his dedication to promoting the best of comics and literature are foremost in my mind. As others mentioned above, Rory was always willing to take time out to guide a customer to material he thought they’d like. He put his money where his mouth was, too. There were any number of comic books and graphic novels that he offered to folks with his strong recommendation, telling them that they could return it no problem if they didn’t like it.

    I’m ashamed to say it had been several months since I’d last seen him. My loss.

  29. I only went into the shop a few times, but I walk past it every day on the way to and from the BART. I would often see him just inside the store or outside of it. While I don’t think we ever spoke, he radiated openness and welcomingness. (Is there such a word? There is now.)

    I never knew his name. Going past the store an hour ago and seeing the funereal display in the window where the cat usually sits, and seeing the handdrawn memorials, I thought for a moment that the cat had died. Then I was suddenly shocked to see a memorial with his photo above the other.

    I didn’t know him as the rest of you did. But I’ll miss him.

  30. Neil Gaiman talks of Rory passing away too. I would guess this was a very special person. It is a shame, he was still relatively young, being 50 and all. I’m just here to leave my words of support. :(

  31. […] other people are writing about Rory, including Warren Ellis, Brian Wood, Chris Ryall, Neil Gaiman, Paul Levitz, as well as more in retailer and comic-book […]

  32. Jim McVay Jim McVay

    I first met Rory in the late 70’s when he was working at ‘The Mulitversal Trading Co.’, a gaming store owned by Dave Hargrave, if anybody remembers him. I was about 15 and never had any money but I would go down there all the time and just hang around. I could tell that Rory thought I was a dumb kid, and he was right, but even so he would chat with me a bit. The black and white photo on the CR memorial site is the picture I have of him in my mind from that time. Despite the amount of time I spent in that store Rory is the only person, aside from Hargrave, who made any kind of impression on me. I guess he had ‘it’ even then.
    I’d see him off and on again over the years at the various stores he worked at in Berkeley. Unlike so many people in retail he just kept getting more friendly, attentive and enthusiastic every time I saw him. He would really listen to you when you spoke with him, which is a very rare thing, a character trait that he never lost as so many people have attested to.
    When I moved back to the bay area I rediscovered Rory at Comic Relief on University. My best friend and I began a weekly tradition we’ve kept up for the past 13 years – every wednesday we have lunch at Long Life Vegie house and then hit CR. It was always a treat when we’d run into Rory at the store and he even gave us discount cards for some made up reason or other, mainly just because he was a good guy. He revived my interest in comics as a medium and as good entertainment. Rory was eloquent, open minded, thoughtful, persuasive and always fun to talk with.
    Rory always made sure to mention when a signing was coming up by an artist I liked, though how he remembered those kinds of details considering the huge number of people he knew is a yet another testament to how understatedly exceptional he was. I’ll probably always regret not going Warren’s signing, it would have been great to hear to two of them gassing away about comics and probably everything else under the sun.
    I wish I knew Rory better. I’ll miss that spark in his eye and the life in his smile. Good bye.

  33. I’ll miss you, Rory. Comic Relief is my favorite comic store of all time, and the best in the Bay Area. (And I couldn’t have written “Manga: The Complete Guide” without you.) To quote a friend of mine, “you were like the Pope of comics… except not as easily replaceable.”

  34. Jard Davis Jard Davis

    I never met Rory in person. I only knew him from the WEF. And even so…

  35. Colin Epstein Colin Epstein

    This blows. I’m the buddy mentioned in Jim McVay’s entry above, and our weekly trip to CR has been such a welcome treat for over a decade. Rory turned me on to so many things I wouldn’t have read otherwise. On the rare instance I didn’t enjoy something, he always took it back with a refund. His last recommendation to me was when I saw him at Wondercon in SF, and he had fresh-off-the-presses first copies of Marc Evanier’s “Kirby: King of Comics.” As I walked up to the CR booth, Rory just pointed and said “you need this book.” He was right, as usual. Running into him at the store was always a treat, and he always had a kind word, or a fun bit of info to share. I’ll miss him. I hope the great store he co-founded will roll on in the same spirit he steered it with.

  36. Josh Josh

    The first comic store I ever went into was Comic Relief. Even as a little kid, Rory always made me feel welcome. A lot of stores would yell at you if you were just hanging out reading comics, but not Rory, and not Comic Relief. There EVERYONE stands around reading comics, all day. In high school, Rory gave me my first ever job, solely on the basis that I was a regular Wednesday customer. He pulled me out to the parking lot in the back and, smoking, asked me if I wanted to work, like it was nothing. That was the way he acted about everything, like it was nothing. He had a generous, open, warm heart. Over the years, he has given me books, recommendations, and advice. But most importantly, he has shown me that comics can be more than just cheap pulp, and that comics sellers can be genuinely nice, sweet gentlemen.

    Thank you Rory. You will indeed be very missed.

  37. Marcia Marcia

    Nothing to say really. Just very sad. I was hoping to run into him in SD. He’ll be greatly missed.

  38. […] Warren Ellis » Rory Root My old friend Rory Root, a groundbreaking comics seller from the Bay Area, died a little while ago, apparently following complications from extensive surgery for a ruptured hernia. (tags: death comics heroes) This entry was written by thescribe, posted on May 21, 2008 at 12:39 am, filed under research. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « What Eddie Did on 2008-05-20 […]

  39. I know this won’t truly hit home until I don’t see him in San Diego this year. We’d always reconnect and I always came away with a fond memory: when he was on the GiC panel, when he taught me to “schmooze,” the time he tried to set me up with someone…

    He was one of those folks that really had a twinkle in his eye, and just an all around stand-up guy. Such a great light in this world.

  40. […] personal encounters from those who had met him are testament to how important he was: PII, Tom, Warren Ellis, Brian Hibbs, Neil Gaiman, Mark Evanier and dozens more on the Comic Relief dedicated […]

  41. Rory was one that all ocomic retailers should aspire to be like. I know I did, and do. I always looked forward to retailer gatherings at industry events, knowing I’d see Rory there, and knowing that just by sitting by him and listening to him talk I soak up some of that endless knowledge and passion he had about the industry. I’m stunned. I’m saddened. And like Warren said, more than a little pissed off. We lost one of the greats.

    Mike Banks
    Samurai Comics

  42. […] Warren Ellis: 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. […]

  43. I only attended one Comicon, and it was on business. Out of a million fucking people, Rory picked me out of a crowd as one of his local customers and gave me love right on a busy convention floor with two writers waiting to talk to him. (That’s a handshake with a shoulder tap and a kind word for the non-urban among us.) I met him when he was working register at Best of Two Worlds comics on Telegraph in 81′. I just got back from Baycon, which was all win, and now I feel like shit. I gotta get some flowers.

  44. Big Mike Big Mike

    Regardless of who you were, Rory always treated you with respect.
    I weep with all of you. Go with God, my friend.

  45. Paul Moslander Paul Moslander

    Rory, like Poul Anderson, was one of the gentlemen who come among us from time to time to show how life should be lived and how people should conduct themselves. He illustrated how the world could go if we had time enough, skill enough, and heart enough to get it right.

    Comics have taken odd twists in the recent decades. Rory embodied the humanity that remains at the heart of the best of the artform/industry/hobby.

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