Tuesday, May 20, 2008

RORY ROOT (1958 - 2008)

Rory Root, Bay Area comics guru and owner of the legendary Comic Relief shop in Berkeley, passed away yesterday after complications from an emergency surgery over the weekend. This is extremely sad news for the Bay Area and for comics & manga fandom.

Folks who were friends with Rory from across the comics world have begun posting lovely remembrances of a guy who was, by all accounts, both an intellectual and talkative comic retailer and a generous but sometimes rough boss. You can find tons of memorials in the comments at Newsarama and Comics Reporter, along with posts from Fantagraphic's Eric Reynolds, Warren Ellis, and on PW's The Beat.

I didn't know Rory personally, but I knew about him via his famous store. More than almost any other shop I've been to, Comic Relief evangelizes the kind of comics we love to talk about on Same Hat-- indie comics, European arty-farty imports, fucked-up manga and zines & minis by up and coming cartoonists. A number of my friends spent their college years at Berkeley working at his store, and at cons like APE when they all got together to man Comic Relief's massive booth, they all seemed like a big family. The shop was also one of the only places early on during college where I could find minis by friends like Jason Shiga, Derek Kirk Kim and Hellen Jo.

For folks that want to share memories or just learn more about the guy, please visit the Comic Relief site, which has been converted into a memorial page.

Here are some thoughts from Dark Horse's Carl Horn, about his early years working in manga at Viz Comics and interacting with Rory:
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.
What a major bummer of a week for comics nerds.

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