Yesterday I was stunned to hear that Rory Root, owner of Comic Relief has passed away. I wrote this memory of Rory and his phenomenal store on the Comic Relief site, and I felt like sharing it here too...
When I was 22, and a wannabe cartoonist, serendipity placed me in Berkeley, California, far from the east coast where I grew up. Though I didn't know any other cartoonists, I was lucky enough to be staying just a bike ride away from the best comic book store I have ever known. I was in Berkeley as a visitor, planning to stay maybe a month and then head back to Virginia. That is, until the night I walked past Comic Relief and saw the fliers on the window advertising a signing by the Hernandez Brothers. The signing was still two months away. It's no exaggeration to say that I decided right then and there, on the sidewalk in front of the darkened store, that I was going to reside in the Bay Area . I ended up living in the area for over a year, and Comic Relief became the place where I learned what was great about comics. I discovered Jacques Tardi, Arcade, Lt Blueberry, Franz Masreel, Eightball, Dirty Plotte, the mini-comics of Jason Lutes (and later on Adrian Tomine), and many other eye-openers there in 1990 and '91. And not only were these books "in stock", every book was showcased with its cover on display. I was thrilled to meet the Hernandez Brothers at their signing, and later Bill Griffith and Robert Williams.
The very first mini-comics I ever self-published were sold on consignment at Comic Relief. No other store was really willing to take them.
I don't remember when I met Rory. It was probably after I'd left for Seattle and began to make a name for myself in comics. I've never been a major player in the industry, but somehow Rory has always recognized me, or recognized my name, and treated me as if I was someone major. My favorite memory is the time I visited his store with comics to sell --probably around 1998 -- and he was behind the front counter. He said: "Why don't we step into my office." I looked around, wondering where his office could possibly be. Of course, we stepped out onto the sidewalk in front of the store, where he had a half-smoked cigarette stashed away, and we did our business there.
I can't remember the last time I saw him. But I remember seeing him the week after 9-11, and how he'd stopped by the "Left Coast SPX" party. I was as shaken as the rest of America that week, and was wondering to myself if I ever really wanted to draw again. I remember spending several hours in Comic Relief, looking through all those great art books and imported comics I couldn't really afford, flipping through the mini-comic bins, searching obsessively for a reason to go on as an artist. And of course, at the store into which Rory had put so much of his knowledge, enthusiasm, and good taste, I found it .