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A Titan Passes: RIP Rory Root

Brian Hibbs

I feel like I’ve just been punched in the chest.

Rory Root, owner of Comic Relief in Berkeley, and a tremendously great friend of mine, just passed away following a brief coma after surgery for a ruptured hernia this weekend.

Rory and I had a lot of shared paths in comics retailing — we both worked at the Best of Two Worlds chain in the Bay Area. He managed the Berkeley store, and I managed the SF one, before we each opened our own stores, he two years ahead of my own.

Rory was a confidant, a friend, a mentor, and always always ALWAYS, whether I wanted it or not, a sounding board.

There’s many a time when the phone would ring after midnight. Nope, not an emergency or anything, just Rory wanting to gab about something relating to comics or retailing. He’d call so often and so late at times that Tzipora half-suspected I was having an affair. “Nope, just Rory calling,” I say, and she’d roll over to sleep contented at that.

If Rory had a fault, it was that he was a talkaholic. Man, could the man talk! This is coming from, you understand, a veteran talker myself — but Rory had me beat six ways to Sunday. The man never met a tangent he didn’t like, never had a topic he couldn’t opine upon. But it was all good — because his gabbiness was tempered by wisdom and knowledge. The man (usually!) knew exactly wherefore he was speaking of, and on the few occasions he didn’t, he was possessed of enough awareness to ask the questions that would make him MORE knowledgeable.

Comic Relief, once upon a time, had a second store in San Francisco, about eight blocks away from mine. He hadn’t opened it on purpose, in fact, he was there to help out a friend who had gotten locked into a bad lease due to the actions of another. At no point we were enemies, however — he used to call me “Mr. Macy”, and I’d call him “Mr. Gimble” like we were out of A MIRACLE ON THIRTY-FOURTH ST., sending customers freely back and forth between the stores, knowing that making sure people got the book they want was infinitely more important than any kind of rivalry. When CR went in, sales actually INCREASED because there were now two excellent comics shops within walking distance of one another.

There are other retailers in my City who could have learned the lessons of camaraderie that Rory and I taught each other over those two or so years. I know Rory thought so too — he told me so many times.

Rory was a generous man — generous with his time and his attention, perhaps maybe generous to a fault because I can think of many people over the decades who took advantage of his trust and generosity, but it never made him bitter.

But there are few retailers, publishers or creators who spent any amount of time with the man and didn’t walk away learning a dozen things about how comics work the way they do, and what things that could be done to make things better. It is the loss of that generosity of his knowledge (and it was truly encyclopedic and broad) that is going to be the loss that the comics industry is going to face over the next years. If only we had a few dozen Rory Roots, we could have utterly transformed the entire industry.

I’ve said more than a few times that Comic Relief was the best comic book store that I’ve ever been in in my life, and through his many illnesses over the last few years, he thought long and hard about making sure the store will outlast him. He told me on many different occasions that the store will fall to long-time manager Todd Martinez, and I really think it could not be in better hands. Todd’s a very good guy, and I’m sure that the store will continue to thrive under his hands.

I owe Rory a lot, personally, professionally. He was always there for me with encouraging words, solid advice, and a wicked bad case of loving puns; I hope I was even half the friend to him that he was to me.

People used to mistake us for each other all of the time. I mean, not really, but in the sense that “they’re two overweight bearded long-hair retailers from the Bay Area, who are deeply passionate about comics; so I’ve got a 50/50 chance of guessing right since I can’t see his nametag clearly”

Here’s how I most know I’m going to miss the big guy: if it was anyone else I was writing this for, I’d be calling Rory right now and reading it to him over the phone, and asking “what am I leaving out?” and he’d give me six great ideas of things that I really should have said.

Well, I don’t have him now, and I’m sure I’m leaving out six things I really should have said, but I know this much: I’m going to really really miss my friend Rory Root.

May he rest in peace.


One Response to “ A Titan Passes: RIP Rory Root ”

  1. […] Paul Levitz and fellow retailer Brian Hibbs provide testimonials as to why his passing has saddened so many. Tom Spurgeon provides a history of […]

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