Rory Root called me on Friday afternoon and left me a voice mail and told me we could just catch up on Monday. On Saturday, Rory slipped into a coma after emergency surgery and never woke up. He passed away this afternoon. I don't want to write this now but know I should because I will miss Rory and he needs to be remembered as the kind soul and legend in his field that he was.
Like many other people I know (including Ed Brubaker, Sophie Crumb, Adrian Tomine, Charles Brownstein and others) Rory encouraged me in this business at a very young age when he had nothing to gain from doing so. I first visited his mecca of world cartooning, Comic Relief, on a spring break from Southern California as a teenager in the late-1980s. I didn't meet him then, I just fell in love with his store. But when I became the news editor at The Comics Journal in my early 20s, Rory became one of the first people who encouraged me and supported me with advice and contacts. I don't even remember meeting him -- he just feels like one of those people I've known forever. He was a great person to get perspective from, and when I switched over to the publishing side our relationship only grew. I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who was a stronger advocate for the kinds of quality cartooning being published by not just Fantagraphics but also Drawn & Quarterly, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink, Top Shelf, Buenaventura, etc. The man knew his shit, and he quite often knew how to sell it better than we did.
I can't believe I didn't get another chance to talk to Rory. Fuck. Even talking business, he was someone whom I could always talk to, even about the most contentious of business matters. We had the opportunity to "break bread" -- as he always put it -- many times over the last 15 years, and he was a fascinating guy, never at a loss for conversation. He didn't just know comics. To give but one example, Rory was a great restaraunt connoisseur and visited Seattle every couple of years and knew Seattle's fine dining by reputation and/or experience better than I do. I think he could have done well on Jeopardy.
What can I say about what he built? Comic Relief is just about the perfect comic book store, and if you're ever anywhere near Northern California you really NEED to pay a visit if you like comics (which I presume you do, if you're reading this). The thought of a Comic Relief without Rory is just too much to even think about right now, although I've heard that Rory has left the store in the hands of his trusted manager, Todd, so that his legacy will continue. Comic Relief was a graphic novel store almost before there were graphic novels, and is simply as great a place to buy comics as I've ever been to, and it's almost entirely due to Rory's passion, vision, and hard work. I will greatly miss the big lug and my heart goes out to his biological family, and his Comic Relief family.
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