It's been comforting to read the outpouring of admiration, respect and affection for my friend Rory Root all over the comics world blogosphere since his untimely passing, but I know one thing for sure--- neither Rory nor his family would ever want him deified.
He was a giant among retailers, but personally very humble and also cognizant of his own short-comings--- especially his lack of attention to personal health issues. Back when I started writing columns for Comics & Games Retailer magazine, one of my first dealt with my father's health problems and how they reminded me that comic retailers were (and sadly still are) largely in the same bag. Rory called me after the column saw print and said "Joe, I know you were directing that piece to me, so thank you."
That was ten years ago, and in the interim, Rory and I talked a lot about taking better carer of his health (and mine), but it was only in the last few months Rory really started to pay attention to trying to get better...no doubt sensing his own mortality. Almost every time I talked with him on the phone---and we talked usually a few times a week--- he'd mention how long it had been since he quit smoking....and I'd give him an "attaboy".
I talked Tuesday morning with Brian Hibbs from SF's Comix Experience who wrote a very nice tribute to Rory on his Savage Critic site. In it, Brian goes into detail about how Rory could talk rings around Brian---and Hibbs is a mile-a-minute gabber himself.
When I related to Brian that I thought Rory often had a quiet way of getting his points across, Hibbs laughed heartily and said "Rory?! Quiet?!?". I meant that Rory often made his points in softer tones, even if he took all day to say what he wanted. "Brian," I added, "Rory wasn't AM. He was most definitely FM."
Rory was a life-long voracious reader and book collector, which likely led to his drive to take the medium of comics to an equal footing with the rest of the book business. Comic Relief was probably the first comic book specialty store to fully embrace the bookstore model and that focus allowed Rory early entrance into the market of serving schools and libraries with a steady diet of book-format comics. Comics Relief was and is The Comic Bookstore.
Long before I knew Rory as a retailing colleague, I bought comics from him when he worked at Best of Two Worlds on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. I clearly remember in the early '80s, I was trying to reassemble my run of Amazing Spider-Man and was down to some of the tougher, more expensive lower issue numbers. As I walked into the Best of Two Worlds store that day, just ahead of me was someone selling a stack of early Marvels to Rory over the counter. I caught the tail end of that transaction--- Rory paid $125 for the stack of maybe 50 comics, including Spidey #2, the lowest issue number I needed then, along with Sgt Fury & His Howling Commandoes #1-4, some issues of Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish, and a few other Ditko Spideys.
After paying the guy his $125, I asked Rory if he had any early Spideys for sale. He pulled the #2 out of the just-purchased stack and when I asked its price, it was--- you guessed it--- $125. I didn't know it at the time, but Rory had just given me my first lesson in comic retailing.
While I was still working in radio in the mid-'80s, I also moonlighted doing some promotion and advertising work for a Bay Area comic retailers group called NCCDA (Northern California Comic Dealers' Association). That was the group with the idea to start a convention, dubbed "The Wonderful World of Comics Convention" by retail pioneer John Barrett. Rory was in that group of early organizers for what became WonderCon and it was there that I got to know him and we became friends.
When I finally took the plunge to open Flying Colors, Rory was a retailer friend I knew I could call on to get advice. I can vouch for all those who've been saying that Rory was generous with his time. More than that, I think Rory genuinely cared for his opinions to count in any discussion. And his opinions always seemed to be well-studied.
Rory was also among a select group of retailers from whom I solicited thoughts for another Comics Retailer magazine column on what it takes to run a successful comic specialty retail operation. That column can be found HERE.
For the last seven years, at the end of each Free Comic Book Day, Rory was the only retailer who gave me a phone call to say "thank you" for the good idea with FCBD and to tell me of his store's success with the event. It was truly a gentlemanly thing to do and I know I'll really miss those calls...
When Flying Colors opened in 1988, my daughters were 4, 6 and 8 years old. Rory became one of their comic industry godfathers---Bill Liebowitz and Joe Ferrara being the other two--- and my girls gave him respect and affection which he returned in kind.
He loved good books, good food, good conversation, good laughs--- and he rarely would turn down what he thought was a good deal.
More than 20 years ago, when I was concerned about finding the right people to staff Flying Colors, John Barrett told me not to worry, saying "Good people find good people." Rory was "good people".
One of the keys to the success of Flying Colors has been my friendship with Rory Root--- my colleague and my friend.
Rory, may your new journey lead you to an eternal banquet of delicacies, deep conversations and re-acquaintances with long-lost friends and loved ones. And may your soul find...
Photo by Fae Desmond taken of Rory in his element, among the stacks of books at Comic Relief in Berkeley.