Comic Shop Owner Was 'Pope of Comics'


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Rory Root, the co-founder and owner of the store Comic Relief on Shattuck Avenue who was known as a gregarious visionary of the comic book retail industry, passed away on May 19 due to complications resulting from a hernia surgery. He was 50.

Root leaves behind a following of friends in the industry who attest to his national, and even global, reputation as a comic book authority.

Andrew Farago, curator at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and a long-time customer and associate of Root's, called him "the Pope of Comics."

"(Root) was an authority of the field," he said. "Everyone knew and respected (Root). I never heard anybody say a bad word about him."

Comic Relief, Root's legacy, was founded in 1987 on Telegraph Avenue, and moved to Shattuck in 2005.

Dan Shahin, 32, owner of Hijinx Comics and Root's friend and colleague, said Comic Relief defies any preconceptions about comic book stores its customers may have. It is spacious, well-lit and accessible, with helpful staff and an easily navigable selection of comics, he said.

"It wasn't your stereotypical comic book shop," Farago said. "It's a very inviting place, whether you buy comics every week or have never been in a comic book store before."

In addition to graphic novels, Comic Relief features a wide variety of children's comics and European comics. Root's goal, Farago said, was to bring comics to a wider audience.

Another way Root expanded comic book readership was to work with the American Library Association to put graphic novels on the shelves of public libraries.

His sister Karen Root, 49, said he had always valued reading and wanted to make sure children would have access to books that they were interested in.

According to his sister, Root briefly attended UC Berkeley in the 1970s and later became a co-manager of the comic store, Best of 2 Worlds, on Telegraph.

One of the first retailers to stock graphic novels, Root anticipated the trend decades before the rest of the industry, Farago said.

Root also supported local and amateur artists by offering them advice, Root's colleagues said. He constantly tried to expand the types of comics his store offered and was often the first to publish their work.

Shahin praised Root for championing the graphic novel format and for being receptive to customer needs.

"(Root) was my hero, as far as comic book retailing goes," Shahin said. "The entire industry is playing catch-up to (Root's) vision."

In his will, Root left the store to its manager of 11 years, Todd Martinez, who said he knew Root for 18 years. Martinez said Root was devoted to comics and books, and could find the right comic for any customer.

On June 21, a family memorial for Root will be held at Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland during the day, and a memorial at the store will take place late in the evening.


Contact Rachel Gross at [email protected]

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