16 December 2010

REAL BAD NEWS

Wrote the following as a response to this factually challenged article in the East Bay Express, but who knows if they'll actually run it, so...

I'm always happy to see comics getting some local press, but after reading your recent article about East Bay institution Comic Relief, my only reaction was, "What a pile of horse shit.

"One of Rory Root's surviving family members is going to buy the store and save it? Are you kidding me? That's like saying you're going save a shooting victim by putting him in front of a firing squad. They own the store now, and I am beyond puzzled that someone could research and write an article about Comic Relief's current predicament without understanding that.

Having known Rory Root since I first started working in comics in the early '90s, I can tell you that as much as I loved the guy, he was far from perfect. He kept Comic Relief alive and kicking, though, often against significant odds, because he understood the business and had a deep-rooted love and understanding not only of comics, but of the people who bought and read them. As a result, there were people willing to do favors for Rory simply because it was Rory. Rough around the edges though he was, Rory was a magnetic personality and he engendered a tremendous amount of goodwill. There were few greater ambassadors for comics, and since Image Comics moved to Berkeley in 2004, it was the pleasure of our entire staff to shop at his store.

Until recently.

A seemingly never-ending series of colossal blunders by Rory's family have put the store on life support, and now the store is a shell of what it once was. Comic Relief hasn't received new product in weeks. For anyone even the least bit familiar with the business of selling comics, it should be vodka clear: No new books means no business. No business means no store. And far from being some sort of solution to the store's troubles, the Roots are actually the cause. They took the store over against Rory's wishes and have run it into the ground with such force, you'd think they were blasting for oil.

You see, here's the thing: Rory had a number of health issues, and he was well aware that he was living on borrowed time. The topic of his death and the future of the store came up often – not in terms of "if," but "when" – and no matter who he was talking to, he always made it a point to say that the store would be left to long-time general manager Todd Martinez. He repeatedly said it was documented in his will: The store goes to Todd.

But when Rory passed away in 2008, a funny thing happened: His family claimed they couldn't find a copy of the will in his house.

Now, let's for a moment give the Roots the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Rory really did lose the will. He wasn't exactly known for his organizational skills, after all, and stories of the clutter in his house were legend. But even so, his wishes were widely known. Rory was a public figure and he was not shy about sharing the details of his life. It was no secret he wanted to leave the store to Todd, and one would think, will or no will, his family – of all people – would have enough simple decency and respect to honor his wishes.

But, no, despite having zero experience running a comic book store, the Roots elbowed Todd out of the way like it was raining hundred dollar bills, and started making decisions regarding the store's future that insured nothing but its eventual ruin, beginning with the immediate dismissal of Kathleen Hunt – Rory's attorney and best friend – as executor of his will. They either fired or forced out good employees, they gave up prime real estate at key conventions and best of all, they hired Chris Juricich to manage the store, demoting Todd Martinez – Rory's right hand man for well over a decade – in the process. More staff quit in frustration, and visiting the store was like a trip to Dr. Doom's castle. For Rory's friends and Comic Relief's regular customers (very often, one and the same), watching this sad spectacle unfold has been nothing short of heartbreaking.

The one bright spot in all of this is that I personally am not a short-sighted idiot, so while the Roots failed to recognize Todd's value, I did, and seeing how demoralized he was under Juricich's and the Roots' supervision, I hired him to be Image Comics' Sales & Licensing Coordinator.

Meanwhile, Rory's family continue to stomp on the legacy of their brother, as the wonderful store he created staggers ever closer to its slow and inevitable death.

Whether it's the writer's inability to filter truth from lies or, y'know, actually do some repoting and check some basic facts, I don't know. Maybe this is just a cynical attempt by Juricich and the Roots to cast themselves in a better light. Whatever the case, I'm calling bullshit on this pathetic rewrite of recent history. The customers who've supported Comic Relief over the years deserve better, the store itself deserves better, and most of all, Rory deserves better.