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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
Rory Root, 1958-2008 
20th-May-2008 09:09 pm
Atagoul
Rory Root, cofounder and owner of the best comic bookstore in America, died this week. What little I can say at this sad time, I'll be saying in my Comixology column on Thursday. (Rory, I can say with some certainty, would approve of both the blatant self-promotion and the link to his store.) Meanwhile, I have something else I'd like to post.

A while back, mostly for my own amusement, I wrote a TV pilot about a group of San Francisco cartoonists. Obviously, any show set in the Bay Area comics scene would have to include a character based on Rory, one of the greatest characters of all. In my screenplay, he was named Don. Here he is in the penultimate scene, laying down the wisdom to a miserable young cartoonist at his comic store.



Ben tosses his book on the counter and walks out of the store. Don walks up behind Carmen.

DON
“Comics will break your heart.”

Carmen spins around.

CARMEN
What? Oh, hi, Don.

DON
You know who said that? Jack Kirby. Greatest comic-book artist in American history.

CARMEN
Why?

DON
Hm?

CARMEN
Why did he say it?

DON
Oh, he had a lot of reasons. Everything he created was taken from him by the companies he worked for. The Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, the crazy Fourth World stuff with Mister Miracle and Darkseid…even MODOK.

Don shakes his head sadly.

DON
Even MODOK. But he kept drawing. A cynical heart, or a pragmatic one, would wonder why.

CARMEN
“MODOK”?

DON
“Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.” It’s not important now. Are you familiar with Osamu Tezuka?

CARMEN
Yeah. The manga artist. Ben’s a big fan.

DON
Any right-thinking person would be. Astro Boy, Black Jack, Kimba the White Lion…They say he drew over 150,000 pages of comics. You know what his last words were? “I’m begging you, let me work!”

CARMEN
That’s kind of like Charles Schulz, isn’t it? Drawing Peanuts almost until the day he died…

Don pulls a book of Little Nemo comic strips down from a shelf.

DON
Precisely. How about Winsor McCay? Little Nemo in Slumberland, you ever seen this?

Don opens the book to two beautiful pages of Nemo strips.

CARMEN
It’s beautiful…

DON
Yeah, some people say George Herriman was the greatest comic-strip artist of all time, some say it was Charles Schulz, but I say no one could touch McCay for sheer draftsmanship. Now McCay, he used to say that his greatest fear in life was being somehow unable to draw. You know how he died?

CARMEN
Is it going to be something horrible and ironic?

DON
He came to the top of the stairs and called to his wife, “Mama, it’s gone!” Turns out he’d had a stroke. Paralyzed his right arm. A few hours later, he had another stroke, the one that killed him. But that was his first thought: he’d lost his drawing arm.

CARMEN
Yeah, that’s horrible and ironic.

DON
There’s no good reason to be a cartoonist, is there? The money’s lousy. There’s no prestige. Nobody ever says, “Hey, all my attractive friends of the gender of your choice, let’s go sleep with a cartoonist!” All the artists in this store—they drew comics because they had to.

Don taps the cover of Ben’s book.

DON
Like your friend there.

CARMEN
He’s not drawing comics anymore. He’s out of ideas.

DON
And yet he’s still here. He’s had offers to write novels and screenplays, to paint pictures and draw New Yorker magazine covers, and he’s still hanging around the comic-book shop. Amazing, isn’t it?

CARMEN
You think he’ll come up with something?

DON
Oh, probably. Sooner or later. That’s not what you have to worry about. What you have to worry about is that, once you get that monkey on your back, you won’t be able to get it off again. You’ll be a hundred years old and begging for one more day, just so you can finish inking another page.

CARMEN
Are you talking about Ben?

DON
And you.

CARMEN
Well, thanks. That was kind of inspirational, and kind of horrifying.

Don pulls on his jacket.

DON
If anyone needs me, send them to the Indian place next door. I’ll be at the crepe place across the street.

Comments 
21st-May-2008 04:27 am (UTC)
*grin* And he'd never get to the crepe place, because he'd step out the door for a smoke and someone would walk up and they'd get to talking, and....

Dangit, now I'm all sniffly again.
21st-May-2008 05:29 am (UTC)
*nods* It's very true. What a fucking loss.
21st-May-2008 06:04 am (UTC)
It's scary how many people on my friends list are posting about Rory; he touched so many people's lives.

And mmmm..... Crepes A Go Go.
21st-May-2008 09:19 am (UTC)
...straight to the memories with this one.
21st-May-2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
"'Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.' It’s not important now. Are you familiar with Osamu Tezuka?"

I think that line most reminds me of Rory. I can easily imagine him saying something similar. The tossed out trivia, the lightning-quick topic-change, the the bizarreness of it all...

Love the final line, too. (For those unfamiliar with Comic Relief's old location, there was a crepe place across the street, and an Indian restaurant next door, where Rory would often hold parties.)
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