The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced plans to create the Rory D. Root Comics Ambassador Grant, a program designed to support community building by retailers, named in honor of the late Rory Root, an influential Berkeley comics retailer noted for his pioneering embrace of book trade practices and outreach to the library market.

The program was announced during the ComicsPro annual meeting of comics shop retailers, held February 20-22 in Portland Ore. The grants will be used to encourage CBLDF retail members to develop programming that creates and grows community bonds and highlights the power of comics as creative tools for free expression. The grants are aimed at any retailer who wants to turn their store into hub for programming that builds connections between its customers, local institutions, and the industry at large.

Paul Levitz, CBLDF board member and former president of DC Comics, described Root as “an early champion in the community of comic shop owners for the importance of comics as books, and to embrace the comic book store’s role as a place to introduce the medium to educators, librarians, and the community at large.”

Retailers can apply for the Rory D. Root Comics Ambassador Grant beginning in March at and initial grant winners will be announced later in the year. Grants will range from $1,000 to $2,500 and the CBLDF expects to disburse a total of $10,000 in the program's first year. Grant winners will be selected by a jury of creative, industry, education and retail professionals. Programming can include a wide variety of activities, including book clubs, comics workshops, literacy workshops, mini-cons, Banned Books events, and other programs that involve outreach and education.

Root, who died in 2008, founded the Comic Relief comics book store in 1987 (the store closed in 2011). In an unusual move for a comics shop owner in those years, Root joined the American Booksellers Association and focused his store’s business model on the book trade (returnable unsold wholesale stock) and his inventory on the book format or graphic novels. Root was also a pioneer among comics shop retailers for reaching out to, and working closely with, local librarians to help them build collections of graphic novels in local library branches.

Cartoonist Jeff Smith, creator of the acclaimed Bone graphic novel series and a former CBLDF board member, is working to design the grant program. Smith said, “Rory was one of the first people to encourage me, and to sing Bone’s praises to his customers and fellow retailers. He was also one of the first I know of to recognize both the literary value and profit potential of graphic novels. I’m glad to be a part of carrying his spirit forward in a way that celebrates how comic stores are the places that bring all of us in the comics community together.”