To say that Pete Root was a simply massive part of my youth is an understatement. It’d be like saying ‘my lungs were a massive part of my upbringing’ because quite frankly, Pete was that important, though I never really knew that at the time. Pete Root was a constant figure in the comics scene in Glasgow from the 70’s to the 2000’s, when he sadly passed away in the June of 2007. He shaped not just mine, but dozens of other people’s lives.
Pete was an old Glasgow hippy. He worked for British Rail so traveled round the country which enabled him not only to pick up comics from cities across the UK, but he’d see bands play in their pomp. I especially remember him telling me about attending the Rolling Stones free Hyde Park in 1969, even though at that time (this would be around 1985 or so) I couldn’t really give a toss about 60’s music. Pete was a traveled, intelligent man who like a lot of working class Scots, didn’t immediately look like such a person, but he was.
I first knew of Pete as someone who sold comics in an arcade in Glasgow, so he was part of the circuit I found as a kid of people who’d sell me comics. I didn’t know he was part of a group of comics fans in Glasgow who were trying to bring together a group like a group of science fiction fans in Glasgow had done with the Friends of Kilgore Trout which ended up organising SF conventions for years in the city. One of my brothers was part of this group, so told me that a group of comic fans were trying to get something going but nothing came to pass until the first Glasgow comic marts popped up in the early 1980’s, and it’s at one of these that I first met Pete as he sold me a copy of Warrior #1.
This would be around April or so of 1982, so I’d be around 15, still at school and finding my own way out in the world. I do remember that mart as being in retrospect a sad wee affair with a few dealers trying to sell ratty copies of comics at stupid prices, but at the time it was a glorious thing. Glasgow had it’s own mini-convention to rival those in England that I’d read about in fanzines, but the importance of that first mart is that it brought people together and informed us all that there were more people in the city like us.
The marts in Glasgow became a regular thing, so I would go with what spare money I could get to spend it, normally at Pete’s table as he sold the cheapest comics, but I started seeing what would become familiar faces, and eventually started seeing them in Glasgow’s comic shops in the early 1980’s. I’ve outlined before a brief personal history of Glasgow’s comic shops, so I won’t bore you again with them but I will say that this was an essential time in my life. I’d love to go back to it in many ways but without all the nonsense elsewhere in my life then I had to put up with. Anyhow, eventually I got to know Pete well through AKA Books and Comics, a comic shop owned and run by Pete, with his business partner, John McShane, another influential figure in my life who’ll I’ll speak about in depth another time.
It’s during the years I hung around and worked at AKA that Pete shaped me in a lot of ways. I picked up his healthy cynicism, which has become an essential survival tool, especially in the last few years when things have been quite tough. That cynical attitude has kept me sane. Pete gave me that.
He also showed me that comics were able to be enjoyed by anyone, OK, John showed me comics was an artform (again, more of this another time) but Pete made sure they were something to be loved, and bloody hell, Pete Root loved comics as much as his wife Doreen, or his beloved Morton.
He also eased me into the joys of going to the pub to talk bollocks with mates. Now Pete wasn’t the only person to lure me into a lifetime of hanging around pubs, but sitting there talking about things with Pete as he supped a lager and lime was one of those joys of my teenage years I’d do anything to live again.
Pete wasn’t a replacement father or anything so Eastenders as that, but he was someone who was a father-like figure at a time when I was lacking guidance from elsewhere. When I got the offer to move to Leicester to work for Neptune Comics Distributors, which meant leaving Glasgow, and everyone in it, far behind me it was Pete who gave me the advice to do it. He’s the one who was honest enough to point out the truth I was sitting on my arse waiting for something to fall into my lap, so when I got the Neptune opportunity I’d be fucking daft not to take it. So I did. Without that wee bit of brutal honesty (and Pete could be brutally honest) I’d have probably hung around missing chance after chance. When I moved to Leicester, I initially went home a lot, as many people do in their early 20’s when they move away from home for the first time. Although my relationship with Pete was now mainly that of supplier to his customer, it was more than that, and as it was with Neptune’s relationship with AKA (and several other shops) generally. As I’ve said elsewhere, those days in Glasgow were a Golden Age, especially as AKA was such a creative hub, and of course, I should mention Pete’s cameo in the pages of the splendid Bogie Man #1.
When the whole mess regarding Forbidden Planet opening happened, it hurt Pete, but I’ve documented the situation before, but it was sad to go home to see Pete angry and hurt over what happened, though he did eventually open up his back issue shop in FP Glasgow after AKA finally closed.
During the 90’s I went home less often. I’d return to do the odd mart or convention with the lads I’d gotten to know in Bristol. We’d still do business and I’d love it as I caught the odd beer and a chat with Pete before having to dash back down south to whatever I was doing at that time.
In 2002 I went home with my then girlfriend, Nat, for Hogmanay. This was the last time I saw Pete. I think the last thing I said was something about Morton and that I’d get in touch about getting him some comics up from Bristol, or that maybe I’d do a mart/con in Glasgow in 2003 but that never happened as 2003 ended up being a simply insane year, and for a while my only contact with Glasgow was with Andy Sweeney, one of the old AKA who occasionally dropped me the odd text or whenever I saw Gary Erskine at a con in London or Bristol. Then there was the time John McShane came to Bristol for a convention and drank it dry as we talked beautiful bollocks in the heat of a perfect spring night but there’s another story……..
I late 2006 or early 2007, Andy dropped me a text that Pete was ill. Very ill. I started getting back in touch with others from Glasgow who also kept me informed and I always meant to get myself back home to Glasgow for a visit, but my life here in Bristol was busy with work, crumbling relationships and getting that year’s Glastonbury planned out. While I was away at Glastonbury, Pete died. I didn’t make his funeral and I bloody well should have.
His funeral was a busy affair from all the accounts I’ve heard as Pete was a popular man in the city. He left us too early though, but Pete never got the credit outside of Glasgow or Scotland for what he did for comics. He never got the credit for helping kids get into comics, or help creators get off their arses or people like me from moping around and on their feet. Pete was a remarkable individual of the like you rarely get these days in today’s nihilistic & hedonistic times. Pete cared for others, often at the cost to himself. He should be enshrined as a legendary figure in British comics, not that he’d like that of course but I’m going to consider him so anyhow as it’s the least I can do.
Pete Root was an inspiring figure to me, many of my friends and many of the people he encountered in his life. For that we should remember him. Rest in peace Pete.