The news that iconic store Comic Relief was closing came as a shock to many, most notably the comics-loving community, but it seems a knight in shining armor may yet save the day.
Jack Rems, owner of Dark Carnival, another Berkeley bookstore which has become an institution after operating for several decades on Claremont Avenue, has bought Comic Relief’s inventory and is hoping to open a new store, possibly at the Shattuck Avenue premises of the original.
Rems says he is negotiating with John Gordon, the landlord of 2026 Shattuck Avenue, and is hoping a deal can be struck soon. “I am hoping for a downtown location and it would be really simple to stay in the same place,” he says.
Rems also has a clear vision for the store, including its name which, he hopes, will be The Escapist — a direct reference to a character in Berkeley author Michael Chabon’s book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. “The name resonates wonderfully — with the circus with magic,” says Rems. “And what could be better than having a comic bookstore connected to a Pulitzer Prize winner?”
Chabon has given his blessing to the idea. A serious aficionado of comics himself, he told Berkeleyside he was saddened to see the demise of Comic Relief. “I am delighted to encourage and give moral support to Jack in his bid to resurrect the store,” he says.
Chabon says the late Rory Root, Comic Relief’s founder, was a friend and “a great guy”. “His store was an important institution to me and my family and to the comics world at large,” he says. “He made it welcoming to people who were not used to the rough and tumble of the comics culture, particularly females, which, as the father of two daughters, meant a lot to me. My daughters loved going there.”
Chabon also has words of praise for Rems. “Like Rory, Jack is a force for good in the world. The day after I moved to my home in Berkeley 14 years ago I made my first purchase at Dark Carnival. When my kids draw a neighborhood map, the store is always right there.”
He adds that he was flattered and touched that Rems would want to use the name of his character as a name for the new store. ”I like to think I will be customer number one when the store reopens,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rems is in the thick of trying to hatch his plan and says the idea is developing every day. “I have ideas shooting off my head like sparks,” he says.