Dark Carnival: owner Jack Rems hopes to re-open an iconic comics bookstore.

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.

Michael Chabon: supportive of Dark Carnival’s attempt to re-open comics bookstore.

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.

Comic Relief closes [02.15.11]
Comic Relief struggles in wake of founder’s death [12.17.10]
Comic relief: creating a 24-page comic in 24 hours [09.20.10]

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. OMG The Escapist Comic Bookstore opens Tuesday night!
    To all who’ve asked, the COMIC RELIEF CATS are fine!
    Ember and her mighty tortie mom Ash want you to know that they are thriving. In fact, this Tuesday they’re opening The Escapist Comic Bookstore at 3090 Claremont Av Berkeley but not until 10:30 pm so they can end the evening by clawing open all the new Wednesday comics right at midnight-oh-one Wednesday morning. Rowr!! Can you come? There WILL be snacks!!

  2. Jay Sheckley of Dark Carnival here. We’re unsure of the name and location but, once the new store is up, people who want floppies will be happy and people who want the books and other goodies theyre used to will be plenty pleased. [I like Fish Police too]. chris, could you give em an email for sign up?

  3. Yeah – I loved comic relief a lot as it looked at comics from all sides: the pulpy, weekly ephemeral throw-away to the serious statement to the beloved artist. The crazy, demented, demonic, saintly – all were welcome. I hope the new place has the same spirit and sense of exploration. And cats. And chairs. And a kick-ass coffee bar. I think in addition to having all the great comics, you gotta have a place where you can plop down and read/talk/laugh/think. It’s the mark of a great bookstore. Maybe even a place to run a game, or teach a class in comic drawing, writing or publishing? I’m a dreamer, I know… I learned it from the funny pages, right?

  4. DC and Marvel weekly floppies might be key to a comic store’s bottom line, but I hope they don’t become the dominant cultural influence in the new shop. Comic Relief had great logo art by Oakland’s Dan Clowes and significant floor space dedicated to independently published graphic novels — and, at one time, a nice stock of self-published minicomics, too. With the exception of one recent CR employee, the store showed little to no interest in local comics and events in recent years. Pegasus Books and Issues in Oakland have been more supportive of me and my work than CR ever was. I hope the new store will change that. The East Bay is home to a lot of great cartoonists of many different genres and styles who would love a great comics store.

  5. Good ideas, Carly. I think that could really help.

    If they had a section of hard-to-find candies, snacks, and soft drinks that catered to a scifi/comics crowd (Jolt Cola and the like) and a small space for clubs to meet, I could see it attracting more of a crowd. If they include regional snacks from the East Coast & Midwest (Tasty Kakes & Utz chips come to mind) they could attract some homesick Cal kids who’d come for the snacks and maybe stay for the books.

    I was over at The Other Change of Hobbit yesterday, and it’s getting a little sad. They should think about making some changes like these too, though their location isn’t very good for foot traffic.

  6. Good luck; I can promise that at least one buyer will return quickly if the new store is run as well as Dark Carnival is.

  7. I live walking distance from Comic Relief, but I switched to Dr Comics and Mr Games because the old staff had gone and the new manager presented himself as strictly about money. Then, when they couldn’t get weekly comics coming in, there simply was no point. A local place has got to be friendly.

  8. Actions are proceeding, attorneys are being consulted, and the intention is to return continuity and reliability in this NEW comic bookstore here in Berkeley. The staff will remain essentially the same but bolstered by fresh new ideas, rekindled hope, and the ability to once again sell comics every week in the city of Berkeley. Woo!
    -previously manager of CR

  9. Oh man, I’m leaving Berkeley soon, but I really, really want this place to stay open. I was just in there last week buying stuff. I’ve spent the past five years spending way too much money there (but maybe not enough?).
    Place needs to stay open. I always thought it would be cool if there was a more open sit and read policy though? Like maybe have a couple of comfy seats and a please-consider-buying-if-you-read-a-good-chunk honor policy? A good sitting space would allow for for events and comic book reading clubs and such. Maybe sell snacks? Is that allowed?

  10. Oops. To clarify: Mr Chabon has been very generous to us. And my husband and the entire staff ARE insanely excited. But at the moment I write this, The Escapist Bookstore does not in any way represent the character of the same name owned in entirety by Mr Chabon, nor does the store represent the author or his works. Nor is Mr chabon involved or responsible for said bookstore. Thank you.