Coming soon: The Escapist comic bookstore. Photo: Scott Mace.

Michael Chabon will be happy. A new comic bookstore, whose name was inspired by a character in one of Chabon’s own novels, will open soon just a hop and a skip away from his Berkeley home in the Claremont neighborhood.

Jack Rems, owner of science fiction and fantasy bookstore Dark Carnival says he will open The Escapist at the retail space he owns two doors down from his shop at 3086 Claremont Avenue, and it will be stocked with the inventory he bought from Comic Relief, the venerable Berkeley store that closed down on Valentine’s Day.

As we reported on January 18, Rems had originally wanted to take over the lease at the Comic Relief space at 2026 Shattuck Avenue. But, he says, that proved unworkable.

“I was less than confident I could pay the rent there,” he says, explaining that the landlord, John Gordon, had made concessions to the previous tenants which he was reluctant to do with a new one. Rems also felt unsure about the potential of the location. “There are a lot of boarded-up stores in that block of downtown,” he says. “I like it here better,” he says referring to Claremont Avenue. “There are no parking meters and I can control both stores more easily.”

The name, The Escapist, was inspired by a character in Chabon’s book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Chabon, a serious comics fan, told Berkeleyside last month he was saddened to see the demise of Comic Relief but delighted Rems was resurrecting the store.

He also said he would like to be “customer number one” when the store re-emerged. Rems says he is hoping for a March 16 opening, so we fully expect Chabon to be first in the door.

Update, 03.08.11, 21.33: Berkeleyside was remiss in not contacting the property owners at 2026 Shattuck Avenue, John Gordon and Janis Mitchell, when reporting this story. We have since been in contact with them and understand that Jack Rems was offered the same below-market rent that Comic Relief owner Rory Root and his trust had been charged for the lease at 2026 Shattuck Avenue — although they had fallen behind on their payments many months ago. The owners offered to make some improvements to the property and include the cost of other improvements requested by Jack Rems into his rent. Rems decided not to take the lease.

From the ashes of Comic Relief, a new store is set to rise [02.18.11]
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. Yes, I have received news that there will be a new comic store in the old Comic Relief location at 2026 Shattuck.

  2. Strange…I walked past the old CR location on the way to a bakery and I spotted workers refurbishing the space with a large sign written: “Comic Store Coming Soon.”

  3. You retreat too soon.
    John Gordon’s idea of “improvements” would fall pretty much into anyone else’s definition of “repairs.”
    Fixing or replacing the malfunctioning door, and installing heat (is it even legal to rent a place without heat?) are the two big ones–no one ought to have to have the rent raised to pay for these things; they’re just a cost of doing business.

  4. “Aside from CR, there is exactly one boarded up storefront on the block in question, the former location of Other Change of Hobbit.”

    There is also the former China Express (steam-table Chinese food; I may have its name slightly wrong).

    Three vacant storefronts in a row looks pretty depressing.

    But I don’t think the location would be a liability. It is just coincidence that three stores happened to leave at once – in part because of rising rents.


    Sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?
    How many years has that old ROSS building been empty now?
    Three? Four?

  6. The new location will no doubt be good for a Dark Carnival sister store that deals in comics, but Rems’ suggestion that he doubted the potential of the former Comic Relief location is laughable. Aside from CR, there is exactly one boarded up storefront on the block in question, the former location of Other Change of Hobbit. It’s a shame the new store won’t be in the same location, but seriously, don’t insult people’s intelligence by pretending that spot would have been a liability.

  7. @ Sluggo- You do know that this location isn’t in the middle of the Sahara, right? It’s a few blocks east of College & Ashby. It’s maybe a 30 minute walk (10 minute bike ride) from UC campus.

    Plus, Dark Carnival is right there too (TONS of mysteries, sci-fi, & fantasy books), along with that supermarket w/ the crazy meat section & decent produce.

  8. Well, I probably will never go there. It’s too hard to get to, and if I am going to struggle to get my comics, I can do struggle less going elsewhere.
    Good luck, but I don’t think we’ll ever meet again.

  9. No doubt this will be a nice little neighborhood store in a lovely upscale corner of Berkeley. This new store is also a very short drive from the pretty good Dr. Comics & Mr. Games on Piedmont Ave.

    This isn’t Comic Relief “re-emerging” though. This new store is far away from mass transit and a long way from most Cal students.

    I hope someone opens a comic book store downtown. I want to shop downtown. Good luck to John Gordon if he won’t make rent concessions to an established business trying to take the place of a retail institution.

  10. I’m glad to hear the reopening is happening. It’s a bummer the new store won’t be downtown, but it’s not entirely unexpected.

    I don’t understand the logic of the landlords who would rather have an empty store then lower the rent. You’d think they would lose more money by having the store stand vacant for months than by lower the rent a few hundred dollars.

  11. I had hoped to see Dark Carnival take over the Comic Relief space as part of this move. Jack’s right about one thing, that block of Shattuck is dismal right now. It isn’t going to improve until some businesses take a chance on the space. Too bad it couldn’t work for The Escapist.