Enthusiasts packed The Escapist for last night's opening/Photos: Tracey Taylor

The Escapist, the comic book store that rose from the closing of Comic Relief, opened last night at 3090 Claremont Avenue, a couple of doors down from Dark Carnival, the specialists science fiction, fantasy and mystery bookstore that bought the old store’s stock.

An enthusiastic crowd of comic book fans packed the store to browse both familiar commercial titles and a trove of small-press comics. A cake, with The Escapist‘s skeleton key symbol, was served, but the opening night attendees seemed more interested in the comic books and catching up with store employees. Jack Rems, who bought the stock and opened The Escapist, also employed all of the people who worked at Comic Relief at the time of closing.

Exterior of The Escapist

“I’m glad someone wants to carry on having an awesome comic book store in Berkeley,” said Ray Morales, one of the employees. “But I’m also just glad Jack saved my job. I get to do what I love.”

The space occupied by The Escapist was, until a few days ago, a storage space for Dark Carnival. Rems and the store’s employees transformed it into a fairly bare-bones space, but with plenty of room for comics. Morales said that the stock on the shelves is what they were able to display in the short time they had, and that the store would be increasing both its quantity and range.

Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, where the character The Escapist originated, was among the revelers at the opening. Chabon, who lives near the new store, told Berkeleyside last month, “I like to think I’ll be customer number one when the store reopens.”

Although the closing of Comic Relief had saddened many who remembered the store’s heyday, it had changed since the death of founder Rory Root two years ago, according to people who knew the store well.

“The old store was a shadow of its former self,” said Sophie Yanow, who worked at Comic Relief, and is helping The Escapist with its website and publicity. “I’m a big promoter of small press comics and mini-comics. After Rory died the owners weren’t interested. I asked Jack and he said, ‘Go right ahead.’”

Comic bookstore The Escapist to open on Claremont Ave. [03.07.11]
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]

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...