Comic Book Store Opening Allows Many Fans to Escape From the Rain

Photo: Customers browse through comic books at the new area comic book store, The Escapist.
Jonamir Ventura/Photo
Customers browse through comic books at the new area comic book store, The Escapist.

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It was 10 p.m. when The Escapist's storefront, marked only by a temporary sign taped to the window and lit Batman and Superman logos, opened its doors for the first time Tuesday and let around two dozen of its first customers in from the rain.

As more and more arrived, the little storefront at 3090 Claremont Ave. was quickly filled to capacity with an array of people ranging from college students and middle-aged men wearing Batman pins to hip young men and women with black-framed glasses and people who work nine-to-five in business casual attire. They thumbed through shelves upon shelves of comics and mingled as Hercules and Love Affair played in the background, all there to celebrate the opening of Berkeley's newest comic book store.

"I was amazed," owner Jack Rems said in reaction to the turnout. "I guess we were lucky it was raining or there would have been even more people, and we wouldn't have been able to handle it. I haven't heard a single complaint."

Rems, who also owns the nearby Dark Carnival Bookstore, opened The Escapist in the wake of Downtown Berkeley icon Comic Relief's February closure following two decades of business. He attributed the other store's failure to "a total absence of the owner" even though he said its employees were knowledgeable.

"We started out thinking we were going to buy the business, but you can't just buy debts," he said.

After purchasing the defunct shop's inventory of back issues, hardbacks and trade paperback books, Rems and his staff - many of whom were employed at Comic Relief - worked for six weeks to prepare the new store. Escapist employee Perry Shirley said the process was a challenge, especially when ordering over 10,000 new comic books to update the store's stock but added that he was relieved it was over.

"We're all at wit's end - absolutely frazzled," Shirley said at the opening, standing near a shelf of Batman comics as a small figurine of the series' namesake looked on. He added that he was glad to have the opportunity to enjoy a beer as he held a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Like Comic Relief did, The Escapist stocks a wide range of comics, including titles from big publishers like DC and Marvel comics in addition to independent books and magazines. While shelves dedicated to popular, mainstream titles like The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim and Hellboy lay scattered throughout the store, self-published and small press products are prominently displayed near its entrance.

Longtime Comic Relief customer Steven Johnson said at the opening that he was hopeful The Escapist would be a great store, especially if the inventory it has now is representative of what it will carry. Wearing a Batman t-shirt, San Francisco resident Juhani Smith agreed and said that while each store has its own unique atmosphere, The Escapist's is similar to what Comic Relief's was.

"Sure the store's a little smaller, but it still has a great selection," he said.

As the crowd died down later in the evening, manager Chris Juricich, also the former manager at Comic Relief, helped a customer find books she might have been interested in. Although the store was unable to release new comic issues - something Rems said he plans to do every week as long as the store is able to get the books on time - people still stuck around until after midnight to shop and converse with fellow enthusiasts.

"It was kind of exciting, energizing and exhausting," Rems said of the six weeks leading up to The Escapist's opening. "I'd say that at least six of the 10 best days of my life have been in the last month. It's been a wild ride."


Contact Nick Myers at [email protected]

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