Al Janske sparkles when he talks about Graphic Fantasy, the comic book store at the corner of Broadway and 40th Street in Oakland that he owned back in the 1970s.
Janske was only 21 when he opened the store along with an equally young business partner. His bookstore experience was a part-time job during high school at the Joyce Bookstore in downtown Oakland. Later he sold old comic books on weekends at the Island Drive-In flea market in Alameda. Owning a store was a big step up, and Janske loved his customers, who came from all over the East Bay.
"it was really exciting to kids," he recalls. Some of those kids, he said, grew up to work backstage in Hollywood, in animation and costuming jobs — inspired in part by the comic books they bought at Graphic Fantasy.
Those were good years. So were the years growing up on Park Boulevard, just across the street from Piedmont, and attending with his parents and his brother George. And the years earning business degrees at San Francisco State, then working as an accountant — especially, Janske said, when he moved from the private sector to non-profits in the East Bay.
The bad times came later, after Janske quit his accounting job at Oakland's Clausen House, then found himself unemployable because of his age. They got worse this spring, when a bank foreclosed on the 4511 Park Blvd. house where Janske grew up and where he lived with his disabled brother after their parents' death. (George Janske has been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder.) Janske, 59, had used up his retirement savings and was unable to keep up payments on a home equity loan he'd taken out to make repairs to the aging home.
"I'm not the kind to ask for things," Janske said. When the brothers were evicted at the end of February, their income down to George's disability payments and a few hundred dollars they raised selling furniture, they moved first to a motel in Richmond and then into a tent in Mt. Diablo State Park with their three dogs.
That's when lightning struck — quite literally.
"It was okay until the storm of April 12 and 13," Janske says. That night, a lightning bolt split into three parts, hitting a nearby tree, burning holes in the brothers' tent and digging holes in the ground beneath metal objects in the tent.
"It was a very peculiar feeling," Janske says. While he did receive minor injuries, Janske was more concerned about his brother, who legs were numbed, and the dogs, who needed calming.
The lightning strike also set off a chain of events that is helping the Janske brothers rebuild their lives. A state park superintendent visited them and then contacted Denis Cuff, a writer for the Contra Costa Times. (You may read Cuff's first article about the Janskes here and a follow-up article here.)
A Glenview neighbor, Heather Reloq, read Cuff's first article, accompanied him on a visit to the Janskes at their Mt. Diablo tent and quickly became a one-woman fundraising coordinator. While Reloq hadn't met the Janskes before, she lived near them and felt the neighborhood should help out.
So far, the fundraising campaign has raised more than $11,000 for the brothers through individual donations and proceeds of a neighborhood bake sale. They are back at the Richmond motel where they stayed earlier, but plans were in the works this week for them to act as caretakers for an Oakland home. Janske has been able to attend a resume writing class and take the dogs for needed veterinary care. He'd like to return to work, preferably for a nonprofit agency.
A fundraiser and "thank you" party with food and entertainment is scheduled Sunday, May, 20, at Pacific Coast Brewing Co., 906 Washington St. in downtown Oakland (between Ninth and Tenth streets) from 3:30 to 7 p.m. A portion of sales will benefit the Janske brothers.
Contributions may also be made online at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/0IW27.