Stephen Bamford, the manager of Dave’s Comics died suddenly on 21st march.
Having previously worked at a comic shop in Crawley, Stephen joined Dave’s Book Exchange in 1997 with the role of opening a comic shop just two doors along on Sydney Street in Brighton. After seeing off competition from no less than four other comic shops in the city at the time, including a Forbidden Planet, Dave’s Comics was unique for not just stocking superhero titles, but focusing on so-called less well-known indie titles such as Maus, Eightball, Love and Rockets, Strangers In Paradise and Cerebus. Stephen understood that the iconology of superheroes would look after themselves and it was works by the likes of Chris Ware, Seth, Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdale and Ben Katchor that needed and deserved to be promoted.
The front of the shop reflects its philosophy in a bold and unprecedented way – the Batman logo on the awning, the children’s books images below the window, and the enormous self-portraits of comic creators that most visitors probably wouldn’t recognise. Graphic novels have always existed outside of the mainstream, even now when so many multi-million-dollar movies and TV programmes are adapted from them. The respectability of the industry relies on comic shop managers such as Stephen searching for and promoting titles that would otherwise receive no publicity. As graphic novels don’t fall into easy categories in the way novels do, so it pays to be constantly searching for new ways to present titles, forcing people to explore books that they may never have noticed. It was a mandate that led to his frequent (and infamous) re-shuffling of the shop layout.
So these were the secrets to Stephen’s success at Dave’s Comics: his belief in the fine art of sequential art coupled with an acute business acumen built upon thorough research. But of course, that’s not all.
You only have to take a moment to see the comments on social media to appreciate how well thought of Stephen Bamford was. Even more words have been shared in the shop. Many people have stories about how he helped them with advice, or employment in the shop, or tracking down a hard-to-find item, shared deep conversations about a range of topics, or simply been impressed with his attentiveness to regular customers names and taste in comics. Some of those people are well-respected comic creators who have been regular visitors over the years.
For such an energetic and charismatic person, maybe some that knew him would be surprised to learn that he was quite a shy and private person. He was a talented illustrator, particularly of abstract fantasy images and enjoyed wood carving. He prided himself on a more esoteric leaning in his musical taste and particularly enjoyed opera. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge in whatever subject drew his focus which, by his own admission, would see obsessive levels of research whether it be the days of silent film, the origins of religion, folk tales, or the early history of comics. He was also extremely keen on fitness which saw him run and lift weights regularly and plan a carefully controlled diet, which is why his death due to complications after an accident at home has left everyone so stunned.
Dave’s Comics was Stephen Bamford, so his passing will lead to a new chapter for the shop as the staff learn to adapt to a new way of operating. But there will be no way of filling his loss as a person.
He is survived by a wife and brother, and our thoughts are with them both.