Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Dave Bird 1958 - 2011
Above: Dave Bird at a London comic convention in 1980.
Back in January 1967, when I was still only 7 years old, the second issue of Odhams' Pow! comic gave away a free Spider-Man T-shirt transfer. I asked my Mum to iron the transfer onto a shirt and went to school proudly wearing it, which no doubt immediately labeled me a geek to my classmates.
However, in the playground a kid in the year above me stopped and pointed with excitement, recognizing "Spidey" immediately. It turned out he was also a reader of Pow! and he told me something that filled me with amazement. "I've got the original American Spider-Man comics" he said. Puzzled, I asked him to explain, whereupon he informed me that the stories in Pow! were reprints from American Marvel Comics. American comics! In full colour! Here in Nuneaton! That sounded pretty mysterious and otherworldly back in those days.
As it turned out, the kid lived in the next street and he kindly gave me, without any prompting, a stack of 75 Marvel comics! Sitting on the bench in the backyard at home I poured through these strange alien comic books. Titles such as Daredevil, Marvel Collector's Item Classics, and Fantasy Masterpieces. I was hooked on comics for life, and the kid became a good friend.
On Saturday mornings we'd go to the ABC Minors childrens' matinees at the local Ritz cinema to watch the Flash Gordon serial (the same serial our Dads watched in the 1930s), then to the bookstall at Nuneaton market to swap Marvel Comics (2 for 1) or buy second hand copies for 6d. Sometimes, giving way to our natural curiosity, we'd stretch up to the top shelf of WH Smith to look at the nude ladies in Parade until the shop assistant chased us off. In the afternoon we'd go fishing for newts at the pond in the local field. Weekdays after school we'd see what the corner shop had in the way of Americana, from brand new Marvel Comics (never DC, as we were Marvelites) to Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum. We'd draw our own comic strips and make up our own superheroes. Mine was Captain Thunder. His was Captain Incredible. They were happy days.
His name was Dave Bird. He passed away this morning, aged just 53 after a long fight with that most evil of diseases, cancer. Dave was a real character, and I mean that in a good way. He had little time for negativity. If he liked something he'd be completely enthusiastic about it, whether it was comics, steam locomotives, guitars, TV sci-fi, wildlife, comedy, heavy rock, the Batman TV show, or gory zombie horror films. He was also interested in model trains, and built displays that, when weathered and photographed at the right setting, looked stunningly like full size locos. There was no falseness to Dave. You knew where you were with him and he was always honest. If he didn't like someone, he saw no point in associating with them. Mention a subject he didn't like and he'd just say "pass" rather than slag it off. He understood that life is indeed too short to waste on subjects or people that are irrelevant to one's own outlook. Would that we could all be so wise.
Although we were close pals when we were kids we'd drifted apart a little over the years as people do. However I often bumped into Dave around town, in more recent years at The Crown pub in Nuneaton when there was a gig on. Sadly he turned up less and less in the last year or so as he was undergoing treatment. He looked very poorly when I last saw him several weeks ago, but he was bearing up really well and everyone was pleased to see him. We thought he still had a chance. I knew he was due to go into hospital for more treatment and I'd intended to visit him before then, but sadly, to my regret, that's now too late.
Dave Bird was one of the good guys. He was well liked in his home town of Nuneaton and beyond, affectionately known as "Birdy" by most, although he never liked being called that. He always joked that if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be working in comics. That's quite likely to be true, because although I liked comics as a child I wasn't hooked as a collector until Dave gave me those Marvels. Perhaps without that pile of American comics to dazzle me I'd have grown out of comics like most kids did. That collection kept me interested in comics, which led to me discovering fanzines... contributing to fanzines... and eventually working in comics.
So, thank you Dave, for being a good pal way back when, and for always being great company. It was a pleasure to have known you and I'll raise a glass of Guiness in your honour next week at The Crown. Rest In Peace old friend.
Here's a proud moment for Dave, on stage playing his inimitable version of Apache...