To The Dave Cave!

19 Aug

The old building stands its ground amidst Cardiff’s redeveloped city centre, proud and defiant, like the apartment building in the film Batteries Not Included. You reach it from town by walking beneath a dark, dank railway bridge, right next door to the central station, just along from the new hotel that mysteriously sprang up almost overnight. In a few short steps the bustle of a Saturday on St Mary Street is a million miles away. A few steps more, and you enter the hidden world of Jacob’s Market – a kingdom of curiosities and bric-a-brac, a must-visit for antique hunters coming to the capital. But our destination lies a little further within. Take the stairs up to the first floor. Past the lift doors featured in the Doctor Who story Victory Of The Daleks. Then left, left again, go straight ahead, and we’re there.

The Cardiff Fantasy Centre is (to my knowledge) Cardiff’s oldest comic shop, run by Dave Bath and his wife Pauline. I like to call it The Dave Cave, but as I only ever call it that to one other person, and as that person isn’t Dave himself, this is unlikely to ever catch on. For many years the shop was co-run with Pete, but Pete retired shortly after I started going there (two facts which, I trust, are completely unrelated) and Pauline pitched in.

About five years ago I started reading comics again. Eventually I stumbled on the Dave Cave, felt immediately at home, and firmly plan on never leaving. Dave’s a natural enthusiast, steeped in the lore and legend of the world he loves, but always welcoming new customers, new fans. A big part of that inclusive atmosphere is his refusal to get bogged down in that obsession of a certain breed of comics reader – continuity. For the uninitiated, continuity in the superhero genre means an exhaustive knowledge of Which character did Why thing at When time, often wearing What costume. The clothes are important. Fans who thrive on continuity often have firmly held beliefs about the precise details of a given characters’ togs.

(Slight digression by way of a recent example. In a bold and exciting move, DC Comics will launch 52 titles in September, including fresh but still-familiar takes on Batman and Superman. Their flagship Superman title Action Comics will be penned by comics legend Grant Morrison. Anyone who’s read Morrison’s All Star Superman series (not to mention anything else from his prolific output over the years) regards this as a very good thing. But when DC announced the news, by far the loudest response was not “Hurrah and huzzah!”, but “What IS he wearing?!” In the accompanying press release Supes sported a variation on his usual look, which some fans deemed to be just plain silly. This would, presumably, be on the sliding scale of sartorial silliness that includes red capes, and wearing one’s pants outside of one’s trousers.)

On the whole matter of continuity, Dave is fond of quoting a line from another great Superman tale, Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? – “This is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?”

Dave is also, by his own admission, a dealer addicted to his own drug, and you’ll find no more fervent evangelist for the heady delights of the comics medium. New titles come in on a weekly basis, bagged up on a carousel, but a standing order earns you a Dave Discount and ensures that, in the words of those old coupons For Your Newsagent, you Need Never Miss An Issue Again! There’s an apparently eternal half price sale on a hefty array of back issues, and a corner of curiosities where you’ll find ridiculously discounted graphic novels and a Lucky Dip of imported sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks.

On your average Saturday at the Dave Cave, seasoned collectors and regulars rub shoulders with browsers and interested newcomers alike (literally, in busy periods). There’s usually a running conversation about the latest genre TV or movies of the day, such as Captain America (near unanimous approval) Green Lantern (divided opinion) and The Walking Dead (universal love). It’s like a geek version of Cheers, without the beer (though if it were possible to serve drinks, Dave would find a way) and where everybody knows your name, eventually.

Occasionally, Pauline does some hoovering. I worry about this. Not out of any aversion to cleaning, but because I strongly suspect the dust in and around The Dave Cave is Load-bearing Dust, and removing it would endanger the very structure of Jacob’s Market itself – if not the fabric of the space-time continuum. It’s that kind of place. Every time I leave, I’m always thankful I’ve returned to the same period I left from, and I’m never quite sure that on my next visit the building won’t have drifted off to the middle ages for a spell.

Which sort of brings us full circle. Emerging from under the railway bridge, out into the glare of everyday life, the stag and the hen do’s, the shoppers and the sports fans, safe in the knowledge that a hidden world of weekly wonder is just a Dave Signal away.

The Cardiff Fantasy Centre is open from Thursday to Saturday. For more information visit their website here