November 06, 2019

Robert Mitchell Jr.

There are people who storm enemy held positions, climb distant mountains, cure diseases, invent wonders, or are lauded as celebrities and "influencers". The praises of those sorts of people are sung constantly.

There are other metrics for a consequential life.

Robert Mitchell Jr. was never married and his visible achievements consisted of a comic book store.

However, known to his friends as "Bob!" he touched myriad lives and was a remarkable force for good. In 1990, Bob worked as a clerk at a store called World's Best Comics, which was teetering on the edge of oblivion during the comic market collapse of the early '90s. He bought out the senior owner when it looked like the store was going to go under and because of his astute sense of the market and his willingness to live on a shelf behind the new release rack he pulled the store through what was a bloodbath in the local market. 85% of the comic stores in Southeastern Virginia went out of business in the early 90's. Bob diversified and became a local institution.

Bob wasn't just better than most at business though, he was a better than average person. Bob would give you the shirt off his back, and in many cases he literally did.

Bob gave support, advice, sometimes a place to stay, and frequently a reference to literally dozens of young men who got hit by the buzzsaw of life and just needed a few days or weeks to get on their feet. Some of those people went on to great things. A few of them work now in Hollywood or in the video game industry. Inevitably, some of those people took advantage of him. Indeed, some of them so resented the fact that they owed him everything that they turned on Bob, in two cases, trying to get him arrested. And yet in spite of it all, Bob continued to do little these bits of charity here and there.

Bob lacked tack and did not dress elegantly, but he was a true gentleman. Bob was, my father aside, the most honest person I ever met. He ALWAYS kept his word. He was, superficialities notwithstanding, a real gentleman.

For several years, he had made an annual pilgimage to Japan to  get anime and Manga related goods for his store. These were not readily available in the U.S. in the '90s. Along the way, he had learned all the tricks for budget travel in Japan. I would never have gone to Japan had Bob not acted as a tour guide in 2007. I am not the only person he did this for. At least a dozen people, many of whom he hardly knew, were shown the ropes of the dirt cheap Japan tour, some of whom have parlayed that into their own careers. The memory cards with the pictures of that 2007 trip and most of my pictures from the days when I worked part-time at his shop were destroyed when my house as taken out by a tree a few years later. Neither Bob nor myself was particularly sentimental and I now realize that this picture, from that above-lined post, may be the only picture I have of him. 

At the HIJNS Mikasa

More importantly, than his services as halfway house and travel agent, Bob helped me to appreciate what friendship is.

In 1993-4 I was at my absolute darkest hour. Basically everyone in the local fan community had turned on me because, well, there was drama. I did something that was unpopular in the circles of local anime, SF and comic book fandom. I still think I was correct but I was seen as violating fan solidarity.  The point is that this controversy, over night, changed my social credit rating in the local community from "cosmo guy" to "pariah" and further resulted in my own business venture exploding in my face; landing me in what was to me at the time, inconceivable debt, Bob remained my friend.

It was not easy to run a comic store in this area at that time, and remain my friend.

When basically everyone else in the local fandom stopped talking to me, Bob would talk.

When I was homeless, and living in my car, Bob took me in for several months. Because of Bob's help, I was able to get out from under that debt and never file for bankruptcy. About 8 years ago, when my new circle of IRL friends I'd had a decade or more began giving me "The quiz", Bob did not put his finger to the wind and see which way it was blowing before doing a cost benefit analysis on our friendship. Bob was my friend. He was one of the last of my local IRL friends.

I never adequately thanked him.

Now I never will.

Robert Mitchell Jr. was found dead in his shop this morning by his clerk.

There had been a health scare earlier this year, but he had been improving. This was quite unexpected.

This tragedy will get no coverage beyond a few obituaries, but something of great consequence has been lost. Bob, was a fine man and a remarkably positive influence on innumerable people especially here over the last 40 years.

He will be missed more than he imagined.

I am numb.

Godspeed Bob.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 08:28 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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