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A Historic Anniversary for Paradox Comics n’ Cards

News | April 16th, 2023

By John Showalter 

john.d.showalter@gmail.com

If you’re any stripe of dork, geek, nerd, or all of the above, Paradox Comics n’ Cards in downtown Fargo is practically a local institution. 2023 marks its thirtieth year of catering to the area’s comic fans and tabletop gamers.

Owner Richard Early has big plans to mark this auspicious anniversary for the store and recently I had the opportunity to interview him about those plans, as well as the history of the story and his love of comics and all things geek.

Early has been a fan of comics ever since he was a kid. “I had a lifelong collection, comics were my life since I can remember. Heck, I used to skip hot lunches at school so I had extra quarters for comics every week.”

No obstacle has kept Early from reading the comics that he loves. “I’m blind, or low vision. I have no sight in my left eye and most of my life I’ve fought to sustain some vision in my right eye. I use technology to read comics, digital magnifiers and things like that.”

That indefatigable love of the medium translated into a business opportunity when he was a young adult. “I was hauling my comic boxes to local conventions and teamed up with a friend who was doing the same with non-sports cards. We thought we were big shots by combining our tables. From there, it just sorta happened.

“I don’t know if we were serious or knew where it was heading. We were certainly caught up in the hype of the early 1990s comics and cards boom going on. We’d hang out together and barbecue and watch movies and Star Trek and the idea just sort of came up. We got the name out of a thesaurus and our shared love of all things sci-fi. We rented a super cheap spot in the basement of the same building we are in now and just sorta rolled with it those first couple of years.”

Paradox has seen big changes both for the store and for nerd culture at large in the thirty years since. “When we opened, Magic: The Gathering did not exist,” Early said. “Pokemon was years away. The Star Wars Special Editions hadn’t even been released. It’s hard to imagine that. I mean, we didn’t have a computer or internet or modern credit card machines or a point-of-sale system.

“It kinda goes on and on really. We went through floods, losing a second store, a partnership break up, deaths of family members, and on and on. Now we even get to put ‘retailing through a pandemic’ on the resume, I guess.”

The first Saturday in May marks the annual tradition of Free Comic Book Day at comic book stores across the country, as well as a perfect opportunity for Paradox to celebrate its thirtieth year in business.

“It’s Christmas for nerds,” said Early. “It started just over 20 years ago, it’s become an international celebration of comics. All the major publishers get together and create special issues just for the day. It’s designed to have books for every age and interest. So whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, there’s a book or two for you.

“Over the years, we’ve treated it like our biggest event. We’ve always tried to make a show out of it. We’ve done costume contests, trivia, special stuff for the lines, sales, and lots more, always trying to make it special.”

Early’s plans for this year’s Free Comic Day are probably the biggest yet for the store as none other than Chris Claremont, a universally recognized name in geekdom, will be visiting. “Even if you don’t know Chris, you actually do,” said Early. “Almost everything X-Men that has been done since the 1990s is based on his work. He wrote the book for 17 years, created characters like Rogue, Gambit, Emma Frost, and so many others. But that’s just the beginning. He reexamined villains like Magneto, changing how villains’ stories were told. He wrote the stories that people think of when they think of X-Men: the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, and all kinds of stories that just changed comics. In fact, Claremont will proudly tell people that the movie version of Wolverine that launched actor Hugh Jackman into superstardom was based entirely on how he wrote the character.”

One would think that getting such a hallowed name in the halls of comics to visit Fargo was difficult, but Fargo’s most prominent geek said that was not the case. “The most asked question is how did we get him. It’s funny because it’s really this simple: just ask. Honestly, that’s the secret to most things. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get anything. Asking doesn’t equal success, but you’d be surprised how many times that’s all it takes.”

Early was able to obtain contact information for Claremont from a retailer friend in Cleveland who had recently hosted him, and after hitting it off with Claremont’s agent it developed from there. “They were both extremely excited to come to Fargo, honestly. They’ve never been and they were really curious. It came together quickly and it’s been a real treat and honor to get to know them.”

In addition to hosting Claremont, Early was able to commission Troy Becker of Troy Becker art, a regular customer at the store who made headlines by having his work commissioned for the new Fargo City Council Chamber, to create an exclusive poster for the event. “He’s very talented and a true pleasure to work with,” said Early.

The poster portrays (in)famous X-Men villain Magneto using his powers of magnetic manipulation to tear off the Fargo Theatre’s sign. Paradox is “going to print one thousand and hand them out completely free along with comics on Free Comic Book day. We’ll call it the first 1,000, but really it’ll be the first thousand families, not just individuals, so we think they will last at least for a while into the day. I think they are going to make the day really special by making sure people have something to bring home even if they don’t go through the signature line for Chris.”

“I’m confident it will be the biggest event we’ve ever hosted. Honestly, our goal with our 30th anniversary is to celebrate the fans of our entire area who have supported us for generations now. This is about the people who live around us and what they love, and with everything that’s been going on for so many years now. We just wanted a lot of things that could be a huge bright spot for people to look forward to and celebrate.”

“*9am: Free comics kick off. There’s going to be 2 lines this year, one for the books and one for the signings. We’ll have lots of people on hand to make sure everyone gets where they want / need to be. But the free comics are in our Event Center this year which is on the opposite side of the building from the retail shop.

“*10am: Chris starts signing. This is the other big part of the event and it’s got its own line on the side of the building where our front door is. Again, lots of staff ready to make sure everyone knows where to go and how it will work. There’s no pre-sold tickets or anything, it’s just a good old fashioned line, but the biggest thing people need to hear is that Chris will not leave until every single person who wants a signature gets one. We’re scheduled until 8PM, but he says himself that we aren’t leaving if there are still fans waiting.

“So the message is to be patient and come on down when it works best for you. The more we can spread out the attendance throughout the day, the smoother it will go and everyone will get comics and Chris and hopefully a poster. I keep saying, I guess, there’s a chance we could run out of free comics or posters, but we can’t run out of Chris.

“Oh, and you don’t need to own anything he’s written. Part of the signing purchase includes a recent X-Men first issue he wrote so we’ve got everyone covered. And yes, that means the signings have a cost: $19.99 for one signature (which includes that comic), and $12.50 for additional signatures up to a total of 5.

“Beyond that, we’re also putting on what we are calling our ‘Back Issue Warehouse Sale.’ It looks like it may have over 200 long boxes of comics, all priced at 50 cents. We’ll have discounts on our expanded graphic novel section as well, including our manga which is growing leaps and bounds right now.

“Plus we’re working on cross promotions with other downtown businesses. We’ve already got Pixeled on board for a special day of games and a special mutant-themed brew.” (Pixeled Arcade and Beer Hall, 1100 NP Ave #101, Fargo)

__________________

IF YOU GO

Paradox Comics ‘n Cards 30th Anniversary Celebration 

Free Comic Book Day 

Chris Claremont autographs 

26 Roberts Street North, Fargo 

Saturday, May 6, 2023 9am-8pm or however long it takes

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