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Christian Fricke does not like to talk about himself. In fact, it’s his least favorite subject.
“This would be a lot easier after a few beers,” Christian says following the fourth or fifth question concerning his personal life.
It’s not that he finds himself uninteresting. Or that he doesn’t have anything to say. It’s that to talk about himself would be to talk about what’s already happened. It would mean looking at the past instead of living in the present. And that’s just not his style.
Reading an entire story about himself would be considered punishment. The realization that his name has already been mentioned twice in the past 110 words might even cause him to wince. So, out of respect for Paradowski’s 3rd-longest-serving employee, we’ll talk about someone else (at least for a little bit).
Conan Christopher O’Brien was born on April 18, 1963, in Brookline, Massachusetts. His mother, Ruth, worked as an attorney at Ropes & Gray while his father, Thomas Francis, practiced and professed at Harvard University.
Conan attended Brookline High School and (after graduating valedictorian in 1981) joined the company of his father at Harvard. Here he concentrated on subjects such as history, literature and comedy, eventually writing a senior thesis that analyzed the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985 and after several years of writing in Los Angeles, he joined the staff at Saturday Night Live and later, The Simpsons.
But it wasn’t until 1993 that Conan would make his biggest impact—gaining the adoration of a young boy from Kansas City, living in St. Louis, Missouri.
And all it took was a single word: MONORAIL.
“So, there’s a theory,” Christian recalls, “that when you’re developing your sense of the world—you know, that rough time from like 12 to 18—that whatever music you listened to will always be the best music.
That whatever comedy you saw at that time, you’ll always say, ‘Oh, it’s never been better than this.’”
For Christian, that time was 1993. And that moment of comedic television was Marge vs. The Monorail.
Most serious Simpsons fans would rank it in their Top Five, right up there with Bart the Genius, Homer the Heretic and Lisa’s Substitute. Written by none other than Conan O’Brien, the plot revolves around Springfield's spontaneous decision to purchase a monorail from a rather jazzy conman. The episode is filled with quick, intelligent jokes that all seem to land, a catchy Music Man parody and animated action that drives the story forward. Not to mention the cameo from Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy.
Fans continue to debate the reasons why this episode works so well. But Christian Fricke knows the answer: it’s the writer.
“When I first saw Conan at 11 or 12, he just spoke to me. Like, this is funny. He gets it. Then I became 14, 15, 16 years old, and I got to grow up with somebody who wasn’t stopping in time. And it’s been cool to follow this person who has been funny for like 20 years. And it never stops.”
Much like Conan, this Associate Creative Director (because we have to tell you something about Christian) continues to pursue comedy. He loves the history of the craft just as much as its storytelling ability. And he’ll gladly argue the humor (or lack thereof) in movies, stand-up and comedy shows. Perhaps one day, he’ll even step up to the mic.
But that’s enough about Christian. Let’s talk about comic books.
There are two types of people when it comes to comics: those that love superheroes and those that are sick of hearing about them.
They’re usually pretty easy to spot. When you utter the phrase, “comic books,” these people will either (a) roll their eyes so far back in their head that the newest installment of the MCU starts playing on the blank canvas of their eyelids or (b) launch into a monologue about how the emotional color spectrum found within the Green Lantern universe could drastically impact the foundation of the DCU. Both can be equally exhausting.
But what if I told you there was another type?
“When I started to get into comic books, it was this terrible era of foil covers. The Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Gen-13 era of just shitty comics. If you know the history, it was like the lowest of low times. If I had to pick between ‘superhero’ or ‘pants’ now? I’m definitely a ‘pants’ guy.”
For many people, comic books are synonymous with superheroes. But for this third type of fan, say “an aspiring illustrator-turned-graphic-designer” for example, they represent so much about how art and illustration can tell a story.
While others get excited about the latest edition of Superman, this third type of fan strays more towards stories of noir, pulp and horror. They seek adventure in 20th century Belgium, exploring the world through the eyes of Tintin. They follow the path of vampires in Alaska, seeking out townspeople during the 30 days of night. They are influenced by pop music and various mythical deities, both wicked and divine. And they rarely wear capes.
These fans are driven by the skill and technique that go into creating an effective comic. So much so that they want to replicate the experience themselves, and enroll at the University of Kansas to do just that.
It’s a pretty specific type of person, okay?
Christian Fricke does not like to talk about himself. But when we do get him talking, it’s clear that he loves what he does.
For 14 years, he has devoted himself to graphic design, visual problem solving, illustration, voiceover work, photography, concepting and more. He always wants to learn. After so much time, he struggles to remember just how many clients he has worked with. Commerce Bank, Citi Mortgage, The Sheldon Concert Hall, about every arm of Monsanto, Bayer, Seminis, De Ruiter, Corn States, Centene...the list goes on.
“Maybe this is just my personality,” says Christian thinking about his time at Paradowski, “and it might be off-putting to a lot of people, but I’m very much a ‘on to the next day’ person. I typically live day-to-day which is maybe why I’ve been here so long. But there’s always a new challenge. There’s always something exciting or something different.”
Lucky for us, there’s this theory about what happens during your formative years. You know, that rough time between 12 and 18. It says that what you discover in your youth becomes your passion in the future.
In the case of Christian Fricke, we’re just glad he found comedy, design and the ability to tell one hell of a story.