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The Poetry of ‘Watchmen’ Still Burns Bright

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Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons probably didn’t intend their story to have the impact it did, and wrote a mock article in Watchmen about owls and birds that inadvertently illustrates the influence this graphic novel would have on the world of western literature

“Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the lengths of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry?”

Daniel Dreiberg, also known as the second Nite Owl, believes this to be true. Dissecting every part of an owl into facts and figures takes away from the mystery of these marvelous creatures. He adds that he doesn’t believe that facts and sciences should be eradicated or ignored, but admits that approaching a situation without poetry is detrimental. The same can be said for Watchmen.

Panel from Watchmen Issue #1. Rorschach enters through a broken window

The beginning to the legacy of “Watchmen”

Watchmen is one of the most — if not the most — prolific graphic novels in the world. There is nothing about the comic that hasn’t been analyzed by historians, literature majors, and sociologists. It’s been on lists of must-read books, and for the longest time was one of the only graphic novels to be on Time Magazine’s 100 best novels. It won numerous accolades, and will most likely never go out of print, much to the chagrin of Moore. It spawned a live-action movie that divides audiences, numerous prequels written by people other than the creators, and inspired an HBO series. It’s safe to say that if anything, Watchmen is revolutionary.

Watchmen was originally intended to use the recently DC-acquired Charlton Comics characters, but Moore and Gibbons’ intent didn’t jive with the top brass. They wanted to break them apart, or even outright kill them off. The publishers weren’t happy with this, thinking that their characters were far too valuable to end so abruptly. Moore reluctantly obliged (probably with a guttural growl), and created brand-new ersatz characters far too similar not to be homages. With this artistic freedom he was able to take recognizable archetypes and have free will to do whatever he wants to them without worrying about retcons, reboots, or other publisher oversight to the main universe. Thus, the Crimebusters and the Minutemen were born. Instead of creating a simple superhero story set in the 1980s, the artistic duo created a beautiful allegory about politics, philosophy, and ethics.  In the past years, this closed world opened its doors, and not only did other creators add to it, but it’s starting to seep into the DC universe with Doomsday Clock.

Watchmen was written at the apex between the Bronze Age and Modern Age of comics. Some people consider this time to be the ‘Dark Age’ of comics, where stories were geared to older audiences, exploring themes such as guilt, political scandals, drug use, vigilantism, and the self. A lot of Frank Miller’s work falls in this category, while Chris Claremont also dabbled in it every so often, just enough to wet his toe. Watchmen stands out because it was the main trendsetter for the grim and gritty reality to be the standard. Unfortunately, the grittiness of reality soon became the norm, and ironically morphed into an unwilling parody of itself. Concepts of morality went to the extreme, ethics needed to be shattered, and lives were torn asunder, while havoc reigned upon the extremes of black and white. Today, this type of teeth-clenching, rain-soaked cynicism is looked on with eye-rolls for being a little too out of touch.

For those who never read this masterpiece, Watchmen takes place mostly in 1985, in an alternate timeline where superheroes and vigilantes are deemed illegal, with the exception of government-issued, costumed fighters. The USA won the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon’s scandal never came to pass. This unfounded success was primarily due to the interference of Doctor Manhattan, an omniscient being of infinite power who sided with the Americans. The USA became a terrifying powerhouse, and knew that with him in their pocket, nothing could stand in their way. Though the story primarily takes place in 1985, it occasionally flashes back to other decades, during a different political climate.

The story starts off when on a typical New York night, a middle aged man is murdered, defenestrated from his high-rise apartment. When the police arrive, they discover his sordid history, and can’t piece together either the motive or who would be able to defeat someone with his physique. The victim, Edward Blake, is an unknown to most people, but to the paranoid detective vigilante, Rorschach, he is The Comedian, a government operative and former superhero. While Rorschach investigates his murder, the lives of his contemporaries are put into jeopardy.

3 Panels from Watchmen #2. The Comedian mocks The Crimebusters and their views

Proof that the team is not called Watchmen

Watchmen broke boundaries and changed the medium. Alan Moore’s writing is impeccable, as the 12-issue mini-series uses new mediums besides comic book dialogue. Most chapters focus on a single character or moment in history, and ends either in an essay, an interview, or excerpt from a book. This format was different from the norm; however, it doesn’t distract from the story, and instead uses it as a brilliant form of exposition. The setting, which takes place mostly in New York, is full of life and character, and it’s all thanks to the creators who found a way to rebuild a world without spelling it out to the audience. A lot of credit is given to Moore, but most people forget that this is collaboration between him and Dave Gibbons. Gibbons isn’t simply the artist, but helped build the characters and the world alongside Moore. They ensured that every page, panel, and transition matters.

Watchmen‘s success is founded in the unique nine-panel grid format. Its geometric simplicity is devoid of chaos, and is sincerely beautiful.  Every placement of industrial steam to scrap of old newspaper flying across the midnight sky is not simply put there haphazardly, or to cover empty space. Every detail serves a purpose, either as an allegory to the current theme of the chapter, or as a repeating symbol hidden across every page. This mesmerizing symmetry is done no better than in Chapter V, entitled “Fearful Symmetry,” which to its best possible efforts is mirrored near perfectly from the first panel to the last, using this iconic moment as the turning point.

The middle pages of Watchmen Issue #5. Adrian Veidt fends of an assassin

Beautiful crafted and executed

Watchmen deconstructs the superhero story. It brings them into a world where people behave like people, limiting the soap-opera drama and mannerisms.  The trench coat-sporting investigator Rorschach is a workaholic with the creed of “never compromise.” As badass as this sounds, his anti-social and paranoid antics are off-putting, especially when he doesn’t take care of his own hygiene or shows little empathy towards his friends. A brilliant character, but one who only sees in black and white; the world is ever changing, but he refuses to play that game. To him, there is good and there is evil — no compromise. Other characters, though they may see the world in a similar matter, don’t go to his extent. Nite Owl II is incomplete without his suit, and is literally and figuratively impotent in his own world. Doctor Manhattan can literally do anything, but sees humans as simple creatures at best, and at worst, they’re ants. Characters like these make Watchmen memorable. They’re complex and faulty, have conflicting ideologies, and make mistakes. Watchmen didn’t invent or reinvent this deconstruction — it simply did it best.

Panel from Watchmen Issue #2. Doctor Manhattan sits alone on Mars.

Alone contemplating the universe

It’s infamously known that Alan Moore dislikes what Watchmen has become, and its treatment by the publishers. But Moore is also famously known not to like a lot of things. This doesn’t change the fact that Watchmen is a masterpiece and a best seller. With the amount of detail put into every panel, and seeing how every word and name is picked so carefully, it’s impossible to absorb everything in the first read through. Though those jaw-dropping moments may not have the same impact the second or even third time around, they overshadow the smaller and intrinsic details that went unnoticed, simply because they weren’t blatant Chekov’s guns. In its entirety, Watchmen can be reread an infinite number of times, and every new read through will bring in something new. It will remain timeless as long as we don’t forget its poetry.

HBO is releasing a Watchmen series in Fall 2019

Watchmen is widely available at most if not all bookstores, comic bookstores, and online.

David Harris has lived in Montreal his whole life. He thoroughly enjoys discussing most subjects including the arts, technology, and good food. Being a fan of superheroes since he was young, it's surprising he only starting really getting into comics in CEGEP. He shows a great appreciation for good stories and dialogue, which suits his passions perfectly: television, movies, and graphic novels. As much as he loves the indie publishers, deep down he has always been a fan of the big two.

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A Cataclysmic Event: ‘No Man’s Land’ is The Double-Edged Sword of The Batman Mythos

Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom…

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No Man’s Land

Over 20 Years After Gotham Endured its Most Insufferable Time

Hush, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. Whenever anyone gets into a topic regarding Batman’s history of comics the same titles always get thrown around with unmistakable reasoning. All of these stories are phenomenal chapters of the dark knight’s legacy that fundamentally influenced and reforged the character of Bruce Wayne along with his world of allies and rogues time and time again. They changed the way in which audiences view not only Batman’s mythology but how other comic books unfold overarching plots focusing on both their lineup of complex interpretable heroes and villains.

Batman’s overwhelmingly large critically acclaimed catalog will forever be deemed as must-reads and well-known tales to those who have never even cracked open a comic book, however, there is one anomaly that is well-deserving of a place on the grand pedestal. It oddly never gets the acknowledgment it should have within the conversations of the Batman fandom, but it is still critically important to the caped crusader’s ever-expanding modern mythos.

It is truly ironic that Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of media the world’s greatest detective has ever been featured in when accounting for his own history of storytelling. The saga always appears as the comic series that not many people seem to have even partially read, yet its creative influence on comic book culture still lurks from the turn of the century. Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City in the source material comic book, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom despite its neverending appeal to DC’s mainstay creators who forged the modern image of the billionaire who built their house.

With a sparse amount of collected releases and little to no spotlight from its parent company or fandom, Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most underappreciated stories of Gotham City, yet one of the most impactful.

No Man’s Land is a massive crossover event written by ten different writers through DC’s lineup of late 90s Bat-family comics. This included Detective Comics, Batman, Azreal, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and a few miscellaneous issues from other DC characters. The eighty issue run started in 1998 and ended in the year 2000, however, the series has since been published as seven individual books under the Batman banner being Cataclysm, Road to No Man’s Land Volumes One and Two, and of course No Man’s Land Volumes One through Four.

Without spoilers, the story of Batman: No Man’s Land is focused on a massive self-centered crime war taking place on an isolated Gotham City after the dark knight’s home is struck by multiple natural disasters that cut the central island off from the mainland. Cataclysm is the first chapter in the No Man’s Land saga that depicts the destruction of Gotham by earthquakes. It is arguably the one part of the series that readers can skip as the story is easy to understand without any deep background knowledge of the situation.

The followup chapter Road to No Man’s Land is the real beginning of the consequential aftermath showing how the city fell into chaos as all of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison’s inmates are left free of regulation. Bruce Wayne pleads the government for help but is initially denied any resources as the United States declares Gotham as the first-ever location in the USA to be exempted from their protected territory, leaving the Bat empty-handed and forced to adapt to a new breed of crime-fighting to save his home. While the government threw in the towel on the most crime-infested city in the world, The Gotham City Police Department lead by Commissioner James Gordon attempts to defend its remaining turf as they begin to embrace the unstoppable crisis.

GCPD Map of No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land is the climax, falling action, and resolution of the story arc. It depicts a numerical day count to show how Gotham’s situation has not improved one bit despite the number of months that have passed since the gangs began carving up territory. As the counter slowly rises each issue, the situation further unfolds and resolves through a miracle uncommunicative collaborative effort between the GCPD, abandoned civilians, and the Bat-family.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it likely should. No Man’s Land was the core inspiration for the highest regarded Batman media outside of the comic books- stories that many fans judge the defender of Gotham by today. Batman Arkham City, Gotham, The New 52, and The Dark Knight Rises all borrow several plot elements and character setups from the introduction and rising action volumes of the comic series.

While it did not introduce many new characters the crossover did see the debut of the third Batgirl Cassandra Cain, a new relationship between Harvey Dent and Reena Montoya that would ooze into the first volume of Gotham Central, and most importantly character development for those introduced in the DC Animated Universe that were transitioning into the comics at the time such as the Joker’s sidekick lover Harley Quinn and Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves.

From a cast perspective, No Man’s Land further evolved Batman lore by extensively developing the relationships between specific rivalries and allies- Batman and Gordon most noticeably establish a more so friendly relationship rather than a “just coworkers” status. The core story itself is where the original comics thrive the most due to how it created a manipulative groundwork for other future narratives in the Batman franchise, but it also indisputably began establishing the character interactions we find in the mythos’ modern comics. Perhaps it might have even arguably developed Gotham City into its own character as the location itself draws a deeper persona amidst the chaos at hand during its most desperate hours.

No Man’s Land: Legends of The Dark Knight

Batman: No Man’s Land turned 20 recently and the only piece of media DC published that somewhat celebrated the original comics was the final season of FOX’s crime drama prequel series Gotham– a setup that was more than likely coincidental as the show’s story had always been building up to becoming a “no man’s land” warzone atmosphere. Gotham seasons four and five adapted several aspects from the books, but as expected the show mostly stuck to its own original plot despite heavily featuring numerous callbacks and references to the source material.

Typically DC usually puts out a new collected edition for an important comic book’s anniversary- if not maybe even a social media post at the very least- but No Man’s Land received surprisingly no recognition at all last year. As mentioned before, the latest release of this series was last published as seven separate volumes in 2011. There is currently no box-set or omnibus available for a reader’s convenience but the older publications are still in print and can be obtained at local comic book shops, online stores that sell graphic novels, or even digitally on DC Universe’s streaming service.

The No Man’s Land saga of the Batman mythos is like a double-edged sword. It is a fan-favorite for some, but an undiscovered gem for the vast majority. It passed by in a long string of storylines, yet its significance still has sunk deep into Bruce Wayne’s world no matter the form it is being adapted into. To the creators behind the scenes who continue to construct new features in the dark knight’s eighty-year legacy, it is a crucial precursor for the work that proceeded it despite the low impact it may have had on those who consumed it. The staggering length and price may push audiences away, but for those interested who have the means of seeing it through, it is well worth reading through the story of a dark island that inspired visionaries like Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller’s interpretations of Batman’s home turf.

Will No Man’s Land ever resurface in a new compact collected edition? As said for all pieces of unpopular yet desired Batman media, “the world may seem dark…”

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‘Read Only Memories’ Comic is Well Worth Reading

Based on the hit game of the same name.

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Read Only Memories IDW Comic Review

Gritty detective stories set in the future have been a source of great creativity in a variety of media forms since the days of Blade Runner. Read Only Memories, the new title from IDW, is no exception to that. It takes classic tropes of both genres and mixes them with a new style.

Lexi Rivers

Santa Cruz, California. 2067. Lexi Rivers is a private investigator who takes on a case from a newly sapient robot. She’s tough but not in that ubiquitous “badass” way female characters are often slotted into.

From moment one, she is interesting and engaging. Lexi starts by posing as a reporter to interrogate a target. Initially, her goal is to determine if the woman is faithful to her partner or not. It’s a classic detective case.

In many ways, Lexi’s a classic detective. She takes rough, morally questionable jobs to make ends meet. Lexi has feelings for a woman who’s probably too good for her. She sneaks favors from friends to make something out of nothing.

Lexi is a detective through and through.

The Story

Read Only Memories

After leaving one case behind, she encounters Hedy, a robot in search of its missing loved one. The story then deftly carries the reader through different locations and people. This is how the story introduces you to the futuristic world and defines Lexi’s life with as little exposition as possible.

Sina Grace, the writer, is extremely effective at doing just that.

Fortunately, a running internal monologue is a huge part of the detective genre. It gives the storyteller a means to get out important information and key details without seeming out of place. Realistically, Read Only Memories has a lot of details to pick up on in the early going.

It’s a big world filled with numerous moving parts. Thankfully, the story gives you what you need to understand. You’re not confused by what’s going on because some of it’s familiar from other stories. Read Only Memories successfully takes those familiar parts and does something interesting with them.

Visual Style

Read Only Memories

Realistically, it can be hard to set the tone of a futuristic detective story without feeling derivative. Stefano Simeone, the artist, has chosen a style that conveys the futuristic vibe well.

Quite smartly, Stefano uses a color palette that sets it apart from the standard detective genre but creates a futuristic feel. Mostly, it’s wonderful shades of pink, blue, and purple. The look is unique and fantastic.

Read Only Memories: What’s Next

Remember, this is only the first issue. In the end, it leaves you in that classic detective story moment. You realize that the simple case is a lot more complicated. Issue two should build nicely from there.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that issue one isn’t burdened by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Lexi does get her clock cleaned by a gang member who doesn’t like her sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. But that’s it.

Yet another classic detective moment.

There will certainly be more action in future issues but this is a smart way to start. It puts the focus on the narrative and not the violence. If it starts with an action-packed issue, then that is what readers will expect throughout the series.

Reading along as Lexi unravels the mystery presented by Hedy will be amazing. Truthfully, the true test of this story will be in its resolution. Preferably, the journey should be enjoyable but a mystery’s conclusion has to be satisfactory to be worth it.

The rest of the series will be more than worth the read if issue one of Read Only Memories is any indication.

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Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred

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Wayward Kindred is raising funds with Kickstarter.

If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.

After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.

GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?

Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.

Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)

I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!

How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?

When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel. 

Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?

I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel. 

Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?

Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!

You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.

Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?

We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!

What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?

It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.

TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?

We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter. 

What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?

I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling! 

Wayward Kindred is a spiritual successor to Wayward Sisters.
“Forked” by Seungwoo Baek, Grayson Lee, Cam Lopez and Nikki Powers

Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?

Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too. 

You’re also editing AFTERLIFT for comiXology. What is it like editing for a company like comiXology versus a publisher like TO Comix Press?

Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons. 

Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics? 

If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together. 

If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?

I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!

Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.

TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.

Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.

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