Jun
30
2015

EC Is For Me, See – by James Lloyd

I never fail to find something interesting at our local monthly Hoots Flea market. This past weekend I encountered a vendor who had a small stack of early 2000s indie comics and I picked up a few odds and ends from him, including a 2001 anthology I’d not heard of called Drippytown, which apparently originated in Vancouver.  It caught my eye because it featured early work by now well-known cartoonists such as Tony Millionaire and Marc Bell. The real surprise of the comic, though, was an extensive text essay on the history of EC Comics–and reminiscense of the 2000 EC “reunion” held at the San Diego Comic-Con–by cartoonist/illustrator James Lloyd.

With the author’s kind permission, I’ve scanned and posted the article:

You can click through the gallery above for bigger scans, or grab this PDF I put together. (© James Lloyd 2001)

Jun
22
2015

Heroes Con 2015 Wrap-Up

I’m back from yet another great Heroes Con. It’s the last show for a bit that I’ll have attended as a “civilian.”  Oyster War will be out this fall and so I’ll most likely be tabling at any shows I go to for the next year or so. I don’t have any big take-away from this year’s show other than that it was–as usual–really well-run and a blast to be at. There’s a reason Heroes is one of comics folks’ most beloved shows.

Here’s just a few thoughts/highlights from my trip:

  • The show seemed to be really, really well-attended this year. I’ve never seen a line at Heroes like there was on Saturday. Even an hour or two after the show opened there were still people lined up all the way down the side of the convention center. IMG_20150620_111532
  • There were a lot more cosplayers–and maybe a lot more women?–this year than in years past. It’s not like there have never been cosplayers or women at Heroes before, but this was the first year that it really stood out to me as a noticeable demographic shift. That’s all good in my book.
  • Our “Mega Panel” on Saturday wasn’t very well attended. I went into it expecting a light showing crowd-wise just because of this year’s subject matter, but it was still a bit of a disappointment. The people that were there seemed to enjoy it, though.IMG_20150620_144615~2
  • Among the original art pieces that Craig Fischer showed at the Mega Panel were these two gorgeous Denys Wortman originals. Apparently James Sturm has literally boxes and boxes of Wortman originals that were given to CCS. IMG_20150620_125759 IMG_20150620_125812
  • Speaking of Originals: it’s worth a trip to Heroes just to look through the incredible array of original art you’ll find at Bechara Maalouf’s booth. Seriously. Did I mention he’s got literally dozens of Kirby pages in portfolios you can just flip through and look at? One of these days, when I win the lottery…IMG_20150621_112811 IMG_20150621_112817 IMG_20150621_112830
  • I bought this beautiful Drew Weing original from Set To Sea. Check out how he’s handled the reflection of the sponge and rigging! IMG_20150620_180055
  • I spent more time at the art auction than I have in years past–mainly just because there were some folks I knew hanging out there (and in some cases waiting to see what their pieces sold for). As usual, I registered for a bidding paddle but never actually bid on anything since everything I was interested in was way way out of my price range. Here’s a Bob MacLeod New Mutants piece that was out of my price range before I could even get my paddle in the air:IMG_20150620_210339
  • At the art auction I ran into Craig Hamilton, who I haven’t seen in years. He told me he’d abandoned comics work entirely and had gotten a job doing those hand-lettered chalk signs you see at bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. He then totally blew my mind my showing me that his Dr. Strange piece for the art auction–which appears at first glance to be an oil painting–is actually done with sign chalk on a black chalk board:IMG_20150620_223809
  • Speaking of the art auction: It’s long been known that paintings of superhero ladies in revealing outfits fetch the big money at the Heroes auction. This year, though, I heard at least two different artists wondering if maybe the bounds of good taste aren’t being stretched a bit in this department. That one of this year’s big five-figure sellers was basically a spread-legged crotch shot of Emma Frost wasn’t unusual, but I wonder if the current spotlight on making the comics community less toxic to women isn’t fueling some of this talk. I also heard at least one female exhibitor grousing about the boob-a-rific “You hit the jackpot, tiger” Mary Jane Watson that serves as the Heroes’ website splash page.
  • I attended two panels on craft/technology: Kyle Webster’s panel demoing his Photoshop brushes and a panel on color flatting with Manga Studio. Both of these panels were well-attended and had lots of people asking questions. I’ve thought for a long time that there’s a lot more interest out there for panels on the actual craft of comics-making than many con organizers may think. I’d love to see more of this. Maybe I’ll pitch something along those lines for next year’s show.
  • I didn’t buy as many books as I usually do at Heroes, but here’re a few items. That last book that’s open to a spread is the new Pope Hats from AdHouse.IMG_20150621_121103 IMG_20150621_131738 IMG_20150622_094932

As usual, the best part of Heroes was seeing and hanging out with a lot of folks who I only really see at Heroes once a year or so. See you next year everyone! (And also as usual, a big thanks to everyone who keeps Heroes running like the well-oiled machine it is, including but not limited to: Shelton Drum, Andy Mansell, Rico Renzi and all the Heroes volunteers!)

Jun
11
2015

Pics From My Exhibition at The Theater Arts Gallery in High Point

Here’re a few pictures I took at the opening reception for the TAG  exhibit.  Info about the show can be found here.

Jun
09
2015

Heroes Con 2015 Mega-Panel: 10th Anniversary of CCS, Comics How-To Books

I’ll be jumping back into the usual yearly Heroes Con “mega-panel” this year with my pal Craig Fischer and here’s our topic for this year. I’ll be covering the initial presentation/slide show on cartooning how-to books–a subject I’m really looking forward to discussing. Come one, come all! Saturday, 3:00 pm, room 209.

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At the Junction of Words and Pictures: the Tenth Anniversary of the Center for Cartoon Studies

For this year’s mega-panel, cartoonist Ben Towle and critic Craig Fischer celebrate the first decade of the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), the influential school for comics artists located in White River Junction, Vermont. Ben will begin with a slide show/talk about the history of “how-to” cartooning guides, including How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, Understanding Comics, and the CCS-sponsored Adventures in Cartooning books by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost. Ben’s presentation will be followed by a screening of Cartoon College (Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, 2012, 75 minutes), a lively documentary that chronicles CCS’s history while focusing on a group of students furiously working on long-form comics for their graduation projects. One added attraction of Cartoon College: interviews with such comics luminaries as Scott McCloud, Art Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly, and Steve Bissette.

To explore the issues and situations brought up in Cartoon College, we’ll then move into a panel featuring CCS alumni and students. Our guests will be Chuck Forsman, Oily Comics publisher and creator of such recent graphic novels and comics as TEOTFW, Celebrated Summer, and Revenger; Sophie Goldstein, writer/artist of the Ignatz-nominated House of Women and Adhouse’s graphic novel The Oven; and current CCS student Andy Shuping. Come get the inside scoop on CCS from those in the know! The panel will end with a display of original art to be included in a major CCS art exhibit at Appalachian State University in Fall 2015.”

May
30
2015

Exhibit at Theater Art Galleries, High Point NC

I’ll be showing original pages from all of my graphic novels at this upcoming exhibit in High Point, NC. If you’re in the neighborhood, please come by and check it out! The opening reception is this coming Thursday, June 4th, from 5:30 to 7:30. It’s free and open to the public.

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May
26
2015

MagnEmo!

One of the many concepts discussed on a recent Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast was that of “MagnEmo”–Magneto when he’s moody or emotional. Despite being just an offhand gag that was mentioned once then quickly forgotten on the show, it struck me as hilarious… so I had to do a visual interpretation. So, here he is: MagnEmo, Earth’s most powerful–and moody–supervillain.

magnemo

May
18
2015

Care and Feeding of the Leroy Lettering Set

Background

You may not know exactly what a Leroy Lettering Set is, but if you’re interested in comics, I’ll bet you’ve seen the results of one in action. Leroy lettering was used most notably by publisher EC Comics in books like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. (Harvey Kurtzman’s EC war stories in books like Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales were the exception and were hand lettered by the great Ben Oda.)

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You may also have seen a Leroy Lettering Set in action in the early Wonder Woman comics. Here’re a few (cough, cough) typical WW panels from the William Moulton Marston era:

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You’ll stumble on this lettering here and there in old comics printed up until the early 60s or so. Interestingly, most of it was done by one couple, Jim and Margaret Wroten, who you can read about here.

Despite its clunky mechanical look that (objectively, anyway) doesn’t go very well with hand-drawn comics art, I’ve always had a strange fascination with Leroy lettering. There’s a free font based on Leroy lettering that I’ve used in a few odd projects, but I was curious about how the actual lettering set worked. I was surprised to find that the sets are not rare and they can usually be had for between $35 and $50 on Ebay. I bid on and won a complete set for $35.00. Here it is:

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And here are a couple of the lettering templates:

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How Does it Work?

The Leroy Lettering Set is basically a pantograph. One end of it traces the letters off the template, moving the other end of it which has a pen attached. More specifically, the key to its operation is this component, called the scriber:

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Here’s how it works:

  1. This is the tracer pin. You stick this down into the grooved letter forms on the template.
  2. This is a little clamp (tightens with that black rear-facing knob) that holds the drawing implement.
  3. This knob is a little adjustable “leg” that supports the drawing portion of the scriber–the part that’s over the paper/holding the pen.
  4. It’s hard to see in this picture, but there’s a dial here that changes the slant of the letters. This is how you make italic letters–as in the Wonder Woman samples, or the bold words in the EC sample.
  5. This is the tail pin. It just stays in the bottom groove of the template like a train track, keeping everything aligned correctly.
  6. These little hash marks correspond to the size of the letters on the template, allowing you to pencil in rough letters. Obviously, you have to fudge things for letters like “I” and “J” that are thinner.
  7. Each template has a pen size. The numbers correspond to the Leroy pen tips that come with the kit… which are identical to the same-sized Rapidograph tech pen numbers.

Drawing implements:

The kit comes with its own refillable ink pen tips, but it’s a whole lot easier to just use a tech pen. As far as I can tell, only actual tech pens will fit into the clamp. I tried mine with Rapidographs and with Staedtler MarsMatic tech pens and they both worked fine because they have this “barrel” for the clamp to grab onto:

penpointsOther pens I tried, most notably Microns, don’t have anywhere like this for the clamp to grab, so they didn’t work.

None of the mechanical pencils I had around would work with the scriber’s clamp, but Leroy made special mechanical pencils/lead hodlers specifically for the set. The set I have recommends a “22” model, but there were several different types made that would accommodate the scriber’s clamp.

ke_leroy-022-pencil

Here it is in action. As you can clearly see, I’m still getting the hang of using it. Getting it placed correctly so the letters are properly spaced is pretty tricky, as is picking it up without leaving an ink smudge on the letter you’ve just completed.

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The Verdict

I’m sure things go faster once you’ve put in some hours getting used to lettering with the Leroy set, but I’m pretty stunned that people would do whole comics with this thing. I can’t imagine any scenario where this actually takes less time than hand-lettering a comic. I’m glad I bought it, though, and I’m going to continue to practice with it. The free font I linked to above is probably sufficient for anyone who wants to get the look of old-style Leroy lettering.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have in the comments.

Mar
25
2015

My Schoolism Digital Painting Class Experience

As Oyster War neared completion toward the end of last year, I wound up doing some soul-searching about where my current cartooning skill set was currently and where I’d like it to go in the future. While I could have compiled a pretty extensive list of deficient areas to address, I came up with three that I wanted to focus on in the coming year: better figure drawing/gestures, more interesting/advanced digital coloring, and really pushing my character designs. I tabled character design for the near-term but decided to apply for a local arts grant to address the other two, in the form of figure drawing sessions and an online digital panting class. I was quite lucky to have my grant request approved, and thanks to the Arts Council of Winston-Salem Forsyth County I began by enrolling in Introduction to Digital Painting with Andrew Hou at Schoolism.com.

Quick overview/review:

The class comes in either a self-directed version or a version with regular video feedback from the instructor. I did the latter. The class was structured with seven lessons that stretched over ten weeks. The weekly video lessons were quite extensive and were usually well over an hour each. For each lesson there was an associated assignment that was due before the next lesson began. For each turned-in assignment, I received extensive detailed feedback from the instructor. In most cases, he worked over my submitted work, sort of redoing it as if it were a piece he himself were executing. Most of his feedback (not surprisingly) was about painting/coloring techniques, but he had some really helpful advice about character design and other related areas. As I said, the feedback was always very thorough–anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the piece. I was 100% happy with both the classroom material and the feedback I received from the instructor.

Projects:

The class started off with a basic introduction to Photoshop. I was fairly familiar with the nuts and bolts of Photoshop, but I was glad to see this included. Any class that has the word “Introduction” shouldn’t presume the students know anything about the subject at hand, in my opinion. That said, I picked up a lot of really useful tips and shortcuts for things that I already knew how to do in other ways. The lesson continued with some methods for sketching in Photoshop. While I do most of my drawing (as opposed to coloring) in Manga Studio, the methods shown here would work in either and it was fun to get the feel of sketching in Photoshop.

The assignments built on each other so I really don’t remember how things broke down lesson-by-lesson, but the  first few assignments all dealt with a single character. The initial assignment was to do a rough digital sketch. Here’s mine:

assignment_01

Here’s a later iteration of the character that’s been revised based on feedback. It’s now got a lot more value laid in, a definite light source, and some adjustments to the overall design:

assignment_02_part_02

 

And here’s the character again, now with color added using only layers with various blending modes–almost no actual rendering with brushes:

assignment_03_revised

 

 

He still looks a bit hazy and indistinct to me, though. If I were to dig back into the drawing, I’d probably go in and add some more dark/high contrast areas to define details more fully.

Cel shading was the next technique covered. This was the closest to home for me as far as my usual style of coloring. There’s no solid black ink outline, as with my usual comics work, but the actual application of color dealt more with solid planes of shadow than with any rendering:

assignment_04_rev

The next–and most difficult for me personally–assignment was doing a more traditional digital painting, rendering form with brushes rather than doing a detailed value drawing first and then applying layers with blending modes. I found this old ballpoint pen drawing of a fantasy battle beast/pack animal and did a painting based on that. Again, this is a version revised based on feedback from the instructor:

beast

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There’s obviously plenty of room for improvement here, but I have to admit I’m surprisingly encouraged by how this turned out, considering this is the first time I’ve really attempted anything like this.

The final assignment was a big two-part project doing a full scene–figure and background–using any of the three painting methods covered in the class. With the instructor’s permission, though, I modified this assignment a bit and used it as a way to develop the cover image for Oyster War.  I wound up doing a traditional inked drawing (inked digitally in Manga Studio, unlike the rest of Oyster War, which was all drawn traditionally) but then used the cel shading techniques I learned in the second class assignment to color and light the characters. I’m really happy with the way the image turned out. It’s obviously a bit different-looking than my usual style of drawing, but I still think it’s still (hopefully!) not too radically different than the interior art. Here’s the final image, with all of the trade dress added by Oni’s designer, Elaine Lin:

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Post-Class:

I’ve been incorporating some of the techniques I learned in class to my recent work. Here, for example, is the image that will be used for the back cover of Oyster War (The big empty sky area is there to accommodate some text blurbs):

back-coverAnd here’s a character design for a possible next comics project. This style–without any traditional black inking–would be a pretty huge departure for me.

character_05Finally, here’re just a few random post-class take-away thoughts:

  • Always be learning – I’ve been drawing and making comics for a long, long time. I’ve been to art school. I teach at an art school. But there’s still real value for me in learning from someone else. I’d love to take another course of this sort soon.
  • Custom brush obsession – I’m as guilty as anybody of getting overly worked-up about custom brushes for Photoshop and Manga Studio. The instructor for this class did nearly every painting demo and critique using Photoshop’s basic round (or sometimes square) brush with size pressure sensitivity turned off and his results were fantastic.
  • The power of masks and layer blend modes – Before taking this class, I barely used masks for anything and the only blend mode I used was “multiply” on my ink layer. Seeing some of the instructor’s techniques in this class really opened my eyes to how powerful and useful masks and layer blend modes are–especially when combined.
  • On flat color – I’d always been a big proponent of sticking with flat colors, rather than blending/rendering things and using lots of lighting effects. I still think that it’s much better to err in the direction of being too conservative with these sorts of techniques rather than overdoing them, but seeing some of this stuff in action has made me come around a bit to the idea that you can use some of these techniques (in moderation) and not have it necessarily “clash” with a line art drawing.

So… that’s about it. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the class in the comments!

And of course, my most sincere thanks again to  the Arts Council of Winston-Salem Forsyth County who enabled me to have this wonderful learning experience!

 

 

Mar
24
2015

Oyster War – Coming This Fall from Oni Press!

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‘I’ve been waiting a looonnnngggg time to be able to make this announcement! Here’s the official press release:

Oni Press, Portland’s premier independent comic book publisher, announced today Oyster War, a colorful, comedic historical graphic novel by three time Eisner-nominated cartoonist Ben Towle (Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean). Oyster War will release on September 23rd, and will be an SPX debut.

OWARV1 – 4×6 COMP SOLICIT WEB In the coastal town of Blood’s Haven, the economy runs on oysters. Oyster farming is one of the most lucrative professions, but also the most dangerous. Not just from the unforgiving ocean and its watery depths—there are also oyster pirates to worry about! Commander Davidson Bulloch and his motley crew are tasked with capturing these ne’er-do-wells—but they don’t know that Treacher Fink, the pirates’ leader, possesses a magical artifact that can call forth a legendary spirit with the power to control the sea and everything in it!

“I started work on Oyster War five years ago with a very specific vision,” says creator Ben Towle. “I’d done several historical fiction books previously and now I wanted to jump squarely into the realm of the fantastic. Oyster War is a nautical adventure story set in a not-quite-real late 19th century US that’s full of pirates, brawlers, sea serpents, and shape-shifters. It’s far and away my favorite work to-date. I couldn’t be happier with the way Oni’s bringing the Oyster War print collection to life. Presentation was always in the back of my mind as I worked on the story. From the get-go I conceived of Oyster War as a big, hardcover, European album-sized book with high-end production values—and that’s exactly what’s going to wind up in readers’ hands!”

Yep. I’ll be at SPX this year, tabling for the first time in a long while! Come see me for a copy of Oyster War from Oni Press.

Feb
16
2015

On Comics Sound Effects

I–along with writer/cartoonist Ryan North and visual linguist Neil Cohn–was recently interviewed by Greg Uyeno for Slate‘s Lexicon Valley  language blog. The subject of the article was how sounds and sound effects work in comics. You can read the whole article here:

KATCHOW! How to Write Sounds in Comics

Greg wound up highlighting parts of our discussion relating to choices about sound effects in my own comics, but  I got permission from Greg (and Slate) to post here the full email interview we conducted, which covers more general territory.


1) Let’s start with a warm-up: Do you have a favorite comics sound effect? (What is it?)

I don’t have a single favorite sound effect, but I certainly have some particular comics sequences and artists that I favor in the sound effects department. Walt Simonson and John Workman’s sound effects in their run on Thor in the mid-80s are really a high-point for graphic sound effects in comics. What makes this material so notable in my mind is how seamlessly and organically the effects lettering blends in with the other artwork. That’s something you don’t see much these days since sound effects lettering (and all lettering, in fact) tends to be dropped in digitally after the fact. There’re sensible pragmatic reasons for doing this, but to my eye it creates an odd effect where the sound effect words seem to be floating on a plane over top of the other art, rather than being part of an integrated whole on the page.

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I’m also generally a fan of sound effects that aren’t actually sound effects at all–things like when a character enters a room accompanied by a “BARGE!”. That’s obviously not intended to evoke an actual sound, but I love how it appropriates some of the formal language of comics in a hilarious way. Here’s an example from Peter Bagge:

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2) How do you use sound in your comics? Are you hoping to visualize sound in a way that the reader can “hear” the sound you intended, or is there a different aesthetic?

Designing your sound effects lettering so that the reader “hears” the sound when reading seems like a logical approach–and I’m sure that’s the intent behind a lot of the most commonly used sounds in comics–but I’m not positive that’s how they actually function. I know I for sure don’t really hear sounds in my head as I read comics. I think they work more just as a “this thing is making a noise” indicator–in the same way that a curvy word balloon indicates, “this is something a character is thinking.” I’m thinking, for example, about sound effects like “SHATTER!” That’s not so much an actual connotation of a particular sound, but rather an indication that something has broken and is making a sound in the process.

So, I usually try to throw in something visually that’s not simply imitating or evoking a sound. So, take this sequence:

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 In panel one, I’m aligning the words with the direction those knives are moving as the character pulls them out. They’re evoking a sound, but also reinforcing the directional indicators. The second panel’s pretty straight-forward, but still, I’m hopefully reinforcing the directional movement of the bullet with both the placement of the word and the slight color gradient. With the final panel I’m hoping the downward lilt of the lettering and the shape and placement of the balloon tail will pull the reader’s eyes downward, mirroring the character as he falls to the ground. I went with the “dripping” balloon in an attempt to evoke liquid, blood, gurgling, etc.

3) What are some of the techniques you use to visually represent qualities of sound in your art? I know that two basics are text size = volume, and repetition of letters = duration.

Those are the biggies of course. There’re other techniques as well, like having the lettering suggest objects or materials, as I’m doing here with the bubbly, rounded lettering that mimics the splashing water:

OWdown

I sometimes also use a particular sound effect to link two spatially disparate scenes together chronologically. Here, for example, we see a character falling off a peak and down into the water below:

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Then, on a later page, we see a different character who’s below the peak as the first character lands in the water behind him:

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I’ve used the same lettering and coloring for that sound effect to connect the two events. The reader doesn’t necessarily need this to follow what’s going on in the narrative, but I think it helps.

4) There are some standardized sound words, some of them specific to comics. <POW!> <whoosh> etc. When do you use these? What do you do when you need something different?

I do sometimes fall back on the “old standards.” Flipping through Oyster War, I’m seeing a lot of “BAM”s and “KABLAM”s, but I think cartoonists often avoid using those sorts of sound effect words in a large part because of the tired “Blam! Boom! Pow! Comics are whatever…” headlines that have been plaguing us since the mid 80s. I try for words that evoke sounds, but I also take into account that those words create a rhythm when read on a page. I try to establish a nice sequence of varying words, typefaces, colors, and sizes whenever I can. It’s particularly important, I think, in pages that are all sound effects, as here:

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Even totally leaving out a sound effect in an otherwise obvious spot–as in panel nine here–is a conscious decision on my part. I’m trying to create a little “breather” at the end before the end of the sequence, where all of this character’s fighting prowess ultimately winds up not saving the day.

5) For non-standard sound words, how do you decide on a spelling?

That’s easy! I just make up something that looks and reads well. Or, I throw the question out on Twitter. There’s more than a few sound effect words in Oyster War that were suggested by folks on Twitter. Kind of appropriate for a social media service that’s itself a sound effect word, eh?

 

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