Saurav Mohapatra - comic book writer

author, artist and bona fide geek

Category: Timepass (page 2 of 10)

general fart stuff

The Witch and The Warrior – Frank Frazetta Homage

As I mentioned earlier, Saumin Patel and I had collaborated on creating a short comic book homage to the work of the late Frank Frazetta for Chitrakatha website – a project by Saumin and Alok Sharma to produce a documentary about comic books in India.

Both Saumin and I are big fans of Frank’s work and personally for me, the first mental image I envision for high fantasy or sword and sorcery themes is always Frazetta-esque.

Don’t know if it ever made it to the Chitrakatha pages. Here it is in its entirety , for your viewing pleasure.

[issuu width=420 height=311 titleBarEnabled=true backgroundColor=%23222222 documentId=120102061419-1528408e71d64396a07ef6c156859c6e name=the_witch_and_the_warrior_final1 username=mohaps tag=chitrakatha unit=px id=e42973f3-2456-0c79-b262-a8028f46e577 v=2]

The comic is hosted on issuu.com and needs Flash to view. For iOS devices, you can go to http://issuu.com/mohaps/docs/the_witch_and_the_warrior_final1 and choose to download the comic book in PDF format.

On the skyrim waterfront…

My contribution to the “Arrow to the knee” meme inspired by Skyrim (also can be thought of as a LolBrando :D )

Blast from the past and other updates :)

I got my first big break writing comics when I cold pitched Gotham Chopra, EiC of Virgin Comics in 2006 after reading a news article on his foray into India themed comics. Luckily, he liked my spec script (what’d later become INDIA AUTHENTIC #2 – KALI) and signed me up to write a series of Indian mythological stories with forewords by Deepak Chopra. Somewhere down the line, I was offered DEVI and THE SADHU and then onward to some stories based on characters and storylines I cooked up (e.g. MUMBAI MACGUFFIN and JIMMY ZHINGCHAK – AGENT OF D.I.S.C.O.. It was a work for hire gig (meaning I don’t own the rights to any of the stuff I created), but it was great fun while it lasted. I got to work with industry legends like Ron Marz, built up a decent sized portfolio and got to work with some awesome artists like Sid Kotian, Saumin Patel, Dean Hyrapiet, Abhishek Singh and Shounak Jog etc. I also became friends with other writers/artists working on the Virgin titles like Samit Basu, Mukesh Singh and Vivek Shinde. The Virgin editorial staff consisted of seasoned industry hands like MacKenzie Cadenhead (WOLVERINE: SNINKT) and Mariah Huehner (LUCIFER), movie industry veterans like Seth Jaret and a bunch of young energetic first timers like Sana Amanat, Michelle Gomes and Gaurav Sikka.

Then came the event that we, the Virgin Comics alumni, jokingly refer to as “The Great Deflowering” and just like that, Virgin was no more. The founders of Virgin Comics, namely Sharad Devrajan, Suresh Seetharaman and Gotham, effected a management buyout of the Virgin portfolio sometime later and came back as Liquid Comics. I did a few more work for hire gigs for them and also branched out to doing one off gigs for Moonstone (PHANTOM), Top Cow (WITCHBLADE). Vivek and I went on to create our creator owned project MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL and I had some hijinks/misadventures with some other Indian publishers on work for hire projects.

All in all, I look back very fondly of my time spent with Virgin Comics and I greatly appreciate Sharad, Suresh and Gotham giving me the chance to write comics (I mean write freakin’ comic books and get paid doing it! :) ). My dayjob (as a co-founder of the web conferencing startup Dimdim) started taking more of my time as did my two kids – Ayan and Adya. So I dialed down the writerly activities a lot in 2010 – 2011 and regrouped. MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL started gaining traction (in no small measure because of Vivek’s fantastic art) and I also started working with Siddharth Panwar on DHURANDHAR – a modern day magic realism tale set in small town India.

So, I was pleasantly surprised recently when Liquid Comics launched Graphic India – a digital comics platform aimed at India. Featured were two of my books – MUMBAI MACGUFFIN (an action-adventure-comedy caper which was co-created with Saumin and inspired in no small measure by Guy Ritchie’s movies SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS) and MYTHS OF INDIA (a repackaged INDIA AUTHENTIC). I always considered the old Virgin Comics gang kindred spirits who wished to bring kick-ass comics to India and Graphic India is a great reinforcement of that belief. So I wish them the best of luck. (Do check out Samit and Jeevan Kang’s UNHOLI – an original serialized digital comic book exclusively created for the site).

To top off the week’s great news, Times of India posted their list of notable Indian comics and turns out two of my books – DEVI and MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL made it to the list. So that was just delicious icing on the cake. :)

Let’s all do cartwheels…

Once upon a time, when my daughter had just mastered the “inside leg outside leg” style of walking, I took her out to the lawn. It was a beautiful New England Sunday afternoon. I threw in a soccer ball and proceeded to instruct her in the fine art of soccer.

Not that I myself was a passable soccer player (hey, since when did that stop me? :)), but it was a thrill to pass on whatever little I knew about kicking the ball. I explained to her the basic mechanics of the game and before I knew it, I was deep into explaining the “zen of soccer”, babbling on about “drive”, “ambition” and even a healthy dose of life lessons about what she had in store for her.

After five minutes, she gave me a bemused smile and ran to the middle of the lawn and started doing cartwheels (well, the toddler version of it which is sort of a cross between a full cartwheel and a monkey roll). The first one was unintentional (She stumbled as she ran and tumbled head over heels in the grass). But the next three dozen or so were definitely not. I stood there feeling vexed that my fatherly wisdom had been cast aside so casually and her attention was now focused on such a cavalier pursuit. I watcher her roll over and over again in the grass, giggles turning into full belly guffaws with each passing revolution.

After a while, I gave up and joined her. We rolled around in the lawn for quite some time and my neighbors looked at me like I had lost my mind.

It was surprisingly fun.

Sometimes in life, we tend to overthink and overact.

Maybe the answer is simple.

Screw the soccer lesson, let’s all just do cartwheels. :)

Tales from SDCC – Fantastic Phil Hester :)

Ah, it’s that time of the year again — San Diego Comic Con International (or SDCC as we like to call it) is upon us again. :) First time I attended SDCC was in 2007 and have gone back there every year since. It is an amazing experience — both as a fan and a creator. For the first two years my routine used to be simple — get in the convention center, locate the Virgin Comics booth, stash my bag there and then just walk around. Of course, there were the previously planned meet and greets interspersed through out the day, but what I enjoy most about SDCC is just walking around. It is still just as wonderful as it was the first time.

Now-a-days, I carry a small leather bound sketchbook with me, in case I meet an artist who’d draw me a quick sketch. ‘Twasn’t always so. The reason I carry the notebook is the Supercallifragilistically Fantastic PHIL HESTER (Firebreather, Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Anchor, Darkness). So there I was walking around and suddenly I realize I’ve actually cut across a line of people waiting for Phil at the Top Cow booth. I swear I didn’t see the booth, I was just ever so over-awed by the whole goddamn shebang that was SDCC 2006.

Phil looks at me and says “Well?”

I’m dually flustered here from the glares of the people in line and trying to think of an appropriate response to Phil’s query. I think I muttered a meek “Hi”. Suddenly Phil burst into that 10000 megawatt avuncular smile of his and asked “Hi, I’m Phil. Want a sketch? It’s free.”

Of course I wanted a sketch. Maybe cosmic forces guided my footsteps to that Top Cow booth, just so that I could get a sketch. (Or I think I was there looking for Ron Marz, don’t remember what exactly). But at that point in time, I had no idea who Phil Hester was. I mean I didn’t know that I had already read his stuff — Green Arrow mostly. The swamped mind just didn’t make the connection (To the tune of “ah, you’re THAT Phil Hester”). But, here wasa bona fide comic book creator offering to draw me (a mook from India at his first comic-con ever) a free sketch and I’d be damned if I turned that down. I nodded vigorously.

Phil then asked “So… got a notebook?”

Ouch! I hadn’t planned on getting sketches, so (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) I didn’t have a sketchbook handy. But by providence, I had a ruled notebook that I use for jotting down notes (audio recorders don’t work so well in the SDCC din). I promptly turned that over to Phil. He gave me an amused smile and asked “So, what should I draw?”

I decided to play it safe and pretend I didn’t hear the question, lest my “coolness” be punctured. I mean, how do you tell this generous person that you have no idea what his body of work is?

Phil must’ve understood. “Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll just name stuff I’ve done and you tell me what you want. I have drawn Green Arrow, Swamp Thing…”

Swamp Thing! Yeah, I knew that name.

“Swamp Thing, please.”

10 minutes later (a really sweet 10 minutes of watching Phil draw), I was the proud owner of an original Phil Hester Swamp Thing sketch (pictured below). As you can see, it’s a true work of art, a masterful drawing that I’ll cherish for a long long time.

But there’s something else I’ll cherish much more. When I was a kid, my father always used to tell me that the true measure of a man is how he behaves with people he doesn’t HAVE to be nice to. I mean, if someone writes your paycheck or can get you a deal on a new car, you’ve got to be nice to them out of necessity. But complete strangers, what your default behavior is to them tells of how sound your basic nature/value system is. I stood there for some time, watching Phil courteously respond to person after person as they walked up to him and he drew them sketches. He laughed and he spoke with them — a true gentleman. I realized I had just NOT ONLY seen a great artist at work, but a truly remarkable human being.

Thanks Phil — for the sketch and for being a wonderful person.

regards
Saurav

[CRAFT] 22 Pages of Doom – on pacing a comic book issue (a NINE PANEL GRID column)

22 Pages, mark this number down my friend, the bane of every writer who has a monthly gig – the industry standard story page count of a monthly issue of a comic book.

Filling up the said 22 pages is the subject of much head scratching, heartache and frustration – especially when the mind goes blank and the deadline comes a-knocking at the writer’s door.

My first gig was writing a series of one-shots for Virgin Comics called INDIA AUTHENTIC. IA told the myths and legends of the Indian pantheon and since there was no continuity from one story to the next, it was not the hardest thing in the world to write. Sure, given the number of versions of each myth and the fact that I wanted the stories to be a bit more than dry biographies, I put in a significant amount of work into treating the stories as sort of a secret origins kinda gig – every story tried to capture the theme that defines the dramatis personae for the world at large. So once I locked down the story, I’d just sit down and hammer out 22 pages.

Now the very next gig I got was an ongoing monthly – DEVI. Herein, o reader, my troubles began. A monthly comic book title (especially an ongoing one) is like a TV series. Each issue has to be reasonably enjoyable on a stand alone basis (at least that’s how my editor Ron Marz, quite astutely, wished it to be) and also forward the greater arc narrative. We also decided off the bat that we should not be too steeped in continuity to ward off new readers irrespective of the index of the issue they picked up as their first.

Oy Vey! It was very exhausting, but I like to think we (Ron and I) did manage to pull that off in the run we had on DEVI. Right off the bat we were so far behind deadlines (due to factors out of our control – I was moving back stateside after a year long sabbatical in India, Ron was taking over as Editor from Mackenzie Cadenhead etc. etc.). We had a couple of weeks to go from story to pencils and we didn’t have the plot. So during brainstorming session at Ron’s house, I floated the idea of starting off with a collection of three short stories about the main characters in the series – sort of explain their motivations and background. Ron, who taught me a lot during my run on DEVI and SADHU, instantly caught on to the idea and also suggested that we use framing pages at the beginning and end of the issue and in between the stories to sort of provide a narrative. Being a veteran of comic books, he understood the 22 page structure and how to navigate through them. So 3 stories, six pages each and 4 framing splash images. We had our 22 pages. We did some back and forth on the plot of the short stories and needless to say made our deadline.

Later as I started writing full 22 page stories, I had issues (pun not intended) with how much can fit into that. Again here Ron’s experience saved me from a lot of blunders. My first treatment for DEVI #12 had seven scene changes, so on an average every third page the narrative would shift to a different scene. I knew the story I wanted to tell from #12-#15 and was setting up a lot of the stuff here. But going over Ron’s redline I realized that, when read as a standalone issue, it was pretty confusing. So we talked and later came up with sort of a format for telling a 22 page story.

But before I get to that, I must touch upon another mistake most first timers are likely to make. When I submitted the second draft of the treatment, it was too decompressed. Ron’s note said something to the effect – “Now it’s dragging, every single item is getting a visual. The pacing was too much like Manga.” So as in everything else in life, the answer is in the Golden Mean.

So coming back to the format – a safe format for the 22 pages (Your mileage may vary, but this worked for me).

ACT I (Pages 1-4)
First 4 pages are ACT I. I usually either began with a splash or had 2-3 as a two page spread. This was setup. It was something I came back to later in the issue. For an arc beginning, I would use this page for a sequence that would serve as a springboard for the entire plot. For middle issues, this was where the dramatic kaboom sequence would go in to start things off with a bang.

ACT II (Pages 5-16)
ACT II was the next dozen or so pages or so (up to page 16-17). Page 5 cut from the opening action to the thick of the story and for 3-4 pages we set up the first obstacle of the story. So most probably on page 9 or 10 we’ll get the first glimpse of what really will our protagonist(s) be up against (we might’ve hinted at this in ACT I). Then on Page 9/10, I used to cut to something that was a continuation of the opening pages and for the next three pages use that to move the story forward. That takes us to Page #14. Page 15,16,17 then serve as the setup pages which bring the thread started in act I and the sequence that introduced ACT II together and positions everyone and everything for the finale / ACT III. If I planned on ending with a big fight scene, it usually would’ve started by page 15, so that the 16-17 double spread would be used up to show a great widescreen shot.

ACT III (Pages 17-22)
For ACT III, Page 18 and 19 usually were used to show the protagonist bouncing back and kicking some righteous ass. For more story driven issues 20 and 21 introduced / foreshadowed the next issues story and 22 splash was used as a cliffhanger.

It’s a simple structure, but I felt comfortable working with it. It meant I didn’t have to worry about pacing so much, since I knew where my act braks and plot points would be. Of course it is not a rigid formula nor is it a paint by numbers kind of thing. I used this as a rough guide and hope something like this helps you write a better 22 page story.

Till next time.

Toodles,

mohaps

This is a repost from my “Nine Panel Grid” column at Comics Waiting Room. You can find other Nine Panel Grid columns here

“Oh, my god! You’re punching me” – an adventure in comic book writing in India

This is a repost from my “Nine Panel Grid” column at Comics Waiting Room and was written in 2008. So all temporal references relative to the original date of publication.

I did something yesterday that I thought I’ll never do in my life. I told a publisher to basically (and very politely) “shove it”. Of course I ended the mail wishing them luck with their line (and I really, most sincerely do), but all in all this has been a pretty surreal experience for me.

Towards the end of 2008, I was contacted by the publisher to see if I was interested in doing a full length OGN based on Indian mythology. I was just coming off of India Authentic from Virgin Comics (now reborn as Liquid Comics) and the sudden winding down of their comic book line had left me with a few stories I wanted to do (with all the research done and plots ready) with no one to publish them. I thought this was a golden opportunity to do one of those on a bigger canvas so to speak (India Authentic was 22 page one-shots). We had the honeymoon phase where I explained the way I wished to write the particular story, a tale from Mahabharata about a young warrior who knew nothing but war. The editor-in-chief was enthusiastic about it and once my detailed page by page breakdown was approved, we got down to contractual details. I must say of all the Indian comic book publishers (Virgin excluded) I’ve had dealings with so far, they were the most open and prompt in taking care of the paperwork. Let me give credit where it’s due. The contract was standard boiler-plate “I’m signing my firstborn over to you” work-for-hire one (since the character was public domain and not one I created, I accepted it) and we got it off the plate in quick time. We created a schedule and an editor was assigned. The usual pleasantries were exchanged.

Then the first tragedy struck. I fell down the stairs in my home and ended up spraining my wrist. This put us off the schedule by a couple of weeks for the script. I managed to get the script first draft out to them within the revised deadline and moved on, waiting for the redline to arrive.

That is the funniest part. The redline never came. I got one note from the editor saying she was going through the script and then she sent me a mail saying that I should “rework” the script. As the editors who I have had the good fortune of working with in the past will confirm, I don’t mind reworking and even rewriting entire scripts if the editor gives me specific notes, but here there was a general note asking me to rewrite an entire OGN. To top it all, I was sent a script by another writer, saying use this as a reference. So I went through that script and tried to extrapolate what exactly was expected. I kept on asking for specific notes and a redline meanwhile.

There is a whole list of things I had problems with, but here are the top two.

One of the notes said “There is a lot of philosophy!”.

Of course there is. I like to call myself a non-practicing atheist. I view mythology as a rich source of tales, nothing more and nothing less. Writing mythological stories is my way of answering the questions I posed to my mother (a deeply religious lady) as a child. What was this god thinking when this even occurred? Why didn’t incidental character X did action Y when the logical thing would’ve been to do Z? In India Authentic and in the script I submitted, I tried to tell a story from the protagonists viewpoint, not simply retell a legend. The effort was to provide a narrative based on an inner monologue. I’m afraid I can’t get into specifics to protect the identities of those involved.

Some panels don’t have any captions. We need at least 180 words per page” / “The captions don’t mention what’s shown in the pictures

Wow, me not being verbose? My wife laughed heartily upon hearing that (She is always ribbing me about how I never know when to shut up!). Now a comic book is a marriage of words and art. But the age old adage of “Show, don’t tell” still applies.

Which brings us to the title of this article. To draw an analogy , imagine if I were depicting a fist fight between a normally peaceful hero who’s decided he’s had enough. So my script would have a panel of the guy punching the villain and next one would be the villain crashing into the ground ass first. I’d then have a close-up of the villain looking up at our hero and a reverse angle upshot as the hero glares at him. The last panel would be the villain as he collapses deciding he’s had enough. All these would be silent panels ( Maybe a line or two of the inner monologue of the hero if that). The art tells the story and I don’t need to ham handedly spoonfeed the reader. The prior pages have established the hero’s inner conflict and the dastardly villain’s desperate need for come-uppance.

Now in the absence of specific notes, here’s what I gathered I was being asked to provide for such a sequence to the publisher.

Panel 1
Hero punches villain
CAP: And then the mighty hero punched the villain
Hero: I’m punching you, you mangy cur!

Panel 2
Villain crashes down on the ground
CAP: The dastardly villain crashed to the ground
Villain: Oh my god! You punched me! I have fallen to the ground.

And so on and so forth. You get the idea!

Oh yeah! Before I forget, there was an explicit request to use “million dollar words”. The note was to the effect “The captions are worded in a very matter-of-fact/simple way. Please use more intellectual words”.

So I did a lot of soul searching. I come from a decade old professional career where I take immense pride in being …umm… professional. I like to think that I inculcate that in my writing gigs too. But I finally decided to mail the publisher and tell them that I can’t write for them. So far there has been no artist allocation for this and printing schedule has not been decided. So I decided to save both of us a lot of aches/pains further down the road and called it quits. I received an email response saying that the reason a redline was not provided was “to carry out a full edit on the script at this stage would be extremely time consuming and, I think, unnecessary.

Anyway, as things stand right now, I’m intent upon for the first time asking to be let go from a writing gig. Hope I didn’t come off as too bitchy in this post.

Until next time, toodles and take care.

mohaps

A “Redline” is basically a version of the script with the editor’s note inline with the original draft text. Usually it’s a word doc with “Track Changes” enabled. In the merry old days, editors used to mark corrections with a red pencil and that was the origin of the term.

Disclaimer
The Capt. America #1 (Marvel Comics) cover image used in this post doesn’t mean any disrespect to the content/writing of the comic book. It was one of the most iconic punch images I could think of from the golden age. :)

Three Songs, Four Years

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl is not even aware of boy’s existence. Linkin Park songs make sense to boy. 4 years pass, boy finishes college, gets a job and finally grows up. Linkin Park songs stop making sense.

For those of you who haven’t spent 4 years in an Indian engineering college hostel, it might be beneficial if I clarify certain terms, actually one term in particular. It’s an acronym – F.O.S.L.A. (most commonly pronounced as pho-ss-laa). It stands for Frustrated One Sided Lovers’ Association. It’s not a “real” organization in the sense say, The Rotary Club or the Freemasons or even Automobile Association of America, but for all intents and purposes it is the single greatest demographic in Indian college life. The criteria for participation are simple –

  • You have to be an adolescent male (preferably staying in a college dorm)
  • You have to have a completely unrequited “thing”/”crush” on (preferably) a fellow female member of the student body. Extra credits if the said object of your affections is either completely unaware of your existence or more importantly, has been made aware of it and chose to violently demonstrate to you that you’re not in her league.

There was no recruitment drive, secret handshake or rite of passage. You kind of just moped around alone with that sad look in your eyes and other card carrying members found you. And then each of you went your separate ways, to mope some more.

So that bit of technicality aside, let’s now come down to the topic of this blog post – music. When I went to college in the last millennium, as a card carrying member of FOSLA, I naturally gravitated towards songs ( nay, not songs! Anthems!) that spoke to this particular facet of my life. These were the days before CDs, MP3s and iPods and thankfully, much later than vinyl LPs. I spent the 4 years of college (as my dormmates would attest readily) listening to the same 3 songs pretty much on a loop on my rickety yet trusty Cassette player.

November Rain by Guns and Roses
The first song was of course the grandest of all FOSLA anthems (with a kickass video that showed Slash doing his thing with an epic helicopter shot) – “November Rain” by “Guns and Roses”. This song “spoke” not only to me, but thousands of others in the same boat as me. It catered to the narcissistic tragic in every jilted lover. The basic lesson seemed to be “dump the broad and her memories, run on out to the prairie, straight into a bitchin’ guitar solo”. Hey, stop snickering! I even took guitar lessons after hearing this one – all four of them.



Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
The second one was not quite in the FOSLA anthem league (in fact the appropriate one to like would’ve been Fat Bottomed Girls or I want to break freeor Crazy Little Thing called Love), but somehow “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen stayed with me. There was just something about it, that reached out from beyond the haze of tragic teenage angst. I know nothing about music, notes or tempo, but ever since the first time I heard it, I knew this song was unique. There’s just something about the way it ebbs and flows and twists and turns. The musical/vocal equivalent of watching a ballet performed by mixed martial artists in a last man standing melee.

Coming Back To Life by Pink Floyd
The last one is special. My memories of this one are kind of hazy (if you know what I mean ;-) ). I remember vaguely sitting on the ledge of the third floor balcony — looking out at the starry night, legs dangling into space, cigarette in hand and the cassette player blaring out “Coming Back To Life” by “Pink Floyd” at full volume from the room. This one spoke to me at a much more surreal level (granted that I was in a “susceptible” state of mind, but still…). This one I played over and over again, till the tape on my Division Bell cassette wore out. Then I got another one and another… finally I managed to find a CD after I had come over to USA in 2001 and now it resides proudly in my mp3 player’s most frequently played list.

I revisit these songs often. The FOSLA part maybe not so much, but they do remind me of a time in my life – when nothing made sense, yet it didn’t bother me. Scientists say that the neural pathways take some time to form and with age these pathways become permanent. So, till one goes senile, one’s state of being is kind of set in stone. These songs still remind me of a time, when .. ah, screw it. These were the songs that got me through college and these are the ones I still listen to after a really bad day.

THE WITCH & THE WARRIOR – a Frank Frazetta homage

A few days back, my friend and artist/collaborator Saumin Patel (DEVI, MUMBAI MACGUFFIN) sent me a mail. Saumin is a big fan of Frank Frazetta and upon seeing Ron Marz‘s tribute to Frazetta, he too was inspired to do something.

Thus was born “The Witch & The Warrior“.

Now, Saumin’s visual storytelling (having worked with him on a bunch of projects) is perhaps amongst the best I have seen. So for a change, rather than working from a “Script”, he free-styled some sketeches/roughs with a basic story idea in mind. Our goal was to use some iconic Frazetta imagery, in a story reminiscent of those that he provided covers for. I then took a crack at tightening the story and the images into a 11 page script with dialogue and Saumin came back with astounding pencils for it. The pieces are now lettered and ready. Once Saumin finishes inking and coloring them, we’ll post it on the web.

But while we wait for that, pictured above is a rough lettered version of the cover for your to drool over. :) Hope you like it (as much as we did creating it).

[CARTOON] THE YUVRAJ SINGH CHRONICLES

As an Indian Cricket face I was disappointed as any other at the team’s early exit from World Cup T20 Championships. Read an article about Gary Kirsten, the Indian coach talking about how unfit most of the players are. Yuvraj Singh, one of my favorite cricketers and power hitter extraordinaire has been singled out in the article.

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