Comics Alternative for Young Readers: The Eisner Award Nominations for Early Readers, Kids, and Teens

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:57 – Context of the 2017 Eisner Awards
  • 00:06:14 – Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
  • 00:57:02 – Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)
  • 01:49:53 – Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
  • 02:52:17 – Wrap up
  • 02:53:05 – Contact us

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Jam-Packed

This month, Gwen and Paul discuss the three Eisner Award categories that focus on comics for young readers. And this is a jam-packed, extra-long episode! As they work through each set of nominees, Paul and Gwen discuss the value of prizing in general and the challenges faced by the judges when they must cull such a small number of texts from a pool that is increasingly deep. Inevitably, they mention many other texts that felt were strong contenders for recognition, making this episode a great resource for any parent, child, teen, or teacher who is eager to learn about this year’s great comics.


Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Volcano Trash and Real Friends

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Time Codes:

  • 01:22 – Introduction
  • 03:19 – Setup of the episode
  • 04:00 – Volcano Trash
  • 23:10 – Real Friends
  • 48:57 – Wrap up
  • 50:00 – Contact us

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Friendships

For the May Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen discuss two highly anticipated graphic novels: Ben Sears’s Volcano Trash (Koyama Press) and Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends (First Second). While one text is an action adventure science fiction fantasy and the other is a memoir, both books touch upon the importance that relationships play in young people’s lives.

To being the show, Paul introduces Volcano Trash, the sequel to Ben Sears’s acclaimed 2016 graphic novel Night Air, the first in a series that takes place in what Sears terms “the Double+” universe. Both texts feature the exploits of a young man called Plus Man, his faithful sidekick, the robot Hank, as they engage in capers and navigate a world in which adults very often have nefarious agendas. Paul explains that even though the majority of secondary characters in Volcano Trash are male, the series would be enjoyable for all readers. Gwen agrees and chimes in with her appreciation for Sears’s use of color and his ability to add suspense and “motion” to the comic through the use of a variety of stylistic techniques. Gwen and Paul conclude by discussing the way that Sears’s sense of humor adds a welcome levity to the hijinks. (You can also check out additional discussion of Volcano Trash on the recent Publisher Spotlight episode devoted to Koyama Press.)

Next, the pair discuss Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, a memoir of Hale’s grade school years that focuses on friendships won and lost. In addition to considering the features of Hale and Pham’s collaborative work, Gwen underscores the importance of the “Author’s Note,” which allows Hale to look back over her childhood, explain her rationale for writing a memoir, and provide young readers with advice about navigating the complicated hierarchies that develop in grade school. Paul agrees and points to the inclusion of Hale’s grade school photographs as a way to highlight the fact that the story is both real and focused on Hale’s actual experiences. Both Gwen and Paul highly recommend this text as an excellent read for any young person, regardless of whether they identify more with Shannon and are struggling to find true friendships or whether they are popular and confident but might benefit from thinking about friendships from the perspective of other kids.

Comics Alternative, Episode 241: Reviews of Boundless and User

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Time Codes:

  • 00:01:23 – Introduction
  • 00:05:11 – Welcome new Patreon supporters!
  • 00:08:34 – Boundless
  • 00:44:55 – User
  • 01:16:41 – Wrap up
  • 01:17:43 – Contact us

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Reality Askew

This week on the review show Paul joins Derek in discussing two new recent releases. They begin with Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless, published by Drawn and Quarterly. This is a collection of nine short stories, most of which have been previously published in FrontierNobrow, and Hazlitt.net. The guys begin by discussing how Tamaki structures the contents, along with including new pieces, in order to give the collection visual and thematic coherency. Unlike her longer narratives Skim and This One Summer, both with her cousin Mariko, Tamaki tends to use the shorter storytelling forms to create pieces that are slightly askew and bend the reality that we know.

Next, Paul and Derek turn to Devin Grayson, John Bolton, and Sean Phillips’s User (Image Comics). This was originally published as a three-issue prestige-format miniseries through Vertigo Comics in 2001, but until now has never been collected in a single volume. User is the tale of a young woman finding refuge in a MUD, escaping the chaos that surrounds her real-life work and family. What makes the narrative notable is its handling of online interaction and gender identification, quite provocative at the time of its original publication. And while the guys appreciate what Grayson and company are doing, they note the slightly dated nature of this comic. As they point out, understanding the temporal context puts everything into perspective.

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Review of The Stone Heart and a Discussion of the Essay, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics”

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Time Codes:

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Required Reading…and Required Reading?

In this episode of The Comics Alternative‘s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (First Second), as well as Paste Magazine’s “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics” list. Paul also conducts a “mini-interview” with Gwen about the release of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, a volume she co-edited with Michelle Ann Abate for the University Press of Mississippi.

The show begins with a review of the second volume in Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart. They praise the sequel’s strong plot and attention to perils of colonization and cultural erasure, and they consider the way that a number of contemporary comics creators have handled these concepts. Central to their discussion the fact that “Asian-inspired” texts are also a current trend in comics, and they explore the cultural implications of this trend. Finally, the pair react to the news that the trilogy has been optioned for a three-season, thirty-six episode TV series.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss “best of” lists in general, and in particular, Paste Magazine’s April 7, 2017 article, “Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics.” There were some obvious picks on the list, some that were exciting…and others that leave Gwen and Paul shaking their heads.

To finish the episode, Paul interviews Gwen about the genesis and contents of Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults: A Collect of Critical Essays, a volume that she co-edited with Dr. Michelle Ann Abate, a professor of children’s and YA literature and English at The Ohio State University. This “mini-interview” serves as a teaser for an upcoming Comics Alternative roundtable discussion that will feature Gwen, Michelle, and two of the contributors to the volume.

Comics Alternative, Episode 234: The April Previews Catalog

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Marathon Men

It’s time to look at the current Previews catalog from Diamond, and for this month Derek is joined by Paul, the new cohost of the monthly Young Readers series. Paul has helped out on earlier Previews shows, and as Andy has jokingly pointed out, on those occasions the episodes have tended to clock in on the longish side. And indeed, that’s what happens this week! But the lengthiness of the April Previews show is filled not only with choice solicits, but also with critical commentary, astute observations, and even a couple of soapbox rants. In their highlights from this month’s catalog, the guys discuss offerings from:

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Nightlights and The Best We Could Do

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:26 – Introduction
  • 00:02:47 – Setup of the reviews and interview
  • 00:05:29 – Nightlights
  • 00:26:13 – The Best We Could Do
  • 00:58:56 – Interview with Thi Bui
  • 01:42:29 – Wrap up
  • 01:43:20 – Contact us

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Conflicts, Ghosts, and Art

On this month’s episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers series, Gwen and Paul discuss two new releases: Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights from Nobrow Press, geared toward younger readers, and Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do, from Abrams ComicArts, an all-ages comic that will be of interest to our teen and adult listeners. They also had a chance to interview Thi Bui and include that segment at the end of the review portion of the show.

Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights, a beautiful hardback, picture book-sized comic, focuses on the early years in the life of a young girl, Sandy, who clearly has artistic ambitions and an abundance of creativity. However, Sandy also experiences doubts regarding the source of her imagination and fears about what might happen if inspiration were suddenly to desert her. Gwen and Paul love how Alvarez respects the creative process of a young artist, and they appreciate how Alvarez brings her own experiences growing up in Bogotá, Columbia, into the themes and artwork for Nightlights. For more about Alvarez’s biography and work, head over to her website. Those listeners who have enjoyed Vera Brosgol’s YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost or Neil Gaiman’s novel and graphic novel Coraline, that features the “ghost children,” Nightlights will be a treat. In all three stories, the presence of the supernatural encourages the protagonists to think critically about their various gifts and emotional burdens.

Next, Paul and Gwen discuss Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir published by Abrams Comicarts. Bui, whose family came to the US as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War, tells her own and her family’s stories, in a narrative weaving history and reflection. Given that the book addresses issues of war and loss, Paul and Gwen emphasize that this text is probably geared more towards the upper range of the YA category. Paul praises the text for its evocative depiction of parent/children relationships, and Gwen agrees, noting that she also appreciated Bui’s focus on the refugee experience.

After their discussion, Paul and Gwen play an interview that they conducted with Thi Bui about her inspiration, her process, and her work with young people at the International School in Oakland, California. Listeners can learn even more about Bui at her website. Ms. Bui also mentions an event at Oakland International High School featuring her students’ comics work. She clarified afterwards that the event will be held April 14th, and listeners are welcomed to attend!

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of Bats: Learning to Fly and NewsPrints

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Changes

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:08 – Introducing Paul Lai as new YR cohost
  • 00:04:50 – A farewell message from Andy Wolverton
  • 00:07:12 – Bats: Learning to Fly
  • 00:32:29 – NewsPrints
  • 01:01:27 – Wrap up
  • 01:02:01 – Contact us

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The Comics Alternative extends a warm welcome to Paul Lai, who has taken over from Andy Wolverton as co-host with Gwen Tarbox on the Young Readers show. Everyone at The Comics Alternative family will miss Andy’s wise and engaging reviews and perspectives on children’s and young adult comics.

In their first show together, Gwen and Paul discuss the newest volume in First Second Books’ Science Comics series, Falynn Christine Koch’s Bats: Learning to Fly, as well as Ru Xu’s fiction (“diesel-punk,” as Paul terms it) graphic novel NewsPrints, published by the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic Books.

Since its launch in 2016, the Science Comics series has included volumes on coral reefs, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Geared towards upper elementary and middle school aged readers, Science Comics take advantage of the elements of visual storytelling to put forward scientific information. As the editors point out: “With the increasing ubiquity of visual information,” young readers need to “learn to process and respond to visual content, and comics are an incredibly effective medium for exploring visual literacy.” Regular listeners to the podcast may remember that Gwen and Andy reviewed Dinosaurs by M.K. Reed and Joe Flood in their March 2016 YR show, and many of the elements that they praised, including the accessibility of scientific information, as well as the use of humor, appear in Koch’s volume, as well.

Bats: Learning to Fly encourages young readers to understand the important role that bats play in the ecosystem, to overcome their fear of bats, and to learn how they can become involved in protecting and caring for bats. In addition to providing a great deal of information on various species of Bats, Koch creates a narrative in which a teenage girl, Sarah, volunteers at a bat rehabilitation center after her parents overreact to a bat and injure it. Lil’ Brown, as the bat is known, is both a character in that narrative and a narrative presence in his own right, as he directly addresses the reader at various points regarding his own anatomy and role in the ecosystem. As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen consider how young readers might respond to the way information is imparted in the comic, and they look forward to Koch’s upcoming volume for the Science Comics series, Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield, due out in August, 2017. Koch recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and Gwen and Paul discuss how her precision drawings and humor-filled text combine to create a text that will delight readers, while encouraging them to appreciate how they can play a role in scientific study by volunteering to rehabilitate bats or building bat houses for their backyards.

Next, Gwen and Paul discuss another debut comic from a SCAD graduate. NewsPrints is written and drawn by Ru Xu, a comics creator who was born in Beijing, immigrated to Indianapolis as a young child, and has had a lifelong love of comics from a variety of traditions, including manga, European comics, and even superhero comics. NewsPrints takes place in a fictional diesel-punk world where the land of Nautilene is torn by war and a newspaper called The Bugle is the only media outlet left that is still reporting the truth. The protagonist, Blue, is a rare kind of newsboy in a society that counts on its newsboys to shout out the headlines and sell papers…and that’s because Blue is not a boy, but a girl, orphaned by the war and adopted by the family who owns the newspaper. Blue sets out to provide that one doesn’t have to be a boy to be vital in the news business, and along the way, readers are introduced to a cast of characters such as Jack, the eccentric and secretive inventor; Crow, a strange kid who remains wrapped in a scarf and in mysteries of his own; and Goldie, Blue’s loyal canary, who matches Blue’s welcoming of people and spirit of flight.

As part of their discussion, Paul and Gwen praise Xu’s mastery of many genres of comics, including her ability to meld various traditional forms into an entirely unique story world. Thus, while the text shares much in common with recent fantasy releases, including Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City and Jorge Corona’s Feathers, NewsPrints stands on its own, with a vast, inviting story space and a focus on issues of truth and representation that are ever more a part of our own political and social climate. Paul praised Xu’s deft handling of interactions among characters, and Gwen expressed her admiration for Xu’s use of color and shading to help set the mood and to ease transitions across the comic. Given the book’s indeterminate ending, Paul and Gwen look forward to the series continuing into additional volumes, and they dwell on Xu’s treatment of gender and ethnicity in thoughtful ways.

 

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Comics Alternative, Episode 210: Reviews of Black Eye #3, Ancestor, and Frontier #13

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Extraordinary

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Time Codes:

  • 00:00:30 – Introduction
  • 00:02:49 – Catching up with Paul
  • 00:04:38 – Black Eye No. 3
  • 00:46:40 – Ancestor
  • 01:12:38 – Frontier #13
  • 01:37:37 – Wrap up
  • 01:38:55 – Contact us

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On this week’s review episode, Paul joins Derek to discuss three titles that are certainly out of the ordinary. They begin with Black Eye No. 3, an anthology edited by Ryan Standfest, the publisher of Rotland Press. This is a first for The Comics Alternative in a couple of different ways. It is the first time the Two Guys are reviewing a Rotland Press title, but more significantly, this is the first time they have discussed a crowd-funded book before the campaign’s completion. And listeners are strongly encouraged to back this project on Indiegogo. Calling itself “the anthology of humor and despair,” Black Eye is a series devoted to short, offbeat comic stories, illustrations, and prose pieces, although in the current (and final) volume there is a noticeable absence of the latter. Both Derek and Paul recognize several of the contributors in this anthology — including Joan Cornellà, Martin Rowson, Eric Haven, David Lynch, Julia Gfrörer, Onsmith, and Alejandro Jodorowsky — but much of the joy in this volume comes from discovering the work of newer creators. And there is a lot of talent here, so be sure to help fund this Indiegogo campaign!

Next, the guys check out a more conventional work, Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward’s Ancestor (Image Comics). Although “conventional” might be a stretch here. Originally serialized in the anthology Island, this is a futuristic, or perhaps an alternate-world, narrative exploring our relationship with networked technologies and the potential consequences of complete creative freedom. As the guys point out, the story takes an unexpected turn in the final chapter, ultimately walking a fine line between paradise and dystopia.

Paul and Derek wrap up this week’s show with a look at the latest in Youth in Decline’s quarterly monograph series, Frontier. This thirteenth issue showcases the work of Richie Pope and is titled “Fatherson.” As the guys point out, it’s a poignant and idiosyncratic meditation on fatherhood, specifically African American fatherhood. In fact, Derek and Paul discuss the racial specificity of the text, while at the same time observing that the story is not bound by ethnic contexts. Pope is primarily known as an illustrator — his work has appeared in the The New York Times, The AtlanticScientific American, and The New Yorker, among other titles — but this issue of Frontier aptly demonstrates his abilities in sequential storytelling.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Jason Shiga

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“The universe will kick you in the nuts”

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Time Codes:

  • 00:24 – Introduction
  • 02:12 – Setup of interview
  • 03:50 – Interview with Jason Shiga
  • 58:26 – Wrap up
  • 59:54 – Contact us

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For this interview episode, Paul and Derek have the pleasure of talking with Jason Shiga. The first volume in his Demon series comes out this week from First Second, and the cartoonist goes into a lot of detail about the efforts that eventually led to this publication. As listeners of the podcast well know — since Demon was first discussed on the show back in December 2014 — the title began as a webcomic, with Jason self-publishing individual issues in pamphlet form as the story progressed. This endeavor eventually caught the attention of First Second, and now we have the first in a four-volume paperback series.

The guys spend most of their time discussing the unique premise of Demon, a fast-paced adventure that questions our foundations of morality, and artist’s continued use of his protagonist Jimmy Yee. This is a character that readers might recognize from earlier works such as Bookhunter, Empire State, and Meanwhile, and Jason describes his narrating strategies as similar to Tezuka’s star system. Paul and Derek also ask Jason about his penchant for experimenting with form, his use of the webcomics platform, and his ambitious new project, “The Box.”

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Comics Alternative, Episode 194: Reviews of The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan, Bird in a Cage, and Hellbound Lifestyle

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Communal Voices

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This week The Comics Alternative‘s blog editor, Paul Lai, joins Derek to discuss three recent titles. They begin with Bryan Doerries’s The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan (Pantheon). Illustrated by a variety of artists — Jess Ruliffson, Joëlle Jones, Justine Mara Andersen, Dylan Macon’s, and Nick Bertozzi — the book brings Homer’s classic into contemporary contexts. On the eve of their return home from Afghanistan, Marine Corps sergeant Jack Brennan shares with his men the epic tale by applying it to their own lives as soldiers. hellbound-sampleWithin this frame narrative, Doerries recounts Odysseus’s various attempt to return home, each one illustrated by one of the book’s diverse artists.

Next, the Two Guys turn to a sobering narrative, Rebecca Roher’s Bird in a Cage (Conundrum Press). This is an account of Roher’s grandmother’s dementia and resulting institutionalization, but even more so, it’s the artist’s memoir of her relationship with Grandma Wylie, as she is called, and the family that nurtured her. This is a moving narrative, intimately drawn, that underscores the power of community and memory when confronting adversity.

After that, Paul and Derek wrap up with a more lighthearted comic, Kaeleigh Forsyth and Alabaster Pizzo’s Hellbound Lifestyle (Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics). This is a humorous look at our contemporary obsession with smartphones and our need for self-validation through social media. The story takes place over a year’s worth of smartphone usage, and many of the book’s scenarios are laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the guys’ favorites include “A Day in the Life of Hemingway’s Wife(s),” “Workshopping My Stand Up Routine,” and the “Sunnie Luvies Test.” In this episode of the podcast, you can expect a wide range of emotional responses.

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Comics Alternative Interviews: Mike Dawson

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Fathers’ Day

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On this episode of the interview series — the very first for cohost Paul Lai! — the Two Guys with PhDs are pleased to have as their guest Mike Dawson. His latest book, Rules for Dating My Daughter: The Modern Father’s Guide to Good Parenting, comes out on May 10th from Uncivilized Books, and our fearless cohosts talk with Mike about his project’s journey from Tumblr, to Kickstarter, to finished book. One of the things they discuss early on is the fact that Rules for Dating My Daughter is not one of those gun-hugging “hurt my daughter, and I will hurt you” kind of books you’d expect from the cover image. In it, Mike lays bare his thoughts on the responsibilities of fatherhood (and not just for his daughter) and how those concerns relate to larger-world issues. The book is episodic in nature, comprising fifteen short strips focusing on such topics as gender roles, violence in America, religious observance, global warming, carnivorism, and cultural intolerance…and all filtered through parental concerns. Paul and Derek ask Mike about the genesis of this project and how it’s significantly different from his previous books, Troop 142 and Angie Bongiolatti (both published by Secret Acres). At the same time, the tone of the new book isn’t dissimilar from those works, and, in fact, one could argue that in Rules for Dating My Daughter, Mike is bringing together the themes of the earlier works — both political and familial — and combing them with the autobiographic approach established in his first book, Freddy and Me. And toward the end of the interview, the guys ask Mike about his work as a podcaster cohosting Ink Panthers with Alex Robinson and heading up TCJ Talkies. All in all, the guys have a great time talking with their guest about his art, his thoughts on the industry, and the current state of our culture…as only a dad could do.

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Comics Alternative, Episode 177: The March Previews Catalog

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“I’ll own up to the curmudgeonliness”

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It’s time, once again, to take a look at the current month’s Previews catalog. This time around, Derek is joined by Paul Lai, the editor of The Comics Alternative‘s blog. Although he’s been working with the Two Guys since late last year, this is the first time that Paul has cohosted a podcast episode. And his first time out is a doozie! He and Derek take an extra-long, two-and-a-half-hour stroll through the March Previews solicits, highlighting upcoming releases from publishers such as

Along the way, the guys discuss recent comics news — such as DC’s questionable “rebirth” and Image’ new Previews catalog magazine, Image+ — and even go off on a couple of rants. Derek, in particular, rags on both Marvel corporate practices and mindless Donald Trump supporters, and with a couple of “amens” from Paul. And what the hell is Smosh…and why should the guys care? But it’s the kind of jovial, curmudgeonly goodness that has come to mark The Comics Alternative brand. Accept no substitutes!
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