Comicscape - August 18, 2004 -


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Comicscape - August 18, 2004

The Pinis Mightier Than The Sword (Part One)

By Tony Whitt     August 18, 2004

ELFQUEST co-creator Wendy Pini hanging out with a few friends.
© N/A


First of all, thanks for the continued responses to the extended review of SPIDER-MAN 2. As I figured, the strongly held opinions of our first pack of readers led to the expression of other strongly held opinions, and were I to print them all, we'd be here for months. That's also why I can't publish all the many replies to the question I floated about John Jameson's relationship to the symbiote suit which later became Venom someone had mentioned that Jameson brought it back from a mission to the moon, while I remembered that the suit was introduced in SECRET WARS. Turns out that both stories are correct: in print, the symbiote first appeared in the aforementioned maxi-series, but when the producers of the mid-90s cartoon series were trying to figure out a way to introduce the Venom character without dragging in the whole back story of the Beyonder, they struck upon the idea of having little Johnny bring it back from space. So, mystery solved. Thanks to everyone and there were a lot of you who wrote in to clear that up! Now, onto the good stuff...

Not long ago, we ran a review of the latest chapter in Richard and Wendy Pini's ELFQUEST saga, THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD, a 96-page hardcover graphic novel, in full color, telling the story of Cutter and Leeta's adopted human


daughter Shuna and her difficulties interacting with other humans particularly with a husband who eventually turns abusive. Recently I got the chance to talk at length with this highly talented (and extremely friendly) couple and to ask them about not only this book but the future of the saga both in print and in other media especially now that the ELFQUEST stories have been licensed by Warp Media to DC. As tends to happen, we talked about a lot more than that, including reader attitudes, the ongoing problem of spousal abuse in our country, and a certain Red Sonja costume that once briefly got national attention... (I do have to preface this with something, though: I was not aware that Richard and Wendy had actually read my review until conducting the interview, so any complimentary tone you might pick up on here is strictly within context. Besides, it made me feel good.)

I asked them both how THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD is different from any of the other ELFQUEST work that they had done, and in what ways it blends seamlessly with the rest of the work, to which Wendy replied, "In many ways, the world of ELFQUEST hasn't changed in 25 years the characters have the same personalities, although they've grown through their experiences. But everything is still very true to the original vision. However, I think you can say with THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD, ELFQUEST has matured in a way because, although we've always dealt with adult material in ELFQUEST, it's always been the Elves who have encountered it and interpreted it. For the very first time, we have a human character as the star of our story Shuna is the narrator and the focal character in the story. You hit the nail on the head in your review...even though you haven't been a rabid fan, you saw everything so clearly..."

"Maybe there's cause and effect at work there...," Richard interjected.

"It's's possible...," Wendy said. Then she continued, laughing, "Some of our more rabid fans don't get the story at all!"

"Really?" I said. "Why do you think that's so?"

"I'll give you a short answer to that," replied Richard. "I'm sort of a filter through stuff flows from the Internet from me to Wendy. I see all this stuff, that's my job."

"He keeps me from going crazy with it!" Wendy interjected.

"Well, there is such a thing as too much...," Richard admitted. "There are some, a very, very few, that are not happy that the story is told from this 'remove,' as you call it in the review... They want to get inside the heads of the Elves at every opportunity, and because this is turned around and told from Shuna's point of view, they have expressed a certain disappointment, that they felt it's not about 'their' Elves. Well, OK, that's their perception, and everybody is welcome to his or her own perception...but I think they're missing all the things that Wendy is talking about..."

Wendy clarified exactly what those things are: "By having it narrated through Shuna's eyes, we get a chance to remind ourselves just how alien these critters are and why their history has been so fraught with conflict. If you just simply identify with the Elves as the good guys and think of everybody else in the world as the bad guys, you have a pretty one-dimensional story. You need to know why there is conflict and hostility and the fact that things just aren't black and white."

Richard continued to explain why some fans have felt so strongly that this shift in point of view: "We've been very pleased over the years that readers have identified with the characters because there are many, many wonderful qualities to the characters that we get the chance to put forth through a somewhat distorted glass for people to think about. But some people, perhaps, just say, 'No, I am an Elf, the Elves are me, and this says who I am,' and they're uncritical. ELFQUEST has, first and foremost, always been a way to get people to stop and say, 'I wonder what that means for me?'"

"A lot of people, I think," Wendy continued, "come to ELFQUEST because they feel very alienated, they feel like they don't fit in, which is the typical condition of adolescence, and they find sanctuary with the Elves 'Here are some people I can identify with, they need to hide from the world, too.' The Elves are called 'The Hidden Ones,' and generally speaking, like wolves, they lead a very shady existence, very furtive, they try not to get themselves involved with conflict, they just want to live their lives. But the whole basis of the ELFQUEST mythos is that one must adapt. The Elves came to the World of Two Moons by accident, they were forced into a hostile situation they had to adapt to or die, and the ongoing story has been different expressions and examinations of that adaptation and ultimately, of course, the goal is, if not necessarily fit in, is to simply coexist in peace. Shuna is going to launch what I would call Part Three of the ELFQUEST Saga, which does in fact have a beginning, middle, and end. If this were the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy," she said with a laugh, "this would RETURN OF THE KING we're getting into now! It's a long time before the end of the story. But Shuna is going to start the beginning of the reconciliation with the human race, and it's going to be a very long and hard journey, and the focus won't always be on her, of course."

"The 'Quest' of the title ELFQUEST," Richard explained, "has not always been about finding a particular magic artifact, of course, not even necessarily finding the Palace of the High Ones, which was the smaller goal within the larger goal of the first story, but of finding one's own center, one's own place in the world."

"And taking responsibility for your position," Wendy added, "which is kind of what THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD sums up. Shuna's mate is not necessarily a 100% bad guy. He is following the traditions of his tribe, he is behaving the way all the men in his tribe behave, except for an exceptional one named Bee. His brutality towards her, to him, is just the way things are done, it's a cultural imperative, and Shuna, as a result, has to think about what her position is here. At first, she wants to see if she can hang in there and change things, and her main problem is to resolve that and take responsibility for her own position and decide what's best. I don't believe in victim hood. I simply believe in figuring out what's best for you and following that path, and I hope that the story projects that in a very positive way."

On a completely separate topic, I asked them about the decision to publish THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD as a single graphic novel rather than as a series, which is the way the other stories have been told.

"That probably falls back to the relationship with DC Comics," Richard answered. "When we licensed ELFQUEST to DC back in February 2003, we sat around several tables at different times talking about what we wanted to do, what they wanted have happen, and a lot of formats were floated. There were the Archive volumes collecting the previously released material, there were the manga volumes which would reformat and make the material available to new audience, there was talk of new material of which S&S is the latest example. Originally, there was talk of having this come out in longer form, in several books, Prestige Format or whatever, large, fat comic books. Wendy wrote a several hundred page treatment of this story "

"The treatment wasn't several hundred pages," Wendy interjected with amusement, "but "

"- The story was going to end up being close to 400 pages!" Richard finished.

"Yes, it was," said Wendy.

"That's several hundred pages," Richard said. "So there!" (Have I not mentioned how playful these two are with each other? Next week, Wendy tells us about how the playfulness in their relationship translates to the printed page...) Richard continued, "DC internally came to the decision that they wanted to see how this new material would work in this very nice format, a hardcover release. I think they were originally talking about doing four 90-100 page softcover square bound volumes, and then they wanted to do this hardcover."

"It also gives us a chance to do color," Wendy added.

"Well, it was always going to be in color..."

"No, no, no! Originally they were talking black and white."

"Were they?" Richard said. "I don't remember that at all! OK... They wanted to do it in color and they wanted to do it in this very spectacular packaging, but I think, correctly so, they wanted it to be somewhat complete in itself so that whenever future volumes might come out, they did not depend on this one. So Wendy boiled it down and turned it into a 96 page story that can easily lead to others but that also stands on its own, which is a good thing for the sake of new readers."

Wendy added, "I will say here that, were we continuing to publish ELFQUEST ourselves through Warp Graphics, this would have been the next story we told in the ELFQUEST Saga. It's not like we invented this story directly for DC."

"As Wendy said, there is an arc to ELFQUEST that spans hundreds of years of story time and many years of our time, and this was the next logical step."

When I

Wendy Pini drawing ELFQUEST circa 1977.

pointed out this it seemed there had been a long delay between this project and the last one, Wendy pointed out that it was "Less so than you might think. I think because memories are short these days, people forget that the last book Warp Graphics brought out only came out about three years ago, and it was called BROTHERS IN ALL BUT BLOOD. It was all brand-new material, but it was not a single graphic novel it was several stories in one volume. It was right after that book came out that we started our conferences with DC, and it took about a year and a half for the deal with DC to be consummated. During that time, we were asked not to publish anything because there would have been a conflict of interest. So, for a year and a half, we were on hold, not by our desire, but from working out all the details."

"Also," Richard added, "in a lot of people's minds, ELFQUEST stopped either with the finding of the Palace or at the end of KINGS OF THE BROKEN WHEEL, which comprised our first eight volumes. People who, for whatever reason, thought that, missed the rest of the 25 or so volumes of material we did beyond that. So the universe of E grew large both in space and time, but a lot of people didn't pick up on that. So, for them, it has probably seemed liked decades since something new, but as Wendy pointed out, we were doing new stuff the entire time."

"They might also have identified with me too closely," Wendy said. "There came a period when Warp Graphics expanded into a true comics company with a line, and we were publishing what, about 9-12 titles?"

"At our most expansive, we were doing 7, 8, or 9 titles," Richard answered, "which of course used the talents of a lot more people than just Wendy because well, you know, I like her, and I'd like to keep her alive!"

"Some of the fans just found this intolerable, you know," Wendy added. "They had the attitude that, if it didn't come from me, it wasn't really E. Those who stayed with us were treated to the whole SHARDS storyline in which Shuna first appeared, and that was drawn by a young man named Brandon McKinney, who did a really excellent job. After that, I picked up the storyline from the end of SHARDS and went on to do BROTHERS IN ALL BUT BLOOD.

The question of fan feelings about the work dovetailed nicely with one of the questions asked by one of you readers... James Somers asked, "Other independently published properties have hit that magical mainstream market to become commonplace retail franchises, like the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and SPAWN. Has your association with other publishers, such as Marvel (though their Epic line) and the current deal with DC-Warner, helped or hindered ELFQUEST from breaking out of your well established fan base to the more mainstream pedestrian audience?"

"With reference to the well-established fan base," Richard

ELFQUEST co-creator Wendy Pini hanging out with a few friends.

answered, "we have always been appreciative of those fans who have been with us even through thick and thin, who, as we like to say, 'get it'; who understand that ELFQUEST is a huge world with a lot of nooks and crannies that takes a lot of exploring and will continue to take a lot of exploring. When we opened up the playground to other writers and artists, we kept a pretty tight editorial rein on them without, I hope, stifling their own creativity. Some of the writers and artists we worked with brought wonderful things to the process, and we learned from them as much as we hope they learned from the experience of working with ELFQUEST. When the original Quest was over in 1984, I approached Marvel at that time Carol Kalish (who died of heart failure at the age of 36 in 1991), God rest her, was working there in charge of new products. I jokingly said, 'Would you like to reprint ELFQUEST?' and she said, 'Absolutely!' What that did, simply, was to present the Quest to a whole new market, the one found through newsstand distribution. We sold a lot more copies of ELFQUEST! And since it was exactly the same material, there was no change, there was no compromise, there was no anything, except that a lot more people became introduced to the World of Two Moons, which we thought and still think is great. The same thing is happening now with DC. Although it's happening a little more spectacularly, since we're getting the opportunity to present the work in some wonderful recostuming, as it were. But it's still our ELFQUEST we still own the property, the collections, it's not a sale. We're getting to tell the story exactly the way we want to. Bob Greenberger, our editor at DC, is wonderful he asks all the right questions, points out all the right things, but is letting Wendy and me having free rein in telling the story. Our feeling is that the only thing that's happening is that more people are reading it than otherwise would have. Warp Graphics is our company, and we love it, but the fact is that we're a small company with limited resources. DC has resources marketing, production to get ELFQUEST out there in a whole new way, and we're thrilled."

Wendy agreed: "I think one of the things we're happiest with is the marketing aspect of it, because that was always hardest for us. We always put our dollars, cents, and human energy into the creative end of it, getting the books out. In a sense, that was a little less rewarding you break your back to meet your own deadline, you get the book the out, and you don't even have time to just relax and say 'Whew, we did it!' before you've got your next thing on the plate to deal with. DC has a tremendous marketing department, taking off our shoulders the whole promotional angle of it, and we're so deeply appreciative of that because it's giving us so much more exposure than we could ourselves."

Richard pointed out that "There always seems to be, in a question of that nature and maybe this says more about me and not so much about the person who wrote just a hint of either worry or accusation: that because we're not doing everything from the first pencil point on a blank piece of paper to the last shipment out the door, that it's not the way it's supposed to be. And it's more the way it's supposed to be now than I think it has in the last ten years. We could never have done THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD this way, especially the way DC did it for us."

On another topic entirely, Mike Conway asked, "A number of years ago, mention was made of doing an 'adult' ELFQUEST series. Many of us older fans would love to see some of the things that went on behind the curtains... Are there any plans to tackle that, or go into any detail of the sexuality of the elves, especially where there are homosexual or polyamorous relationships?"

"I bet he's talking about BLOODSONG," Richard said.

"I'm sure he's talking about BLOODSONG...," Wendy agreed. "Back in the late 80s, we were considering going in an adult direction with ELFQUEST by publishing some material that had sensuous, erotic qualities to it, and it was a decision that we bounced around for a long time. You have to remember who your core audience is ELFQUEST has always been family-friendly but nevertheless, within that family-friendly framework, we have certainly worked in multiple kinds of sexual relationships. We have never shied away from the fact that the Elves aren't just bisexual, they're pansexual," she said with a laugh, "and we've shown it in some subtle and actually not so subtle ways throughout the twenty-five years we've been telling the story. But we were actually tossing around the idea of doing an adult, hard R-rated type of series. The ultimate question was, do we want a movie? Do we want toys? Do we want to continue to have this family-friendly market where parents are comfortable reading this material to their children? And we made the choice to continue to reach the widest possible audience, because in the end, that's what we really want. We are more interested in reaching as many people as we can than playing around in an area which we do explore anyway, just in subtler ways through the story."

Richard added

A page of artwork from ELFQUEST.

to this: "Wendy draws very sexy, very sensuous characters, and it implies a lot, suggests a lot. There is always going to be an element of readership that wants to pull the covers off the bed, wants to get the leaves out from in front of the naughty bits, and have it right there, spread-eagled, both literally and figuratively..."

"I'll tell you something," Wendy interjected: "there's ELFQUEST art that nobody is ever going to see. I mean, I know what's going on behind the curtains! For example, there's that wonderful little scene where Skywise is whispering to Cutter, and he says, 'You know, the others are gossiping that Leeta can do...bzz bzz bzz,' and Cutter goes, 'Uh-huh.' And to this day, we get letters....!"

"They want a cookbook!" interjected Richard, obviously enjoying himself immensely. "They want a recipe!"

"But we decided to leave it to everybody's imagination," Wendy continued, "and whenever anybody asks, I say, 'Whatever you can think of, the answer is yes!'"

"The whole point," Richard explained, "is to get the imaginations working, whether it's on an element of eroticism or an element of spirituality or an element of simple logistics... One of ELFQUEST's strongest points has been to get people, who are willing to do it, to think, question, and ponder, and we don't give the answers because our answers are not going to be their answers. We've worked through our own stuff for twenty-five years..."

"Oh, yeah...," Wendy said, speaking volumes.

"And if anyone wants me to give advice, I'll charge a hundred dollars an hour!" Richard continued.

Next week, in the second half of this extensive interview, Richard and Wendy talk about exactly how their relationship has been strengthened through the work (and vice versa, naturally), the future of ELFQUEST as a big-screen project, and Wendy's brief appearance as another superhero on the small screen... If you enjoyed this interview or have comments about it, send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. Also, in the weeks to come, I'll be interviewing the Eisner-winning creator of BLANKETS Craig Thompson, so if you have a burning question you'd like me to ask Mr. Thompson when I talk to him, be my guest! And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! I don't know quite what's going on next week yet, but in the meantime here's this week's listings:


As of this week, kids who are DC fans will have one less title to enjoy as BATMAN ADVENTURES #17 concludes the series. Not the smartest move on DC's part, if I may say so. And might this be why the girls are looking for a new job in POWERPUFF GIRLS #53? They're barely three years old, for heaven's sakes! Unfortunately, the same was true of BATMAN ADVENTURES...

It might appear, then, that repackaged goods for kids is the way to go, as MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #10 features the return of Doc Ock as retold by Todd Dezago. But no! Sean McKeever's original series MARY JANE continues to deliver freshly-scripted goodness with issue #3 this week. Guess the children still are our future...

From America's Best Comics this week comes another title that proves that name is more than just puffery: TERRA OBSCURA VOL 2 #1 (Of 6), written by recent Eisner winner Alan Moore and Peter Hogan. Whoo hoo!

Sheesh, guess


there's no reason for the adult Batman fans to be crying at the loss of that aforementioned titles: in this one week alone, they have the BATMAN: YEAR ONE trade paperback for $9.95; the BATMAN: DEATH AND THE MAIDENS trade paperback for $19.95; and, naturally, BATGIRL #55, BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #56, ROBIN #129, and BIRDS OF PREY #72. Of course, there's that "War Games" crossover thingee going on in at least the first three of those titles, so perhaps it's a mixed blessing.

And speaking of mixed blessings ha! - CABLE/DEADPOOL #6 is also out this week. Oh, well, at least it's the end of a story arc. Shame it couldn't be the end of the series, too...

A new enemy and an old flame rear their heads in DAREDEVIL #63. Matt hasn't gotten that big a black book, so one guess who it is and the clue is in this very sentence. Clever, huh? (Yeah, I know... Not. Sigh.)

From Dark Horse this week comes some interesting stuff, including GOON DH ED #8, the RING VOL 3 trade paperback for $12.95, and STEVE RUDE: THE MOTH #4 (Of 4). Now, if they'd be kind enough to send me some review copies every once in a while, I might even tell you how interesting this stuff is...

The Julie Schwartz love fest continues with DC COMICS PRESENTS ATOM #1 as Dave Gibbons, Mark Waid, Pat Oliffe & Livesay, and Dan Jurgens all get together to riff on the cover of ATOM #10. (Yes, he once had his own series, and yes, it lasted that long. If Geoff Johns or James Robinson were willing to do a revival series, it might go on longer, even without cover story gimmicks.

The anniversary spectacular continues in EXILES #51, as the team of mutant Sliders faces off against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Evil? Nah, just slightly misunderstood. If you ignore that desire to wholesale slaughter non-mutants, anyway.

It's a night out at the bar in FALLEN ANGEL #14, in a story featuring just about every cast member Peter David has ever introduced in this series and that's quite a few!

Oh, dear


even the FANTASTIC FOUR is getting caught up in this "Avengers: Disassembled" stuff in #517. Oh, well, at least it's in "widescreen" format, something we haven't seen in a comic in a while. Good for the novelty value and besides, it is still Mark Waid, you know.

We finally find out who created the suit in FRACTION #5. Doubt that's going to solve the "dividing one suit for four guys" problem that drives this series, though.

I'm not quite sure why Senator Patrick Leahy has written the introduction to the GREEN ARROW: ARCHER'S QUEST trade paperback ($14.95) is he up for re-election or something? Anyway, that, and the fact it collects GREEN ARROW #s 16-21, are reasons enough to buy it.

In HAWKMAN #31, a sadistic killer believes he is the reborn soul of St. Roch itself. Since St. Roch is the DC version of New Orleans, wouldn't that make this guy Louie Armstrong?

Robby Reed, the original owner of the dial, must battle an army of villainous "heroes" alone in H-E-R-O #19. And you still thought this was just some silly back-up feature in ADVENTURE COMICS...

Do it European-style comics reading, you dirty minded fool with the DC Humanoids releases of the DEICIDE VOL 1 trade paperback for $14.95 and the Prestige Format one-shot I AM LEGION: THE DANCING FAUN for $6.95. Hey, the latter even has art by John Cassaday! Bet you forgot he wasn't from here, didn't ya? Yeah, me, too...

From Image comes more good stuff, including the DEEP SLEEPER OMNIBUS for $5.95; HUMANKIND #1; SAVAGE DRAGON #116; and WITCHBLADE #78. Ok, I know, SAVAGE DRAGON somehow made it onto the "good stuff" list, but I don't control these things...

The original Human Torch is back in INVADERS #1 don't ask, because I don't know. Maybe he can save this series from being as God-awful as the zero-issue was...

Kevin Anderson's writing JSA: STRANGE ADVENTURES #1 (Of 6, for $3.50)! And it's set during the Golden Age! Excellent! Shame they can't just go back and tell more Invaders stories that way, rather than inflicting the old farts on us now...

The God of Lies continues his growing pains in the penultimate issue of LOKI #3 (Of 4) for $3.50. I still think Rob Rodi should have him struggle with his sexuality for at least one issue in this miniseries he is a teen, after all, and it would make even more sense of his jealousy of Thor...

A federal prosecutor of super-villains takes to the streets in MANHUNTER #1. Hmm, a lawyer decides to fight crime by dressing up in red togs...sounds awfully familiar...

If you want a seriously creepy preview of what may be one of the best horror movies coming out in the next few months, check out the prequel in MAN-THING #2 (Of 3). You'll never look at brussel sprouts the same way again.

Marvel's MAX line expands this week as DOCTOR SPECTRUM gets his own miniseries! Issue #1 (Of 6) comes out at the same time as SUPREME POWER #12. Who could resist a double punch like that?

In PLASTIC MAN #9, Plas continues to get twisted up in the grinder of DC continuity. Welcome to the club, pal.



finds a man she can touch in ROGUE #2. I'll let your imaginations provide the punch line here.

Jen's secret is out no, it's still only her hairdresser who knows that for sure as she's forced to defend her own law firm from the bad guys in SHE-HULK #6. And guess what no "Avengers: Disassembled" tie-in! In the words of Marvin the Martian, "Isn't that lovely?"

A young space cadet finds he has more in common with the pirates than he thought and we continue to discover that the name of this series has less in common with the original group of the same name than we thought in STARJAMMERS #3.

There's also the SUPERMAN: GODFALL hardcover for $19.95 and the SUPERMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD trade paperback for $19.95. Buy them. Read them. Make them a part of you. Just don't eat them.

Is it a good or a bad TOUCH this week? Buy issue #5 and find out enjoy while you can!

It still amazes me that Ben Reilly and Carnage are in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #64 it's almost like a class reunion of the ideas that nearly wrecked the original series but Brian Michael Bendis is the only one I'd trust to "stay the course," to borrow a very overused phrase.

Wow, just look at the line-up from Vertigo this week! Neil Gaiman and Si Spencer's BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME #2; Peter Milligan's HUMAN TARGET #13; Mike Carey's LUCIFER #53; and there's that crafty Gaiman again, with a trade paperback version of his Eisner-winning SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS for $17.95! That's a week's worth of reading already!

Of course,

Alex Ross' cover to the ASTRO CITY SPECIAL.

some of you are just going to have to pick up the Wildstorm titles this week, too, and what a week to do it: Kurt Busiek's ASTRO CITY SPECIAL for $3.95; EX MACHINA #3; and the WILDCATS CYBERFORCE: KILLER INSTINCT trade paperback for $14.95. I'm sure there's something in there to appeal to just about anyone...

And finally (deep breath), there's NEW X-MEN #4; WEAPON X #27; WOLVERINE #18; X-MEN #160; and Chris Claremont figurative (rather than literal, this time) attempt to off the team in X-MEN: THE END - BOOK ONE: DREAMERS AND DEMONS #2 (OF 6). Honestly. What's next - HOWARD THE DUCK: THE END? (God, forget I said'll probably be out on next week's list, at this rate...)

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think by e-mailing us here!

Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.


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