The eighth annual PulpFest, held for the fourth year in downtown Columbus, Ohio’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, got off to a running start last Thursday, July 21st. Once again a fairly small but hearty group of pulp-fiction enthusiasts—more than 400, according to convention chairman Jack Cullers—from all across the country assembled to buy, sell and trade vintage books and magazines as well as audit pulp-themed solo presentations and panel discussions.
Actually, although most PulpFest attendees stayed at the Hyatt, the hotel meeting rooms we customarily occupy had been booked by a larger group that same weekend, so we were shunted rather unceremoniously into the adjoining Convention Center—an upgrade in that the massive room given over to our vendors was fronted by a wall of glass, allowing considerably more light than we’ve been used to in the Hyatt’s grand ballroom. A hundred or more dealers’ tables, along with a dozen or so round banquet tables at which attendees could sit and schmooze with fellow hobbyists, filled this space nicely while allowing wide aisles for easy passage.
Thursday evening saw hucksters and early-bird shoppers wheeling and dealing during the evening hours, and programming got underway at 9 p.m. with presentations on Street & Smith’s second-string hero pulps and the time-travel fiction of H. G. Wells. At 10 a.m. on Friday morning the dealers room was opened to all and the festivities began in earnest.
I missed the “opening bell” because a serious attack of heart palpitations the previous evening had persuaded me to visit the emergency room of Columbus’ Grant Medical Center. The palpitations ceased about an hour after I arrived, while the doctor was still awaiting test results, but the good folks at Grant insisted I remain under observation for a day. As you can imagine, this annoyed me no end because I could visualize my fellow collectors beating me to all the good stuff in the dealers room. Since every test indicated no damage had been done, the palpitations were written off as a manifestation of accumulated stress and excess adrenaline—no doubt the result of two sleepless nights before undertaking a 12-hour drive and then rushing around in blistering heat to unload our van before dashing through the dealers room to snap up those early-bird bargains. My ticker started thumping irregularly once I sat down to relax and have dinner with friends. I’d endured the palpitations for several hours before taking a cab to Grant’s emergency room.
Released from the hospital at 2 p.m. on Friday, I lost no time returning to the Hyatt and made a beeline for the convention center. It took only a few minutes to arrange my sales stock on the Murania Press table and open for business. Sales were brisk and I picked up some nice pulps to boot.
Still seriously sleep-deprived, I took a nap after dinner on Friday and missed presentations on Philip José Farmer (have I mentioned that Farmercon is held in conjunction with PulpFest every year?) and the artists who illustrated Argosy. By the time I got down to the programming room, shortly after 9 p.m., science-fiction fan Joe Coluccio had already started his talk on Amazing Stories, the first all-science-fiction pulp magazine, whose 90th anniversary PulpFest celebrated this year.
Joe was followed by my good friend Laurie Powers, whose power-point presentation on Love Story Magazine and its famous editor, Daisy Bacon, was one of the weekend’s highlights. Laurie has been researching Bacon for several years now, preparatory to writing a long-overdue biography of this highly influential pulp-fiction personage, and she presented wonderful information along with rare photos of Daisy.
Novelist and pulp scholar Will Murray was to have discussed Western Story Magazine after Laurie’s talk, but pressing family matters kept him from attending the con. My old pal and traveling companion Walker Martin, possibly the only collector to have a nearly complete file of Western Story (lacking less than a dozen issues of the 1285 published between 1919 and 1949), joined me in substituting for Will. I can’t honestly say it was one of my finest presentations, because I’d not had time to prepare and by this time had not slept in three nights (having gotten not a wink in the hospital). But Walker and I muddled through reasonably well under the circumstances.
Saturday was another fun day. I sold more Murania product and did a little more shopping. PulpFest’s daytime programming is largely given over to the “New Fictioneers” contingent of writers turning out books in the classic pulp style. PulpFest regulars Ron Fortier and Win Scott Eckert, joined by several comrades, held forth on “Writing Hero Pulp” and read from their works. I’m always scurrying around the dealers room during PulpFest afternoons but one of these years I’m going to sit in on the New Pulp events.
Saturday evening’s program began with the annual business meeting, during which it was revealed that the Hyatt was no longer interested in hosting our convention on the grounds that their spacious facility could be more profitably rented to larger groups that, presumably, would book more sleeping rooms and spend more money in the hotel lounge and restaurant. Chairman Jack Cullers vowed to begin immediately the search for a new venue, in Columbus if possible but perhaps elsewhere in Ohio or a neighboring state.
After the meeting, convention committee member Barry Traylor presented this year’s Munsey Award to the aforementioned Laurie Powers. The Munsey (named for the publisher of the first pulp periodical, The Argosy) is given to an individual whose efforts—in writing, research, and/or publishing—have helped keep the spirit of the pulps alive for generations not yet born when the last rough-paper magazines disappeared from newsstands. Laurie joined our community as a result of her deeply personal mission to revive interest in her grandfather, the legendarily prolific Paul S. Powers, whose yarns filled the pages of Street & Smith’s Wild West Weekly from 1928 to 1943. Her labors on his behalf, along with her research on Daisy Bacon, certainly entitled her to this year’s award, and everybody agreed that she was the perfect choice.
Doug Ellis, super-collector and chairman of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, did a terrific presentation celebrating Argosy‘s 120th birthday, showing dozens of covers from the magazine’s history. This was followed by the annual auction, conducted by Adventure House’s John Gunnison with his usual panache. Many great deals were to be had, but not by me: I bid on close to 20 lots but only won two.
As things wound down on Sunday morning, I made a few last-minute sales before closing up shop at the Murania table. I’d brought close to 70 pieces and was going home with just four. Not bad.
Unexpected hospital visit notwithstanding, I had a great time at this year’s PulpFest. Thanks go to chairman Jack Cullers and his family, committee members Mike Chomko, Barry Traylor, Chuck Welch, Bill Lampkin, and all the other volunteers who work so hard all year round to make this convention such an enjoyable event. Here’s hoping the search for a new venue bears fruit soon!
I’m adding another several dozen items — pulps, digests, and hardcover first editions — to our Collectibles section just in time for the Holiday Weekend sale that begins tonight (or, rather, tomorrow morning) at 12:01 a.m. For the next three days you can get a 20 percent discount on everything you purchase here.
The new batch of goodies includes many rare and desirable items, especially for lovers of science fiction. I’m adding several more signed first editions of Philip José Farmer’s “Riverworld” books, the 1951 issue of Galaxy with Ray Bradbury’s novella “The Fireman” (later expanded to become the novel Fahrenheit 451), and a dust-jacketed copy of Curt Siodmak’s 1933 F.P. 1 Does Not Reply, an extremely rare SF novel made into a movie that same year.
Those interested in mysteries and thrillers will find first editions of Dashiell Hammett’s Blood Money and Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand, both of which originally appeared in pulp magazines. Desirable items of later vintage include a high-grade first edition of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. And there’s lot of esoterica, as well.
Here’s another great way to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Beginning tonight — or, rather, Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time — everything for sale on this site will be discounted by 20 percent until Tuesday morning at 12:01 a.m. That includes not only all issues of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and other Murania Press books, but everything listed in our Collectibles for Sale section as well.
Rather than reprice every item on the site, however, I’m going to offer the discount another way. Simply make your purchases as usual with our Shopping Cart function, and on Tuesday morning after the sale’s conclusion I will rebate the 20 percent back to you via Paypal.
In addition to what’s already listed, I’m spending this afternoon and evening (Friday) adding another several dozen items to the Collectibles section — pulps, digests, and more hardcover first editions. There’ll be something for every taste!
It’s been a very long time since I’ve updated the Collectibles for Sale section, but I’ve just added some 30 hardcover books — vintage first editions of classic pulp stories such as Donovan’s Brain, Lest Darkness Fall, The Shadow Laughs, Darkness and Dawn, The Man of Bronze, and The Girl in the Golden Atom — along with a selection of highly desirable SF, mystery, and adventure novels. Some of these books are quite rare and all are priced to sell. Where possible I’ve matched them to other copies available on the net in comparable condition, and then significantly undercut those prices.
Unfortunately, several recent problems with international shipments have persuaded me to discontinue selling collectables to foreign buyers, which is regrettable but necessary. I will, of course, continue to sell Blood ‘n’ Thunder and Murania Press books internationally.
I’d also ask you to read carefully the item descriptions. From time to time I accept returns from buyers who let their haste get in the way of their judgment and bought books or magazines without the due diligence of learning exactly what it was they were buying. It’s always aggravating to issue refunds on this basis and I’d like to minimize such risks in the future.
Meanwhile, happy hunting!
This week I received a nice surprise in the mail: a bulky package containing . . . no, not a lamp shaped like a lady’s stockinged leg. It was this year’s Echoes Award, a handsome plaque bestowed annually upon a member of the pulp-fan community by Tom and Ginger Johnson. They included a certificate stating that publishing Blood ‘n’ Thunder, the Classic Pulp Reprints series, and The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction entitled me to this year’s award, which I am greatly honored to accept. For many years the Johnsons published Echoes, a fanzine that featured articles and artwork by the leading lights of pulp fandom, including Robert Sampson, Will Murray, Nick Carr, and many others. It began in 1982 and ceased publication in 2004 after reaching a milestone of 100 issues. During those years Echoes gave voice to many fine writers and researchers and presented the work of a similar number of talented artists. It was, to many, the heart and soul of our little world of pulp-fiction enthusiasts.
Although Tom Johnson retired some years ago he has remained active in the pulp community and is aligned with Matt Moring’s Altus Press. Continuing to issue the Echoes Award is one way he acknowledges the folks who have made contributions to pulp-fiction history and appreciation. My thanks go to Tom and Ginger, and to all of you who have supported Murania Press. I hope my future efforts will continue to merit your esteem.
The 15th annual Pulp AdventureCon was staged on November 7th in its usual location, the Ramada Inn in Bordentown, New Jersey. Rich Harvey and Audrey Parente presided over a gathering of some 155 people (dealers and attendees) in a huckster’s room crowded with 47 tables sagging under the weight of thousands of pulps, books, other magazines, original artwork, bootleg DVDs, and even comic books.
I enjoy this get-together because it lacks the hectic nature that typifies the major pulp conventions with their bustling dealers rooms and non-stop programming. Pulp AdventureCon offers enthusiasts a chance to shop for collectibles while enjoying leisurely conversations; it’s nice not to be checking your watch every ten minutes, worrying whether or not you’re missing a panel or presentation.
This year’s show will make the history books if only for one transaction: New Jersey uber-collector Walker Martin purchased the last four issues he needed to complete his file of Munsey’s All-Story. Pulp AdventureCon’s 2015 special guest, horror/fantasy writer Chet Williamson, was offering a sizable group of All-Story and All-Story Cavalier Weekly, two magazines not seen in large quantities at pulp shows these days.
To the best of Walker’s knowledge (and mine), he now owns the sole existing set of what arguably is the most important pulp magazine of all. Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention chairman Doug Ellis has approximately 90 percent of the run, lacking about 40 of the 444 issues. San Diego-based collector Ray Skirsky, who attended the show and snapped up a stack of issues from Chet, has the majority of them but isn’t quite as far along as Doug. Walker’s set includes a few coverless copies (including the all-important October 1912, containing the first Tarzan novel) but is in generally nice shape. He purchased the bulk of the run from Oregon dealer/collector Dick Wald many, many years ago and has always hoped he would complete the file. So you can imagine how thrilled he was with this year’s Harveycon.
And Walker’s luck didn’t end with the All-Story buy; he also picked up a Western Story Magazine cover painting from an early-Twenties issue. I did pretty well myself. Adventure House’s John Gunnison brought a dozen or so long boxes from deep storage; among them were three boxes of Adventure. From these I culled some two dozen issues from 1918 to 1929, a few in exceptionally nice condition. The earlier ones were pricey, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to locate 1918 and 1919 numbers in any condition, so I sucked it up and paid the freight.
Traditionally, after the show’s close a bunch of us retire to a local diner for supper and postmortem discussion. This year’s group included me, Walker, Digges La Touche, Scott Hartshorn, Nick Certo, Paul Herman, Matt Moring, and newcomer Sai Shankar, who flew in from Seattle to attend Pulp AdventureCon for the first time and make a pilgrimage to Walker’s house in nearby Trenton, where on Sunday he got to see a newly completed set of All-Story in addition to the tens of thousands of pulps and books in the famous Martin collection. For those of you who don’t know Sai, he’s the purveyor of Pulp Flakes, a welcome addition to the roster of pulp-related blogs. He’s also a dedicated and disciplined collector.
Pulp AdventureCon is always a bit melancholy for us because it’s the last pulpish event of the year. We used to have an antiquarian book fair in northern New Jersey every December, but that show’s organizers gave up the ghost several years ago. November ushers in the long cold winter that ends with Doug’s Windy City convention in late April. During winter, weather permitting, Digges, Walker and I get together every month or so for a leisurely Sunday lunch peppered with pulp talk, but that’s hardly as exciting as attending a convention. Well, at least I’ll have all these new issues of Adventure to read in front of the fireplace during the coming cold winter nights.
Thanks to Audrey Parente for taking these photos and letting me use them here.
We’re happy to announce the availability of the latest volume in Murania’s Classic Pulp Reprints series. William Corcoran’s The Purple Eye, originally published in the August 1933 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, isn’t just a rattling good yarn. It’s an historically important one as well, being the template for such Popular Publications hero pulps as The Spider and Operator #5.
The protagonists in those magazines didn’t battle pretty thieves or racketeers. Month after month they were pitted against megalomaniacal master criminals with enormous armies of henchmen. These power-mad malefactors waged war against entire cities (most often New York) and terrorized citizens with the constant threat of mass annihilation caused by various means—a plot device we’ve dubbed “death from everywhere.” The Purple Eye was among the earliest such criminals to appear in pulps, and, fittingly, he appeared during the darkest days of the Great Depression, when readers hungry for escapist entertainment accepted stories dealing with apocalyptic menaces—no matter how fanciful—because everyday life was only slightly less difficult to cope with.
Corcoran, who generally wrote for such classy pulps as Argosy, Blue Book, and Adventure (and briefly edited the latter title), was among the better storytellers plying their trade in rough-paper magazines. He is little known today, but we’re hoping that republication of The Purple Eye, back in print for the first time in more than 80 years, will boost interest in this forgotten pulpateer.
As for the Purple Eye . . . well, we’ll let him introduce himself, in this preface (probably written by an editor rather than Corcoran) to that 1933 Dime Mystery book-length novel:
It is almost too easy, this business of terrorizing a great city. That is, it was easy—until the man called Wayne Saxon arrayed himself against me. Since then things have become more difficult. Several of my most carefully planned murders have unexplainably miscarried. And one or two of my enemies, safely within the net, have made good their escape. Something which never before occurred! For once a man has stood before the Purple Eye and received sentence—that man must die!
But enough of Wayne Saxon and the slight trouble he has caused me. His death now is merely a matter of days. And in the meantime I shall dwell for a little upon more pleasant things. . . .
One of the secrets of my success is the fact that, unlike the ordinary criminal, I have made no attempt to conceal myself in the usual way. I do not hide from the police; I ignore them. And being ignored, they have so far seen no reason to suspect me. Even Saxon, thought he has fought me in the open and undercover in various clever ways, has not the slightest idea of my real identity.
I have killed a man as he rode beside my enemy in New York’s crowded streets. I have kidnapped his best friends from beneath his very eyes. I have brought despair to the police and terror to the rulers of the underworld. Millionaires tremble in their hand-made boots when they receive my grim warning of death to come. And shop-girls grow afraid of the dark when they hear of my latest exploit.
The city of seven million souls is mine to do with as I please. I am its most exalted king—and the wages of my court is death!
Once more the ancient Brotherhood of Baktuun has seized the reins of power from hands no longer strong. And the fear of violent, ugly death is present in very home, on every city street, in every office and workshop!
Mine is the greatest criminal mind the world has ever produced. And I have no foolish modern qualms about my calling. I like murder . . . I glory in it!
Millionaire sportsman and globetrotting adventurer Wayne Saxon returns to New York during the Eye’s reign of terror and, for reasons of his own, dedicates his life to finding and eliminating this madman—within the law when possible, but without when necessary. Will he succeed?
You can order The Purple Eye now right here. Shipping begins next week.
I’ve added a dozen new items — most of them desirable pulps, several in ultra-high-grade condition — and removed many that sold recently. I did a lot of business at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, where pop-culture collectibles of all kinds were snapped up by a record 3,000 attendees.
Below you’ll find scans of a few particularly neat pulps I’ve just listed for sale in the Collectibles section. They’re reasonably priced and will probably go quickly, so if you have any interest, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Check back here regularly for future updates, as I frequently come across pulps and pulp-related collectibles I don’t need myself but am interested in passing along to other collectors.
Walter B. Gibson was already quite an accomplished fellow when in December 1930 he accepted the freelance writing assignment that assured his prominent place in American popular culture. Born on September 12, 1897 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Gibson worked as a newspaper reporter, non-fiction ghostwriter, and composer of crossword puzzles. His main interest was magic, and in addition to practicing the art of prestidigitation himself (during the late Twenties he served as president of the Society of American Magicians’ Philadelphia chapter) Walter ghosted books for famous illusionist Howard Thurston and Harry Houdini, posthumously in the latter case. He also edited the short-lived magazines Tales of Magic and Mystery (1927) and True Strange Stories (1929).
With the Great Depression in full swing, the indefatigable Gibson hoped to supplement his income by writing mystery novels, currently enjoying unprecedented popularity in America. Walter believed that his background and experiences, coupled with his love of magic and trickery, would enable him to craft complex puzzle plots guaranteed to stump all but the most perspicacious armchair sleuths.
As fans of The Shadow already know, the character had been created as a narrator of mystery stories written for Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine and dramatized on the Detective Story Hour, a 30-minute radio program that premiered on July 31, 1930 and was broadcast every Thursday evening. Writer Harry Charlot came up with The Shadow, whose sepulchral tones and sinister chuckles elicited shudders from listeners. Although the series was intended to promote Detective Story Magazine, Street & Smith responded with alacrity when followers of the radio program besieged their local newsstands demanding copies of “that ‘Shadow’ magazine.” The firm’s general manager, Henry W. Ralston—whose S&S experience dated back to the dime-novel days—saw an opportunity to revive the single-character magazine while capitalizing on the public’s burgeoning interest in The Shadow. He ordered editorial director Frank Blackwell to produce a Shadow pulp, and Blackwell delegated that responsibility to editor Lon Murray, who knew Gibson and recommended him to Blackwell. According to some sources, Ralston would have been happy with a rewritten Nick Carter novel, but the magician-journalist from Pennsylvania—who would use the pen name “Maxwell Grant”—had other ideas.
Most pulp-fiction aficionados and readers of this blog know what happened next. Gibson’s first novel, a 75,000-worder titled “The Living Shadow,” appeared in the first issue of The Shadow, a Detective Magazine, cover-dated April 1931. That issue sold out in short order. The second, July 1931, featured “The Eyes of The Shadow.” Intended as a quarterly, the magazine’s frequency was changed with issue number three, which carried a new title—The Shadow Detective Monthly—and presented “The Shadow Laughs.”
Walter Gibson didn’t just flesh out the character created by Harry Charlot as nothing more than a menacing voice; he created a saga with recurring themes, characters, and locations. His Shadow was—at least initially—a man of mystery, an enigmatic crime fighter who by the light of day masqueraded as several people, most frequently a globe-trotting millionaire named Lamont Cranston. The Shadow’s own identity and background remained deep in the series’ background, although here and there Gibson dropped tantalizing clues about the character’s past. A legendary figure feared by New York’s underworld, the Master of Darkness (as Walter soon nicknamed him) employed a network of agents and seemed to have near-limitless resources with which to wage his never-ending war against criminals. To New York police commissioner Ralph Weston and most of the NYPD he was a figment of the imagination, but Inspector Joe Cardona knew The Shadow to be real.
The magazine’s popularity was such that in 1932 Walter Gibson was informed that henceforth it would be published semi-monthly, requiring him to write 24 novels of approximately 60,000 words each in a 12-month period. By now deeply committed to the series and enjoying his work, Gibson signed his first yearly contract. He completed those 24 novels—some 1,440,000 words, all told—in less than ten months. And on a manual typewriter to boot, pounding the keys so hard and fast that his fingers sometimes bled.
The punishing schedule forced Gibson to modify his working methods, especially after he crowded one story with unnecessary characters and a dizzying succession of incidents that rendered the yarn nearly impossible to follow. In order to ensure the maintenance of a high level of quality, editor John Nanovic (who had taken over from Lon Murray) and Gibson met regularly with Henry Ralston to chart The Shadow’s future. Walter prepared plot outlines that the three men discussed in detail, and he incorporated changes as necessary before proceeding with the actual writing. In this manner he avoided the hang-ups that typically bedeviled fast-writing pulpateers working on tight deadlines. Gibson found that he could bang out a 60,000-word novel in eight days, producing roughly 30 pages per eight-hour day.
The mysterioso atmosphere of the early Shadow novels gradually dissipated as reader demands for constant action increased. Ever the magician, Walter found myriad ways in which to introduce gimmicks based on magic tricks, and he relied heavily on misdirection to lead readers astray. By early 1934 the series had hit its stride, creatively speaking. But the proliferation of imitators began to eat away at the magazine’s circulation, which at its peak surpassed 300,000 copies per issue. The Shadow Magazine changed course in mid-1937 when Gibson in a yarn titled “The Shadow Unmasks” finally revealed the Master of Darkness to be Kent Allard, a World War I ace and world explorer thought to have been lost in the Guatemalan jungle after a plane crash. The Shadow was forced to assume his real identity when plot complications made it temporarily impossible for him to continue his masquerade as Lamont Cranston. Thereafter Allard appeared at regular intervals, even though the Shadow radio show (which by now revolved around the Master of Darkness) left no doubt that Cranston and The Shadow were one and the same.
The series began to falter in the late Thirties. By 1941 it had become stale and, even worse, puerile. The previous year Street & Smith had launched Shadow Comics, which exposed the character to a larger but younger audience. Gibson began scripting the four-color stories as well as the pulp novels, and whether by author accident or editorial design The Shadow Magazine gradually lost its appeal to older readers.
In 1943 the magazine shrank to digest size as a concession to wartime paper rationing and Gibson was instructed to cut back on the master villains and other remnants of the lurid pulp era. The digest Shadow novels, averaging 30,000 words, played up Margo Lane (a product of the radio show incorporated into the pulp series with mixed results) and with few exceptions sported routine whodunit plots. John Nanovic had left Street & Smith and his Shadow Magazine chores were assumed by Charles Moran, William de Grouchy, and Babette Rosmond; during the latter’s tenure as editor the magazine’s title was changed to Shadow Mystery. Increasingly unhappy, Gibson was frozen out in 1946 following a salary dispute. At Rosmond’s suggestion his successor, Bruce Elliott, eliminated The Shadow altogether and made Lamont Cranston a medium-boiled detective.
Street & Smith permitted long-time Love Story Magazine editor Daisy Bacon to revive the Shadow magazine in 1948. She restored it to pulp size and brought Walter Gibson back into the fold. But the ensuing five issues, however satisfying they might be to today’s pulp collectors, failed to recapture the title’s once-sizable audience and by 1949 Gibson had lost his meal ticket for good. (Adding insult to injury, Street & Smith also dropped its comic-book line that year.)
Walter continued writing for the comics, penned true-crime stories, and even tried his hand at science fiction during the Fifties. He never stopped trying to revive The Shadow, and in 1963 he wrote an up-to-date adventure of the Master of Darkness, published by Belmont as a mass-market paperback titled Return of The Shadow. Sporadic reprint volumes and revivals of the radio show kept the character alive, and today The Shadow still enjoys considerable popularity.
Walter B. Gibson lived long enough to see new generations discover The Shadow in one form or another, and he cheerfully regaled young and old fans with stories about the halcyon days of pulp publishing at various conventions before his death in 1985 at the age of 88.
I got into pulp collecting with the goal of compiling a set of The Shadow Magazine, which under several title variants ran to 325 issues. I acquired approximately 220 issues before abandoning the project, having read too many stinkers. The character no longer holds for me the appeal he once did, nor does the prose of Walter B. Gibson. But his was nonetheless a towering achievement in the world of pulp fiction, and it’s entirely fitting that we acknowledge and celebrate his 118th birthday.
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