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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Two Face




Are words necessary?

One of my favorite comics, Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Big Numbers #1 (1990), opens with a wordless eight-page sequence, culminating with some punk kid throwing a rock through a moving train window. On page nine, a sleeping passenger startles from a dream and screams, “AAA! SHIT!” Then the elderly couple seated across from her say, “I don’t think there’s any need to use language.”

Get it? They mean profanity, but Moore means language in general–does a comic book really need it? I’ve been spending my fall semester plunging into a deeper study of the comics form and am finding that some of the very best graphic novels are wordless: Lynd Wards’ Gods Man (1929), Thomas Ott’s R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004, Renee French’s H Day (2010), Daishu Ma’s Leaf (2015). I teach creative writing fiction in our English department, so it makes my wife (and former department chair) nervous when I say words are just clutter. There are endless exceptions of course, but too often dialogue and captions in comics are visually ugly and narratively redundant.  Images can do almost all of the talking.

But when I look at that Big Numbers scene now, I don’t think about comics. I think about our President-elect punk throwing his majority-losing rock through the TV screen of America’s napping leftwing voters.

America: “AAA! SHIT!”

Elderly Trump Voters: “I don’t think there’s any need to use language.”

I responded to the election by creating a political cartoon based on the Batman villain Two-Face, a caricature of myself now that I’ve disavowed all moderate political perspectives in favor of uncompromising leftwing extremism. Since I’m currently drafting a creative writing textbook on creating comics, it’s both cathartic and practical. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at comics art, analyzing the relationships between words and images, style and subject, line and concept, but it’s an entirely different thing to understand those ideas from inside the creative process.

It wasn’t until I decided my cartoon character deserved an origin story that I began to fully understand that elderly couple’s prejudice against language. I started with this wordless sequence:


I liked it fine, but it felt incomplete. Maybe it deserved some dialogue, and so I added talk balloons, but without knowing exactly what I wanted George Washington to be saying. I just liked the talk balloons as visual elements offsetting the quarters. I even made them from the same image by whiting out their centers. But I still assumed I’d have to fill them in eventually. Stan Lee hired writers at Marvel in the 60s based on how well they filled in empty talk balloons from a Fantastic Four issue, so I started writing a script to do the same. I titled it “How the Radical Right Turned Me into the Radical Left.” It looked like this when I was done:




It’s probably revealing that I like the illegible words best. The phrases double then quadruple, turning into a visual representation of meaningless noise. Which is how I feel now about political statements that fall short of absolute condemnation of Donald Trump and anyone who voted for him. “It worked” is darkly ironic–I’ve become a mirror version of the kind of Tea Party extremist I hate–but that falls short for me. All I want to hear is the uncompromising blackness of that final talk bubble.

As I watched news agency after news agency call the election for Trump, words failed me then too. The wordless version is better. It’s not only its silent self, but it also contains the scripted version, plus a range of other unwritten but evocatively present versions too. No words somehow allow for all words.

Or should I set aside my anti-word extremism and try to compromise? Would a bipartisan combination of the two work best?




Like the GOP, the word-version controls almost the entire sequence, but no words get the all-important final word. Which is also the script I’m writing for America. My next cartoon is silent too. I’ve literally put myself inside that two-faced quarter, and I will stay there until Trump and all of his rock-throwing GOP punks are gone–via resignation, impeachment, or nuclear Armageddon, I really don’t care. If you would also like to make a Two-Faced version of yourself, I’ve included step-by-step instructions at the bottom of the page.


Step 1. Watch country elect pussy-grabbing bigot for president.

Step 2. Stop shaving.

Step 3. Shave right half of face.

Step 4. Take selfie.

Step 5. Shit around with selfie in Word Paint while country plummets into moral abyss.

Step 6. Vow vengeance in 2018.

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In 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sent a memo to GOP candidates in response to their plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

“That,” Newt humbly explained, “takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created … a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.”

In the “Contrasting Words” section, he added: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party:

  • abuse of power
  • anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs
  • betray
  • bizarre
  • bosses
  • bureaucracy
  • cheat
  • coercion
  • “compassion” is not enough
  • collapse(ing)
  • consequences
  • corrupt
  • corruption
  • criminal rights
  • crisis
  • cynicism
  • decay
  • deeper
  • destroy
  • destructive
  • devour
  • disgrace
  • endanger
  • excuses
  • failure (fail)
  • greed
  • hypocrisy
  • ideological
  • impose
  • incompetent
  • insecure
  • insensitive
  • intolerant
  • liberal
  • lie
  • limit(s)
  • machine
  • mandate(s)
  • obsolete
  • pathetic
  • patronage
  • permissive attitude
  • pessimistic
  • punish (poor …)
  • radical
  • red tape
  • self-serving
  • selfish
  • sensationalists
  • shallow
  • shame
  • sick
  • spend(ing)
  • stagnation
  • status quo
  • steal
  • taxes
  • they/them
  • threaten
  • traitors
  • unionized
  • urgent (cy)
  • waste
  • welfare

Any of those words sound familiar? Gingrich, one of President-Elect Trump’s most vocal supporters during the campaign, is on the short-list for cabinet positions in the next administration–though not Communications Director. Apparently after twenty years of practice, no one in the GOP needs any training to “speak like Newt.”

Before the election, I had a vision of the U.S. coming together. I fantasized that Clinton would announce in her acceptance speech that she would fill half of her cabinet positions with Republicans and challenge Congress to send her only bills co-authored by Republicans and Democrats or face her veto. I was imagining a Democratic-controlled Senate too, but instead of shoving a leftwing Justice down the remaining throats of the GOP (as they so deeply deserved for refusing to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last March), I wanted Clinton to renominate moderate Merrick Garland in a show of compromise and goodwill. I wanted this despite the fact that my personal political beliefs are over there with Bernie Sanders and the rest of those Socialist-hugging, LGBQT-loving, Wall-Street-regulating, Climate-Apocalypse-fighting do-gooders. I actually believed that being part of a democracy meant accepting and even celebrating that fact that I should only get what I want about half of the time. That even some of my cherished principles come second to the national need for our government to work from the center, to bridge extremes and find common ground. I was a Radical Moderate.

Until November 9th.

The problem with being a liberal is in the definition of the word. Politically it means “0pen to new behavior or opinions,” and educationally it means “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.” The second refers to the Liberal Arts, the kind of college I teach in, though politically it amounts to same thing: broaden your understanding by being open to as many opinions as possible. Even and most especially your opponents’ opinions, since there’s nothing broadening about listening to ideas you already agree with.

Liberalism by definition is built on compromise and goodwill, which  means not using “powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast.” And that’s a pretty bad campaign strategy. You may notice that “compromise” and “goodwill” are not on Speaker Gingrich’s list. They’re not the kind of words that get angry villagers waving pitchforks as they march to the voting booth.

But Donald Trump took the Gingrich rhetoric primer even further. He wrote the playbook into a superhero comic book. I posted last summer how a dozen political commentators had likened Trump to a superhero, often to a certain other fascist-leaning billionaire. Jeet Heer wrote: “Trump is indeed a type of Batman: To his fans, he, like Bruce Wayne, is a brash, two-fisted billionaire playboy who uses his wealth to fight against a corrupt system.” Terry Brooks lampooned Trump’s speech at the Republican Convention: “He is your muscle and your voice in a dark, corrupt and malevolent world.” Trump even said it himself, telling a child lined up for a ride on his private helicopter at the Iowa State Fair:

“Yes, I am Batman.”

So that’s why I’ve invited guest blogger Harvey Dent to my site this week. Harvey, AKA “Two-Face,” was invented by Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane back in 1942, and he’s been one of the Dark Knight’s baddest bad guys since.

Law-abiding District Attorney Dent became a supervillain after a thug threw acid in his face. Which is also how Donald Trump cured me of Moderatism. Though technically I don’t think Dent ought to be labeled a supervillain, since half of his actions should end up doing good. When faced with a tough choice, Two-Face flips a two-headed coin. I know that sounds like a rigged decision-making system (something the majority-losing President-Elect no longer talks about), but Two-Face carved a giant “X” through one of George Washington’s faces. Which is a perfect metaphor for the U.S. right now.

I’ve also asked Mr. Dent to serve as Communications Director to liberal candidates. Democrats need a strategy for talking to voters. Liberals, being liberal, have a tendency to express themselves in complicated terms–because how else can you think about complicated issues from multiple perspectives, all of which a good liberal wants to understand and bridge? But liberalism is the wrong langauge for communicating to someone who doesn’t already speak and think in it. Like Two-Face, Trump voters keep things simple. They believe in a static world of black and white, of absolute good and absolute evil. The last thing they care about is a gray world of ever-changing spectrums.

So I’ve asked Two-Face to speak from both sides of his head today. Candidates facing election in 2018 are welcome to select whichever set of words they think will be most effective for them.





And here’s a condensed version to print and keep in your wallet for quick reference. Be sure to hand out copies to family and friends:


Thanks, Harvey.

Oh, and by the way, which of George Washington’s heads came up today?two-face-bad-side

Yeah, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that guy for the next four years.

[Gingrichspeak Update:

What Gingrich said on Twitter:

“The arrogance and hostility of the Hamilton cast to the Vice President elect ( a guest at the theater) is a reminder the left still fights.”

What Trump said on Twitter:

“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!”

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior

What Hamilton actor Brandon Victor Dixon actually said at curtain call:

“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”

Mr. Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, apparently prefers the unscarred side of George Washington’s head: “hope,” “inspired,” “diverse,” “all of us”?  Mr. Two-Face, could you please translate that into GOP for us?


“We are the enraged American majority who are horrified and disgusted that your hate-mongering administration will persecute us and those we love. If you keep desecrating our American values and working for only the bigoted and the greedy, we will damn sure make you regret it.”

Which do you prefer?

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Detective Comics 66. Two-Face's origin

Bob Kane first drew the villain Two-Face in 1942 (Detective Comics #66). But it wasn’t till 2008 that the Nolan brothers got his origin right. My favorite scene from The Dark Knight is Heath Ledger’s Joker convincing Aaron Eckhart’s brutally disfigured Harvey Dent to embrace the dark side. How’s he do it?

With the flip of a coin.

Javier Bardem made similar use of a quarter the year before in the Coens’ No Country for Old Men. Live or die? Ask JFK and the eagle.

Rewind two more years, to Woody Allen’s 2005 Match Point, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers spells it out: “People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control.”

Meyers’ character (he later gets away with murdering an inconvenient lover) fascinated Roger Ebert because, like all of the characters in the film, he’s rotten: “This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest — or, as the movie makes clear, the luckiest.”

Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is a hitman, so at least he’s supposed to kill people. But that’s not what makes him so damn scary. The movie’s nihilism is contained in those coin flips. When Chigurh tells a gas attendant to “Call it,” the man says he didn’t put nothing up to bet. “Yes, you did,” Chigurh answers. “You’ve been putting it up your whole life you just didn’t know it.”

Myers’ tennis pro plays the same game: “There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.” Near the film’s end, when he tosses an incriminating piece of evidence (his dead lover’s ring) toward the river, it takes the same fate-determining bounce. He wins.

When the gas attendant wins his toss, Chigurh congratulates him and tells him not to put the lucky quarter in his pocket where “it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is.” Chigurh’s lat victim already know this and so refuses to play: “The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.”

“Well,” says Chigurh, “I got here the same way the coin did.”


The Nolans’ Joker embodies the same anarchic philosophy: “I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.” And in the true spirit of  anarchy, he points the gun at himself. “I’m an agent of chaos,” he explains to Harvey Dent as he leans his forehead into the barrel. “Oh and you know the thing about chaos, it’s fair.”

The Joker survives his coin toss too, but not Dent. He’s Two-Face now. He worships Chigurh’s god.

My wife and I were recently catching up on the last season of the British cop show Luther. It opens with Idris Elba (we liked him as a gangster in The Wire too) sitting on a couch, playing Russian roulette. He learned the game from a homicidal army vet, not the Joker, but his character is relinquishing his will to the same higher Non-Will as the others. Except Luther is a (mostly) good guy. So by the season’s end he’s traded in the gun (he rarely carries one anyway) for an ice cream cone with his newly adopted teen daughter. What got him there?

Not a coin toss.

It wasn’t a roll of the dice either. That’s the device of chance preferred by the season’s ugliest villains, a pair of identical twins (two people, one face) playing a real-world game of D&D. They earn experience points by killing people. You can do it anywhere, a gas station, subway, a lane of stopped traffic. Just open your backpack, spread out your bat, hammer, and squirt gun of acid, and roll the dice.

I bought our twelve-year-old his first D&D game this Christmas. (He learned about the game last year from a particularly hilarious episode of our family’s favorite sitcom, Community.) So while Luther’s evil twins were rolling their dice, our son was upstairs rolling his. I can now differentiate between the thump and skid of dice on floorboards and the smack and skitter of dice in a D&D box lid.

I asked him once, if instead of killing the various trolls and orcs and armored whatnots he has to battle, could he just knock them out, tie them up, and leave them for the authorities to incarcerate?

He said, “What authorities?”

Right. There’s no government in D&D. It’s literal anarchy. Even at the metaphysical level. There are plenty of supernatural beings, but no Supreme One. Gods but no God. Even the Judeo-Christian Lord is only the sum of the numbers in the Dungeon Master’s hand. And the DM isn’t God either. He (yes, in this case, DMs are almost as uniformly male as Catholic priests) must obey the Dice like everyone else.

Roll them to determine the whims of heredity, what skills and proclivities you’re born with, which you’re not. The Dice control every important moment of your life, every struggle, the literal blows of chance. Sure, my son admits to ignoring the occasional bad roll, but he said it gets boring if you do that too much. Real life is random.

So why is randomness overwhelming portrayed as “evil” in pop culture?

The Brave and the Bold 130

First time I saw Two-Face as a kid (October 1976, The Brave and the Bold #130), he bewildered me. Instead of just killing Batman and Green Arrow, he and the Joker flip a coin? (Allowing the Atom to secretly climb on and alter its fall.) At some point in the story, Two-Face betrays the Joker—and not because Heath Ledger killed his fiancé. It’s just what his quarter tells him to do. So why, my ten-year-old self wondered, is the guy considered a supervillain?

When those D&D twins bend down with a 20-sided die, only the ugliest options are in play. Shouldn’t your backpack have more than murder weapons? Where’s the wad of twenties for homeless people’s cups? Why does Chigurh only flip a coin when he’s thinking about plugging someone in the head? A true worshipper of chance would be Mother Theresa half the time.

So it’s not randomness that makes hitmen, supervillains, D&D players, and tennis pros scary. It’s the deification of randomness. The abdication of responsibility. A true nihilist (like Alan Moore’s Comedian) embraces the absence of God and so the permissibility of everything. But that’s an abyss too deep for the Two-Faces of the world. They can’t fill that God-sized gap with themselves. They can’t hack that much free will. So instead of randomness, they invent Randomness and pretend they’re just following order. Pretend that’s not really your finger on the trigger.

You can take comfort in the illusion that the bullet in Russian roulette chooses you. But an ice cream cone, that’s something you have to go out and get. It’s a scheme. You have to choose to want it despite the uncontrollable probabilities of your getting or not getting it. If life’s a crap shoot, the only question is how you cope with that fact.

I do know one writer who flips Randomness to make us see it not as a force of evil but of good. Or, more accurately, of helpful change. Glen Dahlgren’s A Child of Chaos spins a D&D-inspired world where the lazy gods of Charity, Evil, War, etc. have gotten a bit too complacent. What the universe needs is the smack and skid of a die. Literally. That’s the magic instrument of Chaos, how the promised one will restore some much needed disorder, unlock all that magic the privileged class keeps hogging. No more homicidal lunatics. Chaos is our hero.

Unfortunately you don’t get to read Dahlgren’s novel yet. My copy is a Word file in my laptop. The manuscript (like my own third novel) is still mid-spin in the seemingly random universe of the publishing industry. I’m rooting for the unmarred JFK side of the coin. But there are no guarantees. Right now my agent is battling the forces of Evil and trying to land my manuscript in a New York house. It’s a chaotic process (stalled by the randomness of a hurricane and jaw surgery so far), but the dice keep bouncing. My agent now believes my fourth novel (The Patron Saint of Superheroes) has a shot at a movie deal that will trigger a bidding war between the top publishers. Sounds fun, but who knows? I sure don’t.

Glen and I, like Chigurh’s last victim, understand the rules of the game: “I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me.”

God bless chaos.


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Dear Warner Bros.,

First off, congrats on the whole Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy thing. Sorry about The Avengers, but hey, Batman grabbed both silver and bronze for biggest grossing superhero movies of all time. Now you’re all asking yourselves one question:

How soon till we reboot!

If you follow the Spider-Man model, you have the minimum of a five-year hiatus. That’s a 2017 release date. Which is like, wow, a long time from now. You could jump sooner, but The Amazing Spider-Man took a lot of heat for its accelerated offing of Tobey Maguire. And even though it was a better film than Spider-Man, it grossed a measly $257 million against the original’s $403. Hell, even Spider-Man 3 pulled $336.

Plus the Nolan trilogy is now a “classic.” There were no street protests when Val Kilmer stole Michael Keaton’s batsuit back in ’95 (or George Clooney in ’97), but you’ll have Bane-style revolution if you yank Mr. Bale’s tights off too soon.

So how do you keep the franchise alive in the meantime? How do you capitalize on the Dark Knight when its success is its own roadblock?

Switch screens.

It’s time for the Warner Brothers Television to answer the bat signal.

You have plenty of TV superhero successes to build on. My Bronze Age generation grew up on Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Lois & Clark defined Superman for the 90’s, and Smallville just completed its decade-long run last year. Sure, you’ve had flops (The Flash, Birds of Prey), but the timing is right for the caped crusader to go prime time.

Except not.

And here’s where I worry about confusing you. People say Hollywood only understands things in very simple, high-concept terms, so I’ll try to keep this plain.

A TV show about some new Bruce Wayne gearing up to clobber crime once a week will not work (see “Bane-style revolution” above, except with more yawning). Keeping your franchise alive means shaking up the paradigm. The new show isn’t about Bruce. It’s about Gotham.

Maybe I should translate this into agent-pitch dialect:

“It’s Batman Begins meets Law & Order!”

“It’s Batman: Year One meets The Wire!”

It sounds weird, I know, but Batman can’t be the main character. In fact, he’ll almost never be on screen. Bruce will make a few appearances, but not in costume, and only as a secondary character. The viewers are in the know of course, but everyone in the show has no idea that the loser playboy has any connection to reports about that new vigilante weirdo pulverizing thugs in Crime Alley.

Let me be explicit about this: that means no Batcave, no shots from the Batmobile cockpit, not even a Wayne Mansion interior unless it’s from the POV of a visiting character. “The Bat-man” is just a name a reporter coins after an episode or two of rumor-level sightings. We only know him from his handiwork, via crime scene investigations, usually just details bubbling through the cast of cops and lawyers.

Steal as much as you like from Frank Miller. Year One is already plotted for a first season arc. “Meet newcomer Detective Jim Gordon as he struggles against police corruption in his adopted precinct.” I’d add a tier of uniformed patrolmen too. Maybe Officer Drake? Or, for a Dark Knight tie-in, Officer Blake. Better yet, Officer Carrie Kelley. The first time we glimpse a cape flapping into the dark, it’s going to be from one of their street-level points of view.

You’re going to need a posse of lawyers too, headed of course by District Attorney Harvey Dent. Don’t overdo the Two Face foreshadowing. Dent is a decent guy trying to work within a flawed legal system. That two-headed quarter in his pocket is just a trick he plays on arrested thugs he’s trying to turn, pretends he’s leaving it all to chance, heads you take the plea bargain, tails you walk free. But guess what happens to his meticulously crafted court cases when that new vigilante won’t play by the rules. How do you prosecute the big fish with that idiot warring on the small fries is scaring off your informants? I’d end Dent’s first season with the collapse of his biggest case. Maybe the legal system really is just random. In frustration, he grinds an X across his coin, a talisman of things to come.

As far as the other villains, tone them back too. No costumes, no MHA-HA-HAing. “The Riddler” is another newspaper-coined name for that anonymous guy phoning in tauntingly obscure tips and threats to the police hotline, another season-length plot to play out. The Penguin? That’s what the editorial cartoonist nicknamed the corrupt, old money mayor, scribbling in a monocle and umbrella for comic effect. Keep stealing from Miller and follow Selina Kyle’s gritty travails through Gotham’s underworld of drugs and prostitution as she develops her own brand of Mob-bashing vigilantism and Robin Hood-esque do-goodery.

Remember: the show is doing with Gotham what The Wire did with Baltimore and Treme New Orleans. It’s a portrait of a city. For real world locations, I’d go with Pittsburgh, and not just because I grew up there. It’s another way of building on Nolan’s vision. The city provided the working class feel of Dark knight Rises, something the TV show would need to expand. Plus Pittsburgh is a film-making mini-hub ready to go.

Tapping the Wire/Treme creative team will also provide something else woefully lacking from the history of the Batman franchise:

Black people.

Did anyone notice all the white faces when the police force charges Bane’s stronghold in Dark Knight Rises? I didn’t spot any black faces during the prison break either. Or on the streets. Or at the fundraising gala. Or just about anywhere in Gotham. It’s as if Morgan Freeman beamed in from an alternate dimension. Of course Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is no better on race. His urban mutants are thinly coded black gangs. And does anyone remember Jack Nicholson graffiti-painting the art museum to the beat of a boom box? At least Tim Burton’s Harvey Dent was played Billy Dee Williams, a cameo made pointless when Tommy Lee Jones camped up Two Face for the third movie.

But let’s not get off track here. We can talk casting after you start the development ball rolling. I’m thinking a Fall 2013 premiere. Not too close to the Nolan achievement to provoke grousing, but close enough to ride some of its wake. Especially when you start the pre-hype now. A year of strategically leaked rumors and production shots, and that massive Batman fan base will have their TVs tuned to their Bat channels before you spend a dollar on advertising.

Also, I assume you heard about Marvel greenlighting Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. show, right? So unless you want to get beat by The Avengers again, you better get the Batmobile in gear ASAP. If you have any questions, drop me a note. I’d be happy to read some of the preliminary scripts. I’m busy with my new semester, but I should be able to free up some time during Thanksgiving break.  Good luck till then!

Sincerely yours,

Chris Gavaler

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