Four Important Things To Remember Before You Start Your First Webcomic

2017-artwork-before-you-start-your-first-webcomic

Webcomics! If you’ve read a few of them, then you might possibly want to start your own one. In fact, you might actually even try making one. This is, of course, how many people who make webcomics get into making webcomics. It’s how I got into making webcomics, even if I only make occasional mini series of 6-17 daily comic updates these days.

Still, there are a few things that are worth bearing in mind before you start your first webcomic. If you’ve read this blog before, then you’ve probably heard all of this advice already, but I thought that it might be useful to put the most important parts of it into one long-winded article.

1) Your first webcomic won’t be great (and that’s alright!): There’s a very good reason why the page I linked to earlier in this article only showcases the webcomics I made from 2015 onwards. The very first time I posted a webcomic online was in 2010 and I won’t even link to that one – even thinking about it makes me cringe at how badly-written and badly-drawn it was.

But, do I regret making that abysmal first webcomic? No! If I hadn’t made that terrible first webcomic to prove to myself that I could make webcomics, I wouldn’t have made the mildly less crappy ones that I made in 2011-2013. I wouldn’t have got back into making webcomics in 2015, after a year-long hiatus where I just made daily paintings instead (caused by making too many webcomics in 2012-13). I wouldn’t be making occasional mini series to this day.

That one terrible early webcomic is responsible for all of the webcomics I’ve made ever since. Without it, the better ones I’ve made would never exist!

When you make your first webcomic, you will probably be inexperienced at both comic writing and/or making art. This is ok! Everyone is inexperienced when they start out.

Even the very first update of the very best webcomic ever made will look awful when compared to the most recent one. The true test of a webcomic creator is if they’re willing to keep practicing even though they know that their earlier comic updates aren’t as good as the ones they’ve seen online.

If you truly love the medium of webcomics, then the fact that your first few hundred comic updates won’t be great will not bother you! The fact that your comic updates might only get a few views on a good day won’t bother you!

After all, not only are you having fun making your comic, but you’re also gaining the practice, experience and skills that you need in order to make better webcomics. Also, you’re actually making webcomics! How cool is that?

2) Make ten or more updates before you post anything online!: This is the most useful thing that you can do if you’re starting your first webcomic. Make at least ten comic updates before you post any of them online. This is useful for two reasons.

Firstly, it allows you to test out your webcomic. It allows you to see if the characters are interesting enough, if the humour is good enough and if you can think of enough good comic ideas for the premise you’re using.

It also allows you to judge how much time it takes you to make a webcomic update, so that you can come up with a realistic update schedule (that you’ll actually stick to).

Secondly, it means that you’ll already have a comic buffer before you post anything online.

If you don’t know what a comic buffer is, it’s the most useful thing any webcomic creator can have. Basically, it’s where you stay several comics ahead of the ones you post online because you’ve already made the next 1-1000 updates in advance. If you’re using a blog to post your webcomic online, then you can often automatically schedule your updates to be posted at any time or date you want.

Having a comic buffer takes a lot of the stress out of making webcomics since, although you still need to make comics regularly to maintain your buffer, if you aren’t able to make a comic update one time then it means that your audience won’t miss out. It means that you won’t constantly be rushing to meet deadlines in the way that you would be if you posted your webcomics immediately after you made them.

3) Let it change!: If you keep making a single webcomic (even occasionally) for a long time, then it’s going to change. This is ok! For example, my current occasional “Damania” webcomic series was originally supposed to be a dramatic “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”-style urban fantasy comic when I started planning it in 2011-12.

Then, it was mostly supposed to be a slightly surreal “newspaper comic” style webcomic in 2012-16. These days, it’s a silly comic about a gang of miscreants (and a detective) who go on all sorts of stupid adventures. It couldn’t be further from the serious “magic, ghosts and vampires” comic that I’d originally set out to make in 2011-12!

Your webcomic will change from the thing that you’re just about to start making, and this is good! Often, a webcomic will change because you find that it’s easier to stay inspired if you do something different (eg: switching from self-contained updates to short story-based comics). It’ll change because you get to know the characters better. It’ll change because the things that inspire you will change. I could go on all day, but it’ll change.

Let this change happen! Not only will this mean that you’ll end up ditching the parts of your comic that don’t work, but it also means that you’ll be able to stay motivated and inspired.

4) A crappy update is better than no update!: It’s probably worth writing that down. When you make webcomics, there will be days when you will be uninspired. There will be days when you don’t feel as motivated as usual. You still need to make webcomics on those days! Even if the things you make are badly-written or badly-drawn, you still need to make them and post them (or add them to your buffer)! But, why?

If you are following any kind of update schedule, then your audience will expect to see something at the appointed times. Give them something! Even if it’s just a quick sketch of one of your characters with a sarcastic caption about writer’s block underneath it, it’s something! It’s something that shows the audience that you’re still making your comic and that they should keep reading it.

No matter how awful, unfunny, clichΓ©d, uninspired or crappy your next webcomic update is, it’s still better than an empty page! Even if people online moan loudly about how terrible your comic update is, that is still better than the ominous silence of people leaving your comic because they don’t think that it’s still being updated.

Likewise, although forcing yourself to make comics when you don’t feel up to it might seem difficult, it gets easier with practice. Plus, it will give you practice too! It’ll also allow you to stay in the “rhythm” of making comics regularly.

If you’re worried that this might give you webcomic burnout (which was something that happened to me in 2014), then make changes to your webcomic. Release it in occasional mini series (like I do now). Reduce your update schedule if you have to. But, whatever you do, if you tell your audience that you’re going to post a webcomic at a particular time, then do all you can to keep that promise – even if it means posting a sub-standard update.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Causes Of Weak Endings In Comics, Webcomics etc…

2017 Artwork Weak Endings In Webcomics article sketch

Although this problem will affect some of the comics that I’ll be posting here over the next few months, I thought that I’d talk about weak endings in comics.

This seems to be a problem that I run into whenever I try to make a webcomic mini series that tells any kind of story. The story itself will be interesting, but the ending will sometimes just be dull and anticlimactic.

So, I thought that I’d list some of the reasons why weak endings can happen when you’re making comics.

1)The status quo: When I was making my “time travel trilogy” of comics (that can be read here, here and here), the endings to the first two were a lot better than the ending to the final one. And I think I know why.

With both of the first two mini series, the endings led directly to the beginning of the next mini series. At the end of these parts of the story, the characters were somewhere new. Something was different. The dynamics between the characters had been affected by everything that had happened before.

In other words, the events of the story had a noticeable effect on it’s outcome.

However, at the end of the final mini series, everything (mostly) returns to normal. After all, I was going to use these characters in many other self-contained mini series. Even when I attempted to add dramatic changes to the end of other mini series that I’ll be posting in the future, they often had very little effect on any mini series I made afterwards.

Returning to the status quo at the end of a comic is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes future comics easier to write and it means that the audience can read many of your comics in any order that they want to. On the other hand, it also means that your story ends with a dull return to normality. It means that your characters have done nothing more than go around in circles.

2) Creative exhaustion: Although it may look easy, even making shorter comics can take quite a bit of effort. By the time that you reach the ending of a comic, you might even feel slightly glad that it’s going to be over (even if you’ve had a lot of fun making it). This is especially true if, like me, you often can’t just stop and start a comic once you’ve started making it.

Regardless of how fun the rest of the comic has been to make, there’s often a very strong instinct to just finish the damn thing and to either take a break or move on to the next excitingly new project. This can, of course, affect the quality of the ending.

After all, if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed about the endings of a few of my comics that have (or will) be posted here this year, it’s that the art in the final “page” is noticeably more rushed than the art during the middle of the comic.

3) Planning: Even though I tend to plan my comics a lot more than I did a few years ago, one thing that I’ve noticed is that the ending will often have less planning than the rest of the comic.

Often, when I’ve planned the beginning and the middle of a comic, I’m really eager to get started on making these parts and I often have a general feeling of “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” with regards to the ending. Sometimes, this works – sometimes, it doesn’t.

So, I guess that lacklustre endings can sometimes be part of the trade-off between starting a comic when you are still filled with enthusiasm about it or waiting until you have slightly less enthusiasm and a better plan.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Three Ways To Deal With The Downsides Of Getting Better At Making Webcomics

2017 Artwork Downsides of getting better at making webcomics

One cool thing about both regular art practice and making occasional webcomics (released in mini series of 6-17 daily updates) is the fact that the former tends to make the latter look a lot better.

Here’s a comparison chart of panels from past and future comics to show the improvements that have happened over about a year:

Here's a comparison of the changes between selected comic panels within 8-12 months. The release dates are the for this site, rather than DeviantART.

Here’s a comparison of the changes between selected comic panels within 8-12 months. The release dates are the for this site, rather than DeviantART.

As you can see, I’ve put more effort into the backgrounds, character actions, events, digital editing, digital effects, panel layouts etc.. in the new comic panels. But, this rapid improvement (thanks to the additional art and comic practice) comes at a cost though.

Basically, most newer and upcoming comic updates (except in “Damania Requisitioned” and “Damania Reverie” – which I designed to be quick) can now easily take almost double the time to make as they used to. Whilst I used to think of webcomics as lean, efficient, streamlined things where the emphasis was more on the dialogue than the art, I now see them as being art and fiction projects as well.

This also usually leads to more planning time and a greater focus on story arcs, rather than on stand-alone jokes. In other words, making a webcomic mini series isn’t really as much of a spontaneous thing as it used to be. It’s still a lot of fun, but it’s more exhausting and it requires more structure and planning.

So, what can you do if something like this happens to you?

1) Scale back: Although I used to advocate quantity over quality a few years ago, my attitudes have become a bit more nuanced.

Basically, if you’re just starting out, then you need to make as many comic updates, drawings etc… as possible (regardless of quality), in order to get the practice. Even when you’re more experienced, you still need to keep practicing regularly – even if your previous practice has given you the ability to make more sophisticated things.

What this means is that, when you’re making webcomics, regularity should still be a priority. Although some truly great and very sophisticated webcomics (like Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality) follow an irregular schedule and must take literally hundreds of hours per update to make, webcomics often tend to work best when they are produced and released regularly. So, find ways to scale back.

Amongst other things, you can do this by either changing your release schedule (eg: releasing comics 1-2 times per week, rather than 3-4 times), reducing the length of each webcomic update (although this can require better writing/planning to do well) or, if you release your comics in series, reducing the length of each series (eg: in the next two months, all of my upcoming mini series will only contain eight daily comics, rather than 10-14 comics).

This will still allow you to focus on art quality, additional planning etc… but it will also mean that you won’t fall behind schedule or end up spending too much extra time on your comics.

2) Let the changes happen: One major change between most of the webcomic mini series I’ll be posting here this year and the ones I posted last year is that most of the new ones either tell a continuous story or revolve around a single theme.

This change happened gradually and it caught me by surprise, given that I used to be a firm advocate of stand-alone “newspaper comic” style comics. But there were good reasons for it. A single story or theme makes comic updates easier to plan (since all you have to do is ask “what happens next?“) and it has also allowed me to set comics in imaginative new locations, without worrying about confusing the audience as much.

When you improve, you’re probably going to find that changes will happen to your webcomic. These can often happen completely unconsciously. You’ll want to make comic updates that allow you to produce more interesting background art, you’ll want to cut down on planning time etc… Your comic might change in all sorts of ways.

Don’t fight these changes! Go with them! Yes, some of your audience might prefer the older comics – but, if it comes down to a choice between still being enthusiastic about making webcomics and wearily forcing yourself to make webcomics that are no longer suited to your skills, then go with the former every time.

3) Don’t rest on your laurels! Keep practicing!: I can’t emphasise this enough! Just because your webcomics look better than they used to doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep making them regularly. Yes, you’ll need to scale back and change a few things for practical reasons, but you should still try to make them as regularly as life, time and inspiration allow.

If you can only think of a few good ideas for comic updates per month, then practice making art on the days when you don’t have the energy or inspiration to make comics. Always stay on the lookout for new inspirations (eg: new types of art, TV shows that inspire you etc..). Just, whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels and only make rare and irregular comic updates “when you feel like it”.

Why? Because the reason you got as good as you did at making webcomics was through practice. If you don’t keep it up, your webcomics won’t get any better (although they probably won’t get worse either).

Although your improved skills might make you feel over-confident, it’s very important to remember that, in a few years or months, your “amazing comic updates” from today will eventually become “yesterday’s crappy comic updates“.

This isn’t a bad thing! After all, you’d never have got to the point you are at now if you hadn’t made those crappy early comics a few years, months etc.. ago. So, keep practicing!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Music Festivals Are Such Awesome Settings For Comics, Stories etc..

2017 Artwork Music festival comics article

As regular readers probably know, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a webcomic mini series that will be set in a music festival. Although it won’t appear here until the beginning of June, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons why music festivals are such awesome settings for stories, comics etc.. But, first, here’s another preview of the new mini series:

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

So, why are music festivals such awesome settings for comics, stories etc…?

1) They’re both awesome and crap at the same time: If you’re making a comedy comic, then music festivals are one of the best settings for the simple reason that they are both awesome and crap at the same time. Although I’ve only been to three of them, and that was a few years ago, they really have a strange duality to them.

Yes, there’s the mud, the grim bogs, the overpriced food, the crowded campsites etc… but at the same time, they’re the kind of place where you can watch heavy metal bands every day. They’re the kind of place where wearing dark clothing is the norm rather than something very mildly unusual. They’re the kind of place where, when your 2am party is interrupted by the people in the next tent, they’re probably just going to ask to join in or bring more drink rather than complain about the noise etc..

They’re places dedicated to joy, self-expression and fun. And, in our dour modern society, this is always a refreshing thing – even if the only places they can happen is far away from any kind of civilisation.

So, festivals are filled with dramatic contrast. And, if you’re writing comedy – then dramatic contrast is an absolutely perfect source of humour. After all, you’ve got thousands of people paying for and actively volunteering to spend a weekend in a squalid field somewhere. It’s hard not to see the comedy value in this.

2) Eccentricity: One of the awesome things about festivals is that, like on Halloween, strangeness is almost the norm.

They’re the kind of places where you can see people wearing all sorts of bizarre outfits in the middle of the afternoon, they’re the kind of places where bizarre running jokes can just spontaneously appear amongst a gigantic group of total strangers within a single day. They’re the kind of places where the audience for a concert can look like an army on a medieval battlefield, due to the sheer number of giant flags and other random objects hoisted in the air.

They’re the kinds of places where not being at least slightly drunk by the early evening is probably a little bit suspicious. They have “villages” of stalls that can sometimes look a little bit like something from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” at night.

If you’re an artist then, needless to say, they are one of the most fun types of places to draw. Not only that, if you’re making a comic, then they provide a lot of opportunities for background jokes and/or art-heavy webcomic updates.

3) They’re a rite of passage: Although there are some awesome people who go to festivals literally every year, the most I managed was two years in a row. But, this is part of the charm of festivals -they’re something that most people should probably go to a couple of times, if possible. They’re places that fire the imagination. They’re almost a rite of passage in some way.

And, yet, they’re real things. Even if your comic has some vague pretence of being “realistic” (which my own comics gave up quite a while ago), then you can still set several comic updates at a festival.

Basically, setting your comic at a festival means that you get the chance to put your characters in a “rite of passage” kind of situation without the kind of serious dramatic weight that might come with more “old fashioned” situations of these types (eg: warfare, religious rituals etc…). In other words, it’s an instant source of drama and/or comedy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Two Very Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Consistent Look (Without Being Boring)

2017 Artwork Webcomics consistency article sketch

Generally, many great webcomics can be recognised instantly at a glance. Even though the comic updates may include a variety of different locations and characters, they are always instantly recognisable as being part of one particular webcomic.

However, the look of your webcomic will always change over time. This is because, by it’s very nature, making a webcomic involves lots of regular drawing practice. As you improve, so will the look of your art. If you don’t believe me, then just find a famous long-running webcomic and compare the most recent update to the very first update. They will look different, and this is good.

But, this aside, how can you make your own webcomic look as consistent as possible? Here are two very basic ways:

1) Art style: This is the obvious one. If you take the time to develop your own unique art style, then your webcomic will instantly stand out as something unique. However, if you just use commonly-used art styles (eg: manga, American comic book art etc..), then your webcomic won’t be quite as distinctive.

But, how do you come up with your own art style? I’ve written about this many times before, but it basically just involves finding other art styles that you like and borrowing techniques from them. It also involves a lot of regular drawing practice too. If your art style looks simplistic or childish, then all that means is that you need more practice.

But, even if your own art style looks fairly simplistic or is obviously influenced by another style, the fact that you’ve put the effort into using an original style (rather than a commonly-used one) will make your webcomic stand out from the crowd a bit, whilst also giving it a consistent look.

2) Location design: If you have consistent principles for your location design, then your webcomic will also have a consistent look.

This includes things like using similar colour schemes, using similar types of lighting, using similar types of weather and having a common set of inspirations for your location designs. Basically, if you have a set of principles that you can apply to most of the locations in your webcomics, then your comic will have a consistent look to it even if it includes a lot of different settings.

To use an example from my webcomics that have been posted here this year and will be posted here in the next couple of months, many of them use some variant on a blue/orange/green/purple colour scheme. Likewise, many of them feature gloomy lighting, dramatic sunsets and/or rainy weather. Likewise, the location design is sometimes inspired by films like “Blade Runner” and old computer games too.

Although I haven’t been able to do this in all of my comics (eg: it wasn’t possible in “Damania Requisitioned” or “Damania Renaissance“), here’s a chart showing how this has given some of comics (including a few that haven’t appeared here yet) a distinctive look, despite the fact that they’re set in wildly different locations. If you want to read the comic found in the bottom right corner of the chart, it can be read here.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] - As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I've followed a consistent set of design principles.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] – As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I’ve followed a consistent set of design principles.

So, yes, work out a set of design principles and your locations will look fairly consistent.

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Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was useful πŸ™‚

Four Basic Ways To Recycle A Webcomic Story Arc

2017 Artwork Recycling story arcs article sketch

Well, although it won’t appear here until early June, I started making another webcomic mini series shortly after finishing the first draft of this article.

This mini series will be slightly similar to an older webcomic story arc of mine from 2013(which can be seen here, here and here). Here’s a preview of the new mini series:

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

Since this could potentially be one of the closest things I’ve done to remaking my old comics in quite a while, I thought that I’d talk about several of the ways that you can recycle your old comics into new ones.

1) Keep the premise, ditch everything else: One of the best ways to keep a remake of one of your older comic updates or story arcs fresh is to keep the basic premise of it but change everything else. If your story arc revolved around your characters visiting somewhere then keep the location the same but change what happens there.

If your previous story arc was from a few years ago, then set your current story arc in the present day. If you’ve introduced new characters since you finished the old story arc, then add them to the new version of it (if it works in context, of course).

Basically, keep the basic theme or premise, but change almost everything else.

2) Add a full story, or don’t: The simplest way to make a webcomic story arc is just to place your characters in an unusual situation and see what happens. Sometimes, this can lead to a detailed and continuous story, sometimes this can lead to a collection of stand-alone comics that only have a few things in common with each other.

If you’re remaking something like this, then just do the opposite of what you did the first time round. Or don’t, if the original structure went really well. But, try to change the pacing or the panel layouts or something like that.

3) Time gaps and clean reboots: First of all, don’t assume that your readers have read the old story arc that you’re recycling.

If your webcomic has been going for long enough to merit recycling a story arc, then it’s likely that you’ll have picked up new readers who won’t have the time to read every old update. In other words, either make every update of your new story arc totally self contained, or make sure that all of the updates in your new arc tell a totally new self-contained story.

Yes, this might have an effect on the continuity of your webcomic (eg: a character seemingly encountering the same situation for the first time twice etc…) but this can often be covered over by either distracting members of the audience with a few subtle references to the old story arc, or by making the moments in question especially funny and/or dramatic.

4) The obvious way: If you need to take a break from planning comics and you want a quick webcomic project, then you could always just do a “traditional” remake where you do literally nothing more than update the art and streamline the writing slightly.

This obviously works best when it happens in webcomics that don’t tell one continuous story, when your remake is openly declared to be a remake and where the old story arc is old enough that there’s an immediately noticeable difference in art quality.

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Sorry for the short and basic article, but I hope it was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ways To Know When To Finish A Comic Or Story Project

2017 Artwork Knowing when to finish article sketch

Learning when to finish a collection of stories or webcomic updates is a skill which can take a bit of practice. Ideally, you want to finish whilst you still have at least a tiny bit of enthusiasm left for the comic or fiction project.

Whilst I now seem to have something of an instinct about when to finish when it comes to my various webcomic mini series (which typically hover around 8-12 updates per mini series these days), I was woefully inexperienced about it when it comes to writing short stories – as evidenced by the low quality of the final story in the group of short stories I wrote for last Halloween during a return to a storytelling medium I’d abandoned quite a bit in recent years.

So, these tips will mostly be based on what I’ve learnt from making webcomics and from the mistakes I made with my short fiction series last Halloween.

1) Always plan: One mistake I made with my Halloween short stories was doing virtually no proper planning before I started writing them. I’d mostly just think of the opening sentence and possibly the premise a while before I started the story, and that was it. I had the idea that I wanted to write ten stories, but that was about it.

Whilst this allowed me to come up with some neat ideas and endings that really surprised me (like in this story or this story), it was just as likely to mean that my stories turned into a confusing mess (like this one).

If you plan your stories and/or comics out before you make them, then you’ll get a general sense of their size and scope. You’ll be able to tell if your project is long enough for you to finish it before you run out of enthusiasm (always plan your projects to be shorter, but with room for expansion if they go well).

You also won’t have to worry so much about writer’s block in the middle of the project, since you’ll already know what you’re supposed to make. This also helps to prevent the wild variations in quality that can happen in unplanned projects.

2) Know your limits: You’ll have to learn this through bitter experience (eg: failed and/or unfinished projects), but many people have a limit to either how long they can focus on a single project or how many projects they can keep going at any one time.

This is why, for example, all of my webcomic mini series are less than 20 comics long. When I’m making a mini series, I’ll usually go all out and make something like 2-3 comics per day (even if I only post one per day). However, I also know that I usually can’t keep this up for more than a few days (usually less than a week). So, I plan the length of my mini series to take account of this fact.

If you know your limits, you can work within them and you’ll be more likely to actually finish the projects that you start. Likewise, you’ll also be able to alter any project ideas you have so that you can stay within your limits, rather than risk running out of enthusiasm halfway through the project.

3) Always leave wanting more: If you find that you miss one of your creative projects after you’ve finished it, then this is usually a good sign. It means that you’ll want to make something else like it in the future.

If, weeks later, you find yourself wishing you could have added a few extra comic updates or stories to your project, then this is also a good sign.

However, exhaustedly slumping over the finish line like you’ve just run a marathon is probably not going to make you want to make more comics or write more fiction for a while at least.

So, make your projects – especially the ones you’re really excited about – a little bit on the shorter side, and you’ll find that you have enthusiasm and energy left over for future projects.

For example, my Halloween fiction series should probably have only been four stories long instead of ten stories long. I was truly, properly, enthusiastic and inspired for about 5-7 of the ten stories, but the other 3-5 were mostly there because I was determined to write ten stories. If I’d just written four stories (but not necessarily the first four in the collection), then I’d have finished whilst I was still in an enthusiastic and inspired mood.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚