This is Not a Dream (The Last War in Albion: Introduction)

(54 comments)

This is not a dream.” - Alan Moore, “Shadowplay,” in Brought to Light, 1988.

Figure 1: The Great Bearded Wizard of Northampton
The Last War in Albion is a history of British comics. More specifically, it is a history of the magical war between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, a war that is on the one hand entirely of its own invention and on the other a war fought in the realm of the fictional, rendering its actual existence almost but not entirely irrelevant. The war in question is not the scant material residue of their verbal feud in various interviews over the years. This exists and will be picked over, but it is not the meat of the discussion.

Rather it is a more fundamental issue: how is it that two comics writers of nearly the same generation, with such a clear overlap in interests, who grew up a mere three-hundred-and-forty miles apart - no greater than the distance from New York to DC - a mere seven years in age difference (no larger than the age difference between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) are not friends and have not a hint of warmth in their relationship? This is almost as improbable as Morrissey and Robert Smith hating each other’s guts.

And yet it is the case. Underneath this fact is a story: one of how the British comics industry unexpectedly produced a small generation of some of the most important writers of the 1980s and 90s, and in turn had a huge cultural legacy in both the US and UK. So much so that the number three grossing movie of all time, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is massively and documentably indebted to what was, prior to the arrival of people like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and a constellation of significant (and at times better) but less influential writers, the minor backwater of the lowest order of the British comics industry.

Figure 2: The Thrice-Named Warrior Monk of Glasgow
Within that story there are two figures that appear almost identical to an even casual observer. One, Alan Moore, is a heavily bearded self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1984 writing Swamp Thing, an envrionmental-themed superhero-horror comic. The other, Grant Morrison, is a bald self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1988 writing Animal Man, an environmental-themed superhero-horror comic. These two men are not friends. There are sensible reasons for this. Despite their intense similarities, there are fundamental aesthetic differences between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore that place them at diametric opposites of a host of issues with profound social, political, historical, and magical implications. 

This latter adjective is worth remarking upon, as it is central to their differences. Both men believe in a system by which the manipulation of symbols creates material change in the real world. Both explicitly use their creative work in multiple media as an attempt to cause such change. Their comics are magic spells hurled into the culture wars, trying in their own way to reshape reality. And they are opposed.

This is the story of what happens as a result of this. This is the story of the Last War in Albion.

Figure 3: Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, 1984
Understanding this event as a war has several consequences. It does not entirely mean that it is a story of two generals marshalling their forces and battling on the astral plane. It is not Harry Potter versus Voldemort (it is much more Hagrid versus Snape). Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are combatants, and major battles revolve around their actions, but their role is that of Austria and Serbia in World War I. The actual war is much larger and diffuse, more akin to those wars described by Lawrence Miles and other writers of the Faction Paradox franchise, a cracked mirror spinoff of Doctor Who

Nevertheless, The Last War in Albion will approach this war through the lens of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. The mildly hostile interplay of their entwined careers will be understood as the beginning of its story. There is, of course, backstory and foreshadowing to be had, but its chronological playing out from 1978 to the present day forms the primary plot, if you will, of the project. It is in this regard comparable to Neal Stephenson’s treatment of the Newton-Leibnitz feud in The Baroque Cycle, his three-thousand page magnum opus, except probably longer.

Its structure is self-consciously different from TARDIS Eruditorum, the project to which it is most obviously compared. That project is structured as an episode guide - a series of short essays on successive episodes of Doctor Who. The Last War in Albion is, at least initially, structured as a single essay. Paragraph transitions will be maintained across entries. Figures are numbered consecutively across posts. The language of blogs is in this case deliberate. The Last War in Albion is a book in its structure, albeit ones ill-suited to the mechanics of print publishing, but it is not published like that and at present there are no plans to do so. It is a blog. Its structure is serialized and temporal. Past entries may be amended, but will only be substantially rewritten under rare circumstances. 

Figure 4: Animal Man #1, 1988
It is not going to linearly cover every Grant Morrison and Alan Moore comic in publication order with distinct entries for each, although as near to every comic by both writers as it is logistically feasible to discuss will be discussed. Rather, it will take longer and more oblique paths. It will inevitably return to the basic narrative of 1978 to the present day, but it will not do so on an entry-by-entry basis. An entry that talks about a seven-page comic in an anthology may be followed by one talking about 1960s new wave science fiction, followed by one about 1973 trash cinema, followed by one about a different comic published off and on from the year of the seven-pager to 1989, followed by one about William Blake, before finally moving on to the original writer’s other major comics work of that year, a thirty-four page small-format space adventure comic. All of these entries may contain any number of other topics, including topics from other entries. 

That was not an arbitrary example. This format owes considerable debt to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or, less boastfully, Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. All of which said, the blog is not necessarily the only format The Last War in Albion will exist in. The story it tells is not one that takes place in linear time, and its telling alters with the format it is told in. As the project develops other formats of The Last War in Albion may appear, pending appropriate financial conditions. For the time being it will be an occasional feature - it will make sporadic chains of appearances in amidst other blogposts, then disappear for a time, then reappear with another set of six or seven entries. This structure is recognizably that by which classics like Zenith and The Ballad of Halo Jones were published in 2000 A.D.

The remaining nature of the war will be revealed in the telling. All that remains is the task of selecting a beginning point and commencing the narrative proper. [continued]

Comments

Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

oh. oh my.

I'm looking forward to this.

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Multiple Ducks 3 years, 8 months ago

This is going to be fun.

In very related news, this is happening:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1288561702/alan-moore-and-mitch-jenkins-his-heavy-heart

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Eric Gimlin 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh my, indeed. You've been hinting at this for a while, but it's great to see it finally start. It will be interesting to see what audience this winds up with and how it overlaps with the TE followers; I'm far more familiar with Moore & Morrison than I am with Doctor Who.

Not much to say yet, other than to note it feels like I just got in on the ground floor of something major. Onward!

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Darren K. 3 years, 8 months ago

Should we get Team Grant and Team Alan shirts made up?

(wow. I had never noticed how underwhelming their first names were)

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Multiple Ducks 3 years, 8 months ago

How about Team Bald and Team Beard?

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes count me as inordinately excited and looking forward to this. To those already drawing up sides remember - There are no sides and in the end everyone gets what they want.

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Pádraig Ó Méalóid 3 years, 8 months ago

I do like a work writ on a huge canvas! Yes, I'm hugely looking forward to seeing this progress, as I've done a little poking into these dark recesses myself. Well done for doing this.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 8 months ago

If I wear both T-shirts, can I be in Team Alan Grant?

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overflowontology 3 years, 8 months ago

This sounds great! I've just been reading through all your old posts on magic and psychedelia and I loved The Filth. How did you get to know so much about the occult?

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IG 3 years, 8 months ago

340 miles is a pretty big distance in UK terms ;)

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elvwood 3 years, 8 months ago

You get to name your own team. Granted, some people might complain; but I'm sure you can do so with alan. Sorry, élan.

(Count me in as part of Team Beard, though.)

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh, this is exactly what I was hoping your Twitter and Tumblr hints were about!

Alas, it seems to have broken the site formatting, at least in IE. (Yes, I know, but it's my work computer. I have no choice in the matter.)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

E-mail me a screenshot, would you? I'll see what I can do. I decided not to force this through plain text and lose all the italics, and I may need to abandon that.

Anyone else having formatting issues?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Well, it may take a bit to attract audience, especially since I'm running it in sporadic runs - this is more the workshopping period where we see how writing in this style works. (And it is a consciously different style of "four year sprawling critical history" than Eruditorum.)

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Neo Tuxedo 3 years, 8 months ago

*nods* We are not at war. This is a rescue mission.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Thank you! Your poking has, unsurprisingly, been terribly useful in writing this - your interviews start getting quoted in the next installment. :)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

I read things Alan Moore and Grant Morrison talked about in Promethea and The Invisibles, and read past the first chapter of Disinformation's Book of Lies.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

You know, there was supposed to be a side comment there on that aspect, or, at least, relating it to US terms. /fixes post a bit

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 8 months ago

This looks awesome. As in inspiring of awe. I wish I had the patience to create something like this. Also you got me into the casual study of modern occultism so this is really just another step down the path.

Question: Are people who are not publicly occultists (Gaiman for example) going to feature? One would be hard put to say that Gaiman's works haven't had magical effect regardless of intent.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the heads up.

And I had almost gotten the Kickstarter monkey off my back...

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Sent the screenshot, but it actually appears to be a Blogger thing--my own blog is similarly messed up. (Worse, actually, probably because it's actually on Blogger instead of what I assume is a Blogger feed hosted on another site.)

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Grant, the Hipster Dad 3 years, 8 months ago

"This is almost as improbable as Morrissey and Robert Smith hating each other’s guts."

I remember some fun quotes from Smith in the late 1980s indicating that he did indeed hate Morrissey's guts, and, then, was eating meat just to spite him.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

If I wear both T-shirts, can I be in Team Alan Grant

Wearing two t-shirts? That would be anarky! I dredd the judgment.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, I was just going to say that this must be a joke because there's absolutely nothing improbable about that at all.

In fact, there's nothing improbable about Morrissey hating anyone's guts. Or, from what I can tell, Alan Moore hating anyone's guts.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

As Morrissey sang, "I can have both" and I will. I refuse to be forced to choose between Morrison and Moore. :)

That said, I'm very much looking forward to reading this project!

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 8 months ago

Congratulations on the blog launch!

I am, of course, massively looking forward to this being as I am fascinated with mysticism and mythology. I'm more familiar with the "old magics" then the works of Moore and Morrison themselves (well, Morrison at least: I've read quite a bit of Alan Moore both on my own and for a future project of my own). I'll be looking forward to reading this and seeing just how far you take the echoes and reverberations of the conflict ;-)

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, a bit of double irony as Smith and Morrissey are from two very different parts of the country, both geographically and culturally. Respectively middle class green-belt Sussex in the south of England and working class grim post-industrial urban Manchester in the north.

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Assad K 3 years, 8 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Assad K 3 years, 8 months ago

*Wearing two t-shirts? That would be anarky! I dredd the judgment.*

There oughtta be a law against such comments, and I wish I had made it first.

And how do i put things in italics around here??

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

I can't wait to see who wins...
1. Alan Moore - a victory for creator control (but cursed forever as his past material is rendered into bad movies)?
2. Grant Morrison - a victory for commercial relevance (but cursed forever to be writing the canon of America's superheroes)?

3. DC and Marvel - the war was just a plot so they could continue their duopolist control over sequential art?
4. Neil Gaiman - he seems like a nice chap but was it all an evil plot to divide and rule?

5. Comic book fans - seriously, how could we lose?

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

HTML tags (some of them, at least) seem to work.

Italics are < i > what you want to italicize < / i > but without the spaces.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

cursed forever as his past material is rendered into bad movies

What's frustrating is that while From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were horrible, V for Vendetta and Watchmen turned out way better than anyone had a right to expect. Not perfect by any stretch -- V tampers with the politics, Watchmen botches the "villain" and a few matters of taste -- but anyone who's at all realistic about the movie industry has to give them some credit for not fucking up completely.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

It has been said that the fundamental difference between the US and the UK is that in the US two hundred years is a very long time, and in the UK two hundred miles is a very long way.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 8 months ago

*Attempts to come up with an appropriate pun on Strontium Dog. Completely fails.*

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Also, without the V4V movie I don't know whether the book would have had nearly so much influence on this sort of thing. So even though the movie deletes the anarchist message, I think it's had a beneficial result on the whole.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

There's an analogous difference between the east and west coasts of the u.s.

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Dave Simmons 3 years, 8 months ago

When I told my wife about this post, for some reason she thought you meant Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis. I've no idea what cognitive leap led her to that, but the mental image of those two having some kind of magical rivalry over the decades amuses me. Despite them being friends, I can only picture any kind of confrontation between them involving broken bottles.

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Cleofis 3 years, 8 months ago

Incredibly psyched for this, although I should like to take a minute at the beginning here to lobby that, amongst the writers not explicitly mentioned, Kieron Gillen be acknowledged in due course in this tale; between Phonogram and his Journey Into Mystery I think a case can be made.

That aside, I think linking somehow to your previous Pop Between Realities post on The Invisibles, where the seeds for this project can first really be seen, might be a good idea, as a sort of prologue or somesuch?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Gillen will be acknowledged at some point. Lots of people will, really. I'm sure there will be some things missing that people will want, but the aim is to be pretty terrifyingly comprehensive.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, Gaiman will be covered heavily, as will Warren Ellis. And many other people will be covered in varying degrees of heaviness, though with some hedging in order to ever finish. (It would, after all, be fairly easy to get sucked into covering 2000 AD for an entire year.)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Kieron Gillen was great as Amy Pond.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Also, there is one straight-up excellent adaptation of Moore's work, to the point that he himself acknowledged it: the Justice League Unlimited episode "What Do You Get For the Man Who Has Everything?"

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 8 months ago

It's a shame he's not more consistent in his writing.

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Cleofis 3 years, 8 months ago

It seems that he always ends up with one book that seems reserved for your run-of-the-mill superhero crap and one where the real magic (if you'll pardon the expression) is happening. Uncanny X-Men and Journey Into Mystery (although his Mr. Sinister arcs for the former are amongst the best X-Men stories ever written, and generally some of the best cape comics I've read in ages), and now Iron Man and Young Avengers respectively.

Also, odd coincidence: I was just reading a post on his tumblr earlier where he jokes about having pastiched the opening scene of Moore's From Hell at least thrice over various works, which in turn reminded me of your friend and mine Paul Cornell's hilarious tip of the hat to same in his highly underappreciated Captain Britain and MI-13 series, and then you begin to realize how heavily the influences between the British writers of note actually are. Speaking of which, I eagerly look forward to Phil's thoughts on From Hell, as it's easily the best thing Moore's ever written.

Come to that, it'll be interesting to see this series end up finally engaging with cape comics, especially where Morrison is concerned.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

For those wishing to skip ahead to the end, in medias res,one can point you to the ComicComic's book club entries on the brutality and cruelty of Moore's last letter to the comics industry, Neonomicon, book and bridge burner Matt Seneca's seminal trashing of All-Star Superman and Super Gods, and Abhay Khosla's annotated evisceration of Grant Morrison's "Last Interview" about Alan Moore.

Moore won, but it cost him his career and his prestige, reduced to a one note joke whose comics are far too full of rape to be truly worth notice, and who really ought to just get over that whole Watchmen thing. Morrison won, but it cost him his soul, his comics now soulless recitations of the same transition-less stories he was writing back at the start of his career, coupled with corporate apologia and "burying Homer so he can write The Odyssey, part 2". It is debatable whether either man realizes it, however.

http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/08/cccbc-alan-moores-the-courtyard-part-1.html
http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/10/cccbc-alan-moores-the-courtyard-part-2.html
http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/10/cccbc-neonomicon-nos-1-2.html
http://comicscomicsmag.com/2011/01/cccbc-neonomicon-3.html

http://mattseneca.blogspot.com/2012/05/1-november-16th-2005-september-17th.html
http://mattseneca.blogspot.com/2012/05/life-on-earth-q-love-childhood-and-all.html
http://mattseneca.blogspot.com/2012/05/life-on-earth-q-love-childhood-and-all_18.html

http://www.tcj.com/things-dont-look-so-bright-and-chummy-round-here/ (scroll downwards, past Tucker Stone's reviews)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

If one assumes that the nature of the war is a battle for the mainstream, then yes, it's fairly easy to demonstrate Moore's phyrric victory. Morrison more complexly, but yes, I have serious problems with his corporate apologia. Though I wonder if we've reached a new phase there, given the degree to which Morrison ultimately balked at the New 52.

The choice of the word "Albion" is not, however, incidental. It is a little known fact that an earlier draft of Milton: A Poem did not talk about dark satanic mills, but about DC Comics, though Blake wisely reworked it to get it to scan better.

(Mind you, Khosla is spot-on in his objections to Morrison's argument about Moore. But while Last War in Albion will deal with the gossip column aspect of this feud, it's just about the least interesting part.)

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

V4V seems like the best go at getting the feel of an Alan Moore comic. I didn't enjoy Watchmen as a movie - but I'll concede that maybe just a case of I-liked-the-book-to-much. While not on the same scale as Philip K Dick I'm reminded of his strange movie after-life in which he ended up being a prolific inspiration for movies that just aren't very like the tone, theme or spirit of his books (A scanner darkly being an exception)

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eternaly relyneat 3 years, 8 months ago

Ha! Love you, Philip.

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Andrew McLean 3 years, 7 months ago

I feel that, while Khosla does make some good points about Morrison's response, there are ways in which he mischaracterises or ignores some of what Morrison wrote - Morrison did (in my opinion) make some good points himself to which Khosla is blind.

This probably isn't the time to have that discussion, though, and as you point out it's much less interesting than looking at the work of both of these extremely talented writers. I look forward to re-experiencing the works of my two favourite comic writers through your perspective.

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Jenda 3 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Jenda 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah from an Irish / UK perspective that line reads a bit strange, Liverpool and Manchester are only 33 miles apart and they hate each others guts!

If anything, from a UK perspective, the *closer* you are in physical proximity to one another, the more contempt you're likely to have for one another. :P

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David Gerard 3 years, 3 months ago

Not quite magic per se, but actually sort of magic per se - it's been alluded to in some places how Scientological The Ocean At The End Of The Lane was (as a somewhat unwilling expert, I had heard it was and was still somewhat shocked just how much), but it would take a far more concise writer than me to (a) demonstrate this (b) comprehensibly to someone who isn't already familiar with what I'd be comparing it to, even in a Phil-length post.

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m50d 2 years, 9 months ago

Is there an RSS feed for just this project, or any other way to follow it?

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Daru 2 years ago

Over the last year and a half I have pretty much missed a lot of this (time issues), but I have speed-read a lot of it. Now I aim to catch up on old posts and get back to the present.

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