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Sacrifice Your Daze

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got our first Alex Dueben interview of 2019--it's with Nicole Hollander, who released her first memoir with Fantagraphics late last year. 

Do you enjoy creating but having this give and take as part of the process, whether with an editor or designer or your friend?

I do, because you’ve written something that’s completely yours and then you try to make it into a story that two people can read on stage. It has the same theme, but it’s not the same story at all. That’s really fun because some things happen that you don’t know are going to happen. She also worked as an editor so she would go through it. I’ve made up forms of grammar that don’t exist so something has to watch me. [laughs] My possessive plural are not always accurate.

But similar to how you wanted to tell this memoir, you don’t like being constrained by form, but you also need someone to go, maybe do this, or that works better.

Yes. "Why don’t you just take a second look at that?" [laughs]

I may even be wrong about this, but the graphic novels that I’ve looked at seem to be constrained by those panels. They have lines around them. They have spaces between the panels. It seems very tight to me.

Today's review comes to us from Jake Murel, and it's of Carolyn Nowak's Girl Town, one of 2018's most warmly received comics.

In this way Girl Town is characterized by what its back cover describes as Nowak’s ability to “capture the spirit of our time.” Each included comic explores the human longing for connection amidst an ever increasingly technological age faced with the inverse decline of real-world social capital. “Diana’s Electric Tongue” portrays this most literally in that Diana purchases a robot lover to cope with the termination of a significant relationship. In other comics, the connection to technological development is less overt, even non-existent, but the undergirding cultural tenor of felt isolation despite increased potential for social connectivity remains. Nowak’s protagonists stand in the grips of harrowing emotional solitude. All attempt, and some succeed, to find connection with both an internal self and others by learning to love and let themselves be loved in return. This emphasis on self-love combined with the yearning for unconditional acceptance in the face of emotional insulation stands as a hallmark of the millennial zeitgeist. Nowak’s ability for capturing this generational spirit may be her chief appeal.

In the go to another website category, I thought it was interesting to find out that one part of the comics industry--the part where they put single issues of super-heroes in plastic shields which then have numbers written across the top--regularly destroys any really nice copies of a comic book beyond a certain, agreed-upon-in-advance quantity so that they then can legitimately say "these are the only copies of said quality of really-nice-ness". At the end of the day, nearly everybody has a stupid job, a job that takes them away from the people they love for longer than is desirable and is often only in service of helping companies generate income they will not share with anyone but those who do not need it. But even by that metric, the metric wherein one extreme is washing the cracked lips of the suffering and the other is...podcasting at Engadget, or whatever, editing TCJ, sure--destroying copies of shitty comics so that the undestroyed leftovers can have more fake value in a fake economy has to be one of the dumbest ways to spend ones life in this sullen year that is 2019. The worst part of extreme climate change is going to be the part where my daughter doesn't get to live past the age of...23, probably?...but the second worst part is that I don't get to be there watching when somebody's entire collection of Mike Mayhew variant covers bursts into flames due to a wind chill of 146 degrees above Celsius.

In the interesting writing about Breccia category (a category we dominate, thanks to Seneca and Suat), Dominic Umile has decided to make a play for the title. See if you can spot the part where he blinks.

In the why do I care, I'm embarrassing myself category, I came across these images of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle in DC's most recent piece of shit comic by Tom King and have to register my dismay that they brought back Ted Kord's unexplainable six-pack. Newsflash, buster: the jokes weren't what sold those characters back in the Giffen/Maguire days. The jokes were a byproduct of the characters themselves--they were the result of showing two people who had no real use in the narratives they were thrust into, and simply letting those characters react to that odd insertion over time. The organic development those characters were allowed to have (a development that came to be by allowing the same creators to take their time and play long, languid games) is what gave them life. Ted Kord's post JL reality--getting paunchy, and eventually abandoning costumes to hang out in a lab and platonically flirt with Oracle--that was the kind of arc that DC used to let these off-brand oddball characters have. That simplicity and kindness was the reason it was so gross to kill him in the gonzo way Geoff Johns did back in another of piece of shit comic that DC came out with in their never-ending attempt to dumb-up themselves. Kord wasn't an interesting hero--but he was a hell of a stand-in for readers, and he became the crows-feet on an aging father's smiling face. Watching him develop was watching the comic book personification of growing old gracefully--and that's the main thing that DC seems completely terrified of doing, over and over and again.

 

Political Madness

Today on the site, Rob Clough is here with a review of Sergio Ponchione's comics-history fantasia Memorabilia.

Some European cartoonists are attracted to the myths of America. For example, Moebius was fascinated by the mysticism of Native American culture in the later Blueberry comics. Then there's Belgian cartoonist Morris and his long-running Lucky Luke. More recently, Christophe Blain's Gus and His Gang pays tribute both to the Western and the tropes created by its comics adaptation.

Ponchione, on the other hand, is attracted to the myths (and realities) of the American comic-book creator. Memorabilia is an expansion of a comic book he did for Fantagraphics a few years ago, where Ponchione plays the role of mysterious and vaguely discomfiting mentor, much like his own Mr. O'Blique character. The comic opens with Ponchione welcoming a young cartoonist into his home, one who has had some strange dreams. That leads to the meat of the matter: Ponchione's tributes to his cartooning heroes. He begins with Steve Ditko, in a story called "The Mysterious Steve". In the wake of sometimes weird, intrusive attempts to contact the reclusive Ditko before his death and the focus on his reclusive nature after he died, Ponchione's tribute is simple and respectful. Imitating Ditko's shadowy, distorted style, he indulges in drawing some of Ditko's best-known characters when he imagines what it's like behind his apartment door. But he leaves the story with the simple, basic truth: he was a solitary man who expressed all he had to say to the world through his stories, every day.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Longtime New York City retail landmark St. Mark's Comics announced on Facebook yesterday that they are closing down.

EV Grieve has a short interview with owner Mitch Cutler (via Heidi MacDonald):

In a brief phone conversation this afternoon, longtime owner Mitch Cutler said that a variety of factors, from increasing rents to changing consumer shopping habits, played a role in his decision to close up shop here at 11 St. Mark's Place between Second Avenue and Third Avenue.

"There are a number of things that contributed to [the closing]. I have been working 90 hours a week for 36 years, and I no longer have the wherewithal to fight them — all of these various reasons," Cutler said. "It is challenging to have a storefront business in New York City for a number of reasons ... it is challenging to keep and maintain a retail storefront and there are enough impediments now that — like I said, I'm exhausted and can't fight them anymore."

At Apollo, Martin Rowson writes about Saul Steinberg.

Far more compelling is the way that [his aesthetic] was underpinned by a mash-up of Balkan orientalism, flight, fear and murderous political madness. For decades, Steinberg was lauded for his contribution to this aesthetic, often by the kind of European modernist he had been forced to leave behind. Le Corbusier told him ‘You draw like a king’; he was praised by Ernst Gombrich, Italo Calvino, Eugène Ionesco and Roland Barthes, attaining a cultural superstardom rare for cartoonists. Even more than Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman, Steinberg closed the gap between what ‘cartooning’ is often assumed to be – cheaply reproduced, silly scribbles knocked out to make you laugh – and ‘art’, which is supposedly so much nobler.

 

Returners

Today's Comics Journal features the latest installment in R.C. Harvey's serial column, Hubris and Chutzpah. In this installment, Harvey covers some of the nastiness that occurred on the way towards a syndicate-enforced truce between Al Capp and Ham Fisher.

FISHER’S QUARREL WITH HIS ONE-TIME ASSISTANT continued and became an obsession, and that, coupled to his own oft-trumpeted self-importance, made Fisher a colossal boor. It also made him the perfect target for any number of practical jokes staged by other cartoonists, most of whom by this time had little regard for him.

Once, as reported by Bob Dunn in Cartoonist Profiles #40 (December 1978), when Fisher threatened to derail a charity luncheon at “21” from its purpose by usurping the agenda to attack Capp, one of the group slipped out and recruited a comely young woman to deliver Fisher’s comeuppance.

Unannounced, she walked into the third-floor private room and made straight for Fisher. She was good-looking enough to stop conversation; everyone watched her progress in silence. Giving Fisher a brilliant smile, she handed him a piece of blank paper and asked for his autograph. Almost certainly dazzled by her beauty and flattered by the obvious adoration of such a gorgeous creature and gratified by thoughts of the envy her admiration must inspire in those around him, Fisher drew the face of his famous character and signed it “with all good wishes from Joe Palooka and Ham Fisher.”

The girl took the paper and stared at it in frowning perplexity. Then, tearing the paper twice and dropping the pieces on the floor, she exclaimed, “You’re not Al Capp? I wanted Al Capp’s autograph!” She turned on her heels and strode away.

Today's review comes from Keith Silva, and it's a look at one of the more critically lauded mini-comics of recent memory, Richie Pope's That Box We Sit On. Silva's into it:

The obvious (and most important?) question—“What if the box is just a box?”—becomes the narrative’s penultimate question, a saving throw for enlightenment, truth. At the top of page fourteen, in the upper-right-hand panel, Pope draws the box from the inside, nominal lines that look like an internet ‘hamburger menu’ preside over a jumble of paper, balls and scraps suspended in an ebony void. One boy reckons, “All the pieces of paper we slip in the box vents are still inside it.” The adjoining panel shows the outside of the box complete with a near swear, smiley and “Cool S.” Pope beats the box up some, it’s not straight-line precise, there’s a bend in the seam to reinforce how long the box has been around, perhaps as long as humans have been turning these sorts of boxes over in their minds. The graffiti and the scraps of paper form a palimpsest of existential ills, stops and starts. The middle left-hand panel looks like a how a kid would pull-off (or imagine) drawing a cube in two-dimensions. While on the right-hand side the box unfolds, the top or lid of the box ascends to possibly reunite with the mothership … of boxes. The boy says, “The sides of the box are just the sides of the box and that’s it.”

I'm returning from ALA Midwinter, which was more strongly attended than was anticipated this year. It also had a heavier comics presence than in previous years, in part because of the proximity of Fantagraphics & Image to the Seattle location, in part because of the growing numbers of comics readers within the ALA organization. In celebration , I joined other comics industry folks for a screening of the motion picture Glass, after we heard about how prominently the movie featured comics criticism as a plot point. It was not as good as Aquaman, but I'll admit that I am biased heavily towards any movie which features Julie Andrews playing an immortal multi-tentacled Dunwich Horror-inspired hellbeast.

 

Bend Your Head

Start your week off right with Mark Newgarden's talk with Mark Dery, author of Born to Be Posthumous, the recent biography of Edward Gorey.

One of the things I admired about Born To Be Posthumous was the careful attention paid to the individual books themselves. While stylistically of a piece, they’ve always struck me as a powerfully diverse body of work, often incorporating perverse and ingenious formal goals. What were you able to you glean about the ways that Gorey ideas gestated and Gorey books took shape?

Only what I was able to piece together through guesswork, since few interviewers ever thought to ask Gorey how he hatched ideas. He kept a little pad with him at all times, more for jotting down ideas for books or adding to his vast store of obscure or sesquipedalian words. It’s important to remember that he considered himself a writer first. (He once called his highly compressed narratives “Victorian novels all scrunched up.”) He was a devout fan of the Times crossword and an obsessive collector of archaic or arcane words or those he just found delicious. In The Nursery Frieze, he sets one of his word lists to visual music, so to speak, a procession of unrelated words marching across its pages in rhymed couplets.

But Gorey was a bona fide polymath whose encyclopedic erudition and sweeping art-historical literacy often fed his imagination: The Object-Lesson was directly inspired by the 18th-century dramatist Samuel Foote’s nonsense poem “The Grand Panjandrum”; The West Wing nods to Magritte and Ernst’s collage novels and the Egyptian Book of the Dead; he got the idea for his unfinished book, The Interesting List, from the fictitious taxonomy cited by Jorge Luis Borges in his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”; The Pious Infant is a deadpan parody of Puritan children’s literature, specifically A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1671–'72) by the Puritan divine James Janeway; The Hapless Child was inspired by L’Enfant de Paris (1913), a silent movie by the French director Léonce Perret, which as I noted in the book Gorey saw just once, at one of the Museum of Modern Art’s Saturday morning screenings. (He had a remarkable visual memory; it seems to have been photographic, or close to it—he claimed to be able to watch, in his head, any of the New York City Ballet performances he’d ever seen, and he saw thousands in the course of his nearly three decades of ballet-going.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Angoulême festival has announced this year's winners. The Grand Prix went to Rumiko Takahashi, and the Fauve d'Or to Emil Ferris's My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.

The huge staffing cuts at Gannett last week claimed hundreds of newspaper jobs, including those of cartoonist Charlie Daniel and Pulitzer winner Steve Benson.

Benson is a veteran of the Republic, joining the paper in 1981. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1993 and was a finalist for the award in 1984, 1989, 1992, and 1994. Although most of his career has been in Arizona, he did a brief stint at the Morning News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington in the early ’90s.

Republic executive editor Greg Burton deferred questions to a Gannett spokesperson. The spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

—Reviews & Commentary. Louis Proyect comments on a new collection of the Gilbert Shelton-edited Radical America Komiks.

Turning to the actual work in Komiks, you will find much of it a lot rawer than what you might have expected in a comic book put out by the Trotskyists or the CP (not that these sects would have ever thought outside the box.) The old left esthetic was very much in the agitprop vein, with clearly delineated heroes and villains—the working class on one side of the barricades and the bosses on the other.

—Interviews & Profiles. Françoise Mouly speaks briefly to Tom Gauld about his new New Yorker cover.

I don’t think I’ve ever even attempted to grow anything indoors. I like the idea of gardening but never get around to actually doing much. When I conceived this image, I was thinking of my uncle’s house when I was a child. We lived in the countryside with a big garden surrounded by fields and forests, but he lived in the city in a small house that was completely stuffed with plants. It made a real impression on me, and I can clearly remember sleeping there once with a big plant looming over me.

 

Seattle Bon

Today at The Comics Journal, we're sitting down with Sarah Horrocks, the prolific cartoonist (who also writes comics criticism on the side, including some that she writes with us). She's here to speak with Nate Chazan about her most recent work, an adaptation of Euripedes' Bacchae

Is this more textured style something you’ve always wanted to achieve in your art? Is there anything particular to this work that prompted these stylistic changes?

I’ve always been interested in more textural work. It was work like Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters that made me want to be a comic artist in the first place--and Alberto Breccia is a huge influence as well. I love texture because it gives you more dimensions to work in, and allows me to communicate my emotions as an artist behind the story or page. And I just think it looks cool.

I also had a revelation while reading Zanardi by Pazienza, that no matter what style I worked in, it would always look like me, so the coherency of a page can just simply be my inclinations as an artist. What communicates the emotion of this panel, of this page; what makes this composition right--and not: “well I drew that character like that in the previous panel, so I should keep with it”--to me the consistency is that it’s all coming out of my pen/brush. 

As for anything prompting any change. I think Bacchae looks how it looks, because I’ve been working in black and white on Goro for a year, and wanted to do something in color again.  But also that’s just kind of how I saw it in my head. Each comic should look the way that works best for what it is.  So across Leopard, Goro, and Bacchae my style shifts wildly--but you can see this in my old old anthology work too where styles would shift radically between stories.  I always see these things, and then do my best to put them out in front of me, even if it requires me to work differently than I ever have previously. If I had a comic that I thought I should do in watercolors, I would just learn how to do watercolors. That’s my approach to comics as an artist. I’ll never limit the stories I can tell by what I think I can or can’t achieve as an artist, for better or worse.

Our review of the day comes to us from Ryan Carey, who has been keeping up with the Black Hook releases of Dokudami Tenement, and has some thoughts on the third volume.

It’s not enough, however, to propel it beyond the realm of the ultimately exploitative, and playing a lot of Franky’s mannerisms and modes of self-expression for laughs certainly doesn’t help, but the character is at least allowed the dignity of being something other than a simple one-note cipher, and there is an acknowledgement on Fukutani’s part that their struggle for acceptance (both from themselves and others) is not only valid in a more general sense, but also crucial to their emotional and psychological survival. Unfortunately, Fukutani has a persistent habit of trying to pull  cheap and easy punch-lines out of Franky’s trials and tribulations, and this consistently pushes the proceedings back down to something just slightly above gutter level --- but there’s an attempt at something more here, even if the narrative can never seem to allow itself to achieve it.

Multiple comics sites published articles in the last couple of days regarding DC Comics, which has begun the process of firing people in an attempt to restructure the company into one that appears more profitable via the easiest method possible. This round up of reactions to Mark Chiarello's firing is pretty spot on--regardless of my continued middle-aged spurred disinterest in basically everything DC publishes that isn't a reprint of something from the 1980's, Mark did good work at that company. (Here's an old Comics Alliance article by some familiar names on one of the best pieces of that work.) The past few weeks have seen more than a handful of concerned to furious articles about the current state of this part of the comics business--which is not to say that there haven't been some pretty hopeful ones too--but the timing of these firings, and the lack of any concrete sense that DC has any real plan doesn't instill a lot of confidence. Hope ain't a tactic, y'all.

 

Ring Ring

Today on the site we have the final (for now?) episode of Greg Hunter's excellent podcast, Comic Book Decalogue. Appropriately, he goes out with an important guest, Carol Tyler. Greg plans to continue contributing to the site from time to time, but his podcast will be much-missed.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—As mentioned last week, John Porcellino has launched a new weekly strip at The Chicago Reader. Melissa Mendes has started one, too.

—The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced. One of the contenders in the autobiography section is Nora Krug's Belonging, and, refreshingly, I haven't noticed anyone making a big deal about a comic being named.

—Gordon Dahlquist recommends Walt Kelly's Pogo.

The material is both arrantly silly and satirically sharp. Walt Kelly’s insistent lampooning of McCarthyism takes a place next to The Crucible as far as artistic stands of the American 1950s, but political commentary is only a grace note to the fullness of this world. The detail and depth of the art, the whimsical quasi-Southern dialect (and spelling, and lettering), and the expansive range of characters (and characterizations) are equally singular. Kelly lays out a crackling music-hall sensibility of routines, equal parts word-play and slap-stick, self-consciously old-fashioned and slyly up to the moment. Though it’s impossible to imagine strips like Doonesbury or Bloom County without it, Pogo is like nothing before or since in the newspapers.

 

Whoopsy Hate-sy

Today at TCJ, we've got a nice, deep dive into...The Teen Titans? Yup, you read that correctly. Michel Fiffe's Fiffe Files returns with its monthly does of dusty longbox-ing. But..the Titans?

Aw, but that's too many comics to look for and collect and read. Who has the time? C'mon, it's not that much to collect... at least it's not Claremont-written mutant titles. Well, I just cleared 5 longboxes full of unread stuff from my studio... it got overwhelming and literally in the way. Okay, but this would only be one longbox, tops. Yeah, but I know Teen Titans is gonna disappoint me, though... it's not their fault but it will fail to deliver what I need at this moment. I know it will. It happened with John Byrne's Namor, Jim Valentino's Guardians of the Galaxy, Dwayne McDuffie's Deathlok (that one kinda broke my heart), Firestorm/Hawkworld/Eternal Warrior by John Ostrander, New Warriors by Nicieza and the Bag Man... it goes on and on. As if binge reading automatically unlocks magical qualities. Is it a quest for exciting new stories that drives me, or is it just an excuse to nurture this neurosis? Might be both! I hate this habit of mine, this hungry and impatient consumer-monster with an optimistic streak driving my decisions. Clearly, the rush is in the hunting, the amassing, the checklist fetish, the sense of completion. But it's never complete, is it? That hole you want to fill just keeps getting as big as your tolerance lets it. Hey, maybe if I stuff this terrible meal down my throat I'll grow to love it. It never works.

It. Never. Works.

Our review of the day comes to us from Chris Mautner--he's taking a look at Tinderella, M.S. Harkness's debut graphic novel, which was published by Kilgore Books last year.

The most interesting thing about Tinderellais its sudden and sharp shift in tone about two thirds of the way through. Prior to that moment, the book appeared to be an entertaining if rather familiar look at the trials and tribulations of modern dating. But Harkness reaches for something deeper and more emotionally resonant towards the end, both strengthening the book and suggesting that she is a more thoughtful author than first glances would imply.

Over at The MNT, there's a solid interview with a couple of comics retail mainstays, James Sime & Ryan Higgins. 

 

Walk Away and Leave

Welcome back from the three-day (US) weekend. Robert C. Harvey is here today with the fifth installment of his series on the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. This week, World War II begins, and shots start flying at home too.

Fisher’s actions speak volumes about how unsure of himself he was. He sought the company of famous people. He went to great lengths to associate himself with them. He courted celebrities by depicting them in the strip. He recognized consciously that he too was a famous person, but unconsciously, he wasn’t sure. He had to be convinced. To shore up his own opinion of himself, he needed the reassurance he could feel if he were in the company of the people he regarded as famous. If he associated with famous people, surely he too was famous. His vanity — not to mention the very vitality of his self-esteem — was fed by his proximity to the famous.

And Fisher was unquestionably vain. He tooted his own horn. He carried around lists of all the newspapers that subscribed to his strip and would proudly produce them at the slightest provocation. Few major figures in cartooning ever make an exhibition of themselves like Ham Fisher did — proclaiming his own greatness to his peers, who all knew, as no other assembly of persons could, just how great he was.

They didn’t need Fisher to tell them about Fisher. They knew and appreciated his achievement. But they were turned off by his loud and boorish displays of self-adulation. And they saw through his obsequious servitude in the bar of the Illustrators clubhouse: They knew he was courting the favor of those whom he regarded as great. The rest of the company — the cartoonists whom Fisher did not see as very famous — Fisher ignored. And those cartoonists resented it. Resenting it, they were receptive to tales that revealed Fisher as they saw him. The story of Fisher’s treatment of Rube Goldberg, for instance.

At one of the early meetings of the Society, Weiss said, Fisher buttonholed Goldberg, telling him how much he, Fisher, admired his work, how great Goldberg was, and so on. Later, Fisher confided to another cartoonist that it was “too bad” about Goldberg: The man was a has-been, he opined, over the hill. Goldberg heard about this. And it galled him. And it irked others who learned of it. The episode confirmed them in their low opinion of Fisher. Fisher, they could see, was a self-serving blow-hard, willing to advance himself at everyone else’s expense whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Tahneer Oksman talks to Julie Doucet.

I quit comics, but I kept on drawing. Drawing and making all sorts of different things. And then I did this project with Michel Gondry [My New New York Diary, a book accompanied by a short film on DVD, published by PictureBox in 2010]. I love his films and all that, so I just said yes. But I was already not that much into drawing. And it was quite a lot of work. It was really just supposed to be a tiny project, like trying something, but it ended up being, not big, but quite a lot of work.

That’s when I had burnout, and after that I just couldn’t draw anymore. Because the film with him involved drawing and at that point I didn’t really feel like drawing, but it was just impossible to say no.

I had burnout, and I just couldn’t draw anymore. Or, I could draw, but it was really on automatic pilot. Not really anything creative.

The latest episode of RiYL is Georgia Webber.

—News. Four new members have been selected for the Eisners Hall of Fame: Jim Aparo, June Tarpé Mills, Dave Stevens, and Morrie Turner.

—Reviews & Commentary. Prominent retailer Brian Hibbs thinks the comics direct market is finally really dying.

Really, there aren’t a ton of “name” retailers, stores that might register with an average comic book reader, but I think Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics might be one of them. Chuck posted to Facebook “I fervently believe that the economics of comics publishing simply no longer allow smallish neighborhood comics shops to be successful”

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, Chuck went on in his recent newsletter that Mile High, one of the largest and most successful retailers in the country, was reacting to the new realities of publishing in the DM with this: “If you are a fan who wants to just browse the racks in our stores each week, however, you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed if you do not come in to one of our locations on Wednesday morning. We will definitely still be ordering copies of many new releases for speculative sale on the racks in our retail stores, but in such small quantities that we will be almost certainly sell out by the first weekend”

One of the most successful stores in the world is saying that they’re cutting bait on most new releases because they can’t stock them profitably. Think about that a second.