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Tag: Alex Toth


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 12

Trying to make a clean getaway from The Land Unknown, Hal takes a peek out the 'copter door, to see...


And in color:

Page 29, semi-splash detail; color remastered.

Yeah, so this enormous sea serpent pops up from the water, upending Hunter's raft, sending him toppling, and he gets knocked out during the fall. Though Toth is known most for his line and spotting of blacks, notice how he rendered the cascade of water: not held by a line, but drawn with a series of dots and splotches, left open with negative space, obscuring other elements, letting the viewer's eye finish the picture. The final panel of the page is a standard profile close-up with flare gun in Hal's hand...

But even in this seemingly simple 2-frame tier Toth leads us through expertly with a series of angles (raft, body, oars & gun) and finally a curve that sweeps up along the gun and Hal's nose to his steely gaze. Just wonderful.

Page 30 (below) is sweet (and if you have $5000.00 to spare for the original art, Buy It Now on ebay), a tour de force of composition, design, balance of positive and negative space, shot selection and storytelling. The reader's eye is drawn through the page brilliantly, all in service of telling the story.

The first panel is from a bird's eye view, above the helicopter, the 'copter and Hal with his gun framing the creature below. The curve of the serpent's neck leads us to the tiny head of Hunter as he floats helplessly, unconscious in the sea.

Page 30, frame 1 and detail.

No doubt Toth had good reference for this flare gun, drawn simply but all there. The sharp angles, juxtaposed with curves and circles, along with the asymmetrical black and white space (still balanced) convey urgency and action.

Page 30, panel 2.

The 'copter swings in, the gun shot. Pops, smoke and sound effects lead us across the horizontal, widescreen frame to the point of impact. Zowee! Toth draws the 'copter in near silhouette in the foreground, and once again renders only what he needs to: holding lines dropping out from the serpent's head and maw, conveying the hot, bright flash of the flare, the reader's eye/brain completing the image.

Panel 4: The frame is split in half, then quartered in the lower half, the black horizontal slab of water broken by bits of light/waves. The serpent seeks refuge, returning to the sea - the curve of its body amidst the swirling smoke. The 'copter turns, maneuvering towards Hunter in the foreground, his head shown cutting out of the surface of the water, flat, graphic and bold. This is daring, modern picture-making!

Hal leaps to Hunter's rescue in panel 5, not quite centered in the frame. What an angle! And Toth draws Hal's foreshortened figure with a natural ease and flow. The near-silhouette of the 'copter against the expanse of sea beneath is startling, accentuating the free-fall and danger of Hal's dive.

Atop the next page, 31, Toth divvies up the frame, this time in thirds. Not quite flat or straight on, we see a few lines in front of and behind the figures showing the horizon/water surface. The characters are cropped, engulfed in water, as the rescue gear drops down from above, jutting into the upper 2/3 of the frame. Then, an overhead shot, mixing things up nicely. Time to hoist!

Finally, all safe in the 'copter, it's straight up and away through the gloom, the crew-plus-one making their escape!

For the conclusion of the story, and an incredible final page, jump to Part 13. Or - visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.

Note: This post was prepared and composed to the jaunty, jabbing jazz of Thelonious Monk.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 11

Last we left, the 'copter was just taking off, the crew making their escape from The Land Unknown. From the cockpit they (and the readers) get an eyeful of T-Rex!

Toth's got the hang of these dinosaurs now, ferocious, lively, snarling and snapping. What a shot!

Looking at the entirety of page 27, we can see Toth composes the page not only by spotting blacks, but largely with a series of curves and circular shapes (as shown in red on the right). He leads the eye not only from panel to panel, but through the page and swirling back into the action from the lower right.

He mixes up the shots, too: from above (panel 1); from below eye level inside the cockpit (panel 2); looking outside the cockpit window, filled up by the large head of the beast (panel 3); to a large wide view of dinosaur rearing back as the 'copter takes off.

Moving on to page 28, we get a bird's eye view of the Land, finally seeing the tops of those stylized trees Toth has been drawing in the background throughout the story. What cool trees! They're like floating islands; tropical, green, rooty icebergs. In panel 2, he pulls way back for a long shot, all figures an elements very tiny, placed against a large slate of negative space, and a black, rectangular slab of water.

We're back in the air again now, from above the 'copter, a slight shadow thrown on Hal's cap and figure. The winch juts out and the rope leads us to tiny Maggie and Hunter below, waiting in the boat. In panel 4, Toth does a 180 and we're below, looking up at the underside of the helicopter. Boy, he's really moving that "camera" around! (I do think this frame would have been more effective had we seen all of Maggie's figure, hanging, not cropped.)

Swirls and circles abound in frame 5, the curve of the 'copter, the doorway, the rope and Maggies' figure. A super panel, telling the story well, Hal helping Maggie into the 'copter, safe and secure. Toth uses the shapes and structures of the helicopter to determine his panel and page composition, making them work for him. Hal's face in panel 6 may be stock, but that seems a better Caniff face than Milton himself ever drew, dare I say?!

The whole page holds up very well, Toth once again using curves and circular shapes mixed with a variety of angles, triangles and other shapes (as shown in red on the right) - interesting patterns, motifs and panel compositions within the larger page. Stunning!

I leave you with a small taste of original art, signed by Toth. Click either link to see page 27 or 28. You may have to sign in for a larger view.

For dinosaurs, chases, gunshots, leaps, roars and tentacles (!) go directly to Part 12, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.

PS - this post was prepared and composed to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Fanfare For The Common Man and other works. Not a bad adventure soundtrack.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 10

We begin this week of The Land Unknown analysis with a classic Toth panel, a strong foreground silhouette, about to give Hunter a whack. Toth's figure is solid black save for a thin slash of light cutting into the hair and a small slot of white on the collar. Hunter's head is framed and cropped by the dark figure and club, Maggie's face by the shirt sleeve.

Now without that set-up and context, this next frame would be less clear. Any other cartoonist would show more, maybe more pedestrian, but readable. This is one of his weakest panels of the story, the artist probably trying to hard to mix it up or be different. How 'bout if we just see a hand on the club? A slip, thankfully infrequent.

That next frame is cool, Steve's face cropped at the nose, his hand firmly gripping the club. The hands tell the story here. Hunter is portrayed in a vulnerable position and interesting angle, turned away from the viewer, looking askance at his attacker.

A nice shot, Hunter's face cropped by his clothing...

I love the look on Steve's face here as Hal draws his weapon...

This is just beautiful. Another frame I could stare at for hours! The curves, angles, spotted blacks, textures, repeating shapes (leaves, vines, star & propeller) - Oh, my!

Toth moves us below, looking up at Steve on the 'copter. What a startling angle! Smart composition, what with the blade, arms akimbo, etc. This is not an easy shot to pull off, and Toth does it with ease, all while serving the story. The crazy angle reminds one of the film compositions of Orson Welles, especially as in Lady from Shanghai (1947), Othello (1952) and Touch of Evil (1958).

Ah, now that's better! Here's a similar shot to a frame from earlier in the story, much improved! Better composition and dinosaur.

Page 26, panel 6 (left) and page 12, panel 6 (right).

Part 11 is but a click away! Or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 9

Picking up where we left off in the middle of page 22 of The Land Unknown...

Rescued by castaway, Hunter, Maggie comes to the conclusion she must sacrifice herself to save the rest of her crew. This moment of thought and respite (above) is a sweet, sweet panel. Toth is not satisfied to simply establish Maggie in thought and the open raft, but does so with style, couching the main two elements in an arrangement of textures and patterns: bushes of star leaves; the curved triangles of large plants; the lines and crosshatch of tall grass; curved ripples on water; spotted blacks of shadow and craggy rock. I could stare at this drawing a long, long time (and have).

Toth prolongs the suspense with a long shot from the weeds in silhouette in the foreground, the calm before the storm. Then, time stands still as Maggie encounters a sea serpent in a wordless panel. This creature is not static, but alive on the page, frightening as it hovers over Maggie who doesn't move a muscle.

Combined with panels covered in detail in my previous post, it's a very nice page, well composed, balancing black areas with negative space, action with stillness, juxtaposing angles and lines with swirling, circular forms as shown on right (below).

All hell breaks loose atop page 23 as the serpent attacks, all teeth and folds of reptile skin circling its long neck. Cropping out the creature's eyes focuses attention on the sharp teeth, accentuating its size. Toth utilizes again flowing display lettering for the growl, weaving it behind and in front of the serpent. Surround Sound on a 2-D page! We see Maggie and the raft from the POV of the water surface.

Maggie faints in the next panel, but I'm not sure we'd know what was going on right away without the caption. Like I said before, when Toth fails, he does so in grand fashion, as with this unorthodox shot from the raft floor: seat and oars at striking angles; the action carried from Maggie's position, hands and the curve of her jaw. Drawing at this angle, a cropped and foreshortened figure is extremely difficult to pull off, but Toth makes it look easy. He certainly made it hard on himself, trying something different.

Then, it's Hunter to the rescue again, blowing his horn, torch at the ready!

Close ups for the dinosaur in the middle tier, looking fierce. No confusion in what's going on here, Toth clear about who is where in a 3/4 overhead shot, then action profile.

No need for dialogue in this frame, the serpent ominous in the foreground, nearly in complete silhouette as it snaps Hunter's weapon, smoke billowing from its powerful jaws. Hunter prepares another torch.  And Toth doesn't let us forget Maggie, her knees poking up from her raft. What a shot! This could very well be an abstract painting.

Then we're right in the thick of the action, an angle that brings to mind Gregory Peck as Ahab in Moby Dick (1956). Reading this, kids musta felt like they were holding the torch themselves! Superb design: swirling shapes for flame and smoke; serpent curve; circular patterns of horn; half-circle bubbles; flowing mop of hair in black; the sturdy line of Hunter's staff and arm.

Unconscious Maggie floats on in the background...

Hunter saves Maggie again in this overhead shot. Curves of boats, diagonals of staff and oars. Then, back at the cave, we get a glimpse of what's next in store for hero Hunter...

An exploration of Alex Toth's Land Unknown comic (1957) continues with Part 10. We're nearing the conclusion, still with 4-5 posts to go. Check the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 8

T-Rex is back!

We're now well into the final third of Alex Toth's Land Unknown comic (1957). Every panel of page 20 is a winner. A lady in profile, close-up, upturned heads looking to the sky. I love Steve's dejected expression and body language in frame 2. Nice background inking and natural posture of the background characters. Word balloons notwithstanding, Toth draws our eye from the upper left on a downward right angle to Hal's face, the up again across to the upper right corner of panel 2.

Longshot, characters center-right, the foreground fading to white with impressionistic dots and dashes of foliage, a la Sickles.

Medium shot, from behind, Hal and Maggie turn toward the viewer startled by the roar of a dinosaur. Trouble! Ominous shadows are thrown over most of Maggie' curves, on Hal's shoulder and right half.

Action-packed figures in silhouette disperse as T-Rex reappears! Hal's figure is superb, his outline easily read, heading one way, turning another; sharp, deliberate, balanced. More action in the last frame of the page; Toth sets us nearly in Hal's shoes, fanning his hammer, rapid-firing at the dinosaur, which Toth is now drawing in more lively and threatening fashion. The two panels are tied together by the roar sound effect strung behind the figures.

Top panel of page 21, from the original art. Wow, look at the loose but assured, bravura inking by Toth in this action panel as the dinosaur gives chase! Head down, Hal runs with purpose, an effect enhanced by Toth's bold brush work of folds and shadows. It's shots like this that convince me that Toth surpasses masters and his mentors, Noel Sickles, Frank Robbins and Milt Caniff to be the superior comics artist.

More action, unconventional composition, Hal's path accentuated by the awesome angle of the rocky crag. The backgrounds brushwork here is phenomenal!

And the panel works in color, too, though the middle space could be improved with a light yellow rather than the white used. (This'll probably be the last of color you'll see featured in this blog series, as the coloring for most of the 2nd half of the story are subpar, rushed and glitchy.)

The lower 2/3 of page 21 is all angles, growls, exotic trees, a tangle of untamed tentacle plants, curves, more tame cheesecake and the mist of white brush spatter. Toth's T-Rex is really coming alive now as he blows out two panels for a vertical mini-splash. And in case you missed him, there's tiny Hal looking on from below.

Art from this page was shot from the original art, available for viewing online here, and in the superb new first volume on Toth -  Genius: Isolated.

Page 22, panel 1: More curves, shadows and struggle as Hunter casually comes to the rescue...

...then not-so-casual! Hunter's not just a doctor, but a Man in the Arena! More bold curves & shadows as we're right in the thick of the action. Note Maggie's tiny, cropped face in the background. With Maggie safe, Hunter is off, running in the extreme foreground in full silhouette.Toth brilliantly frames Maggie with Hunter's legs, and again with a variety of textures, shapes and patterns of the background. In Part 9, see dinosaurs, chases, gunshots, leaps, roars and tentacles! Or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 7

Mid-way through the tale, over the next five-page span, the crew meet long-haired, bearded castaway, Dr. Hunter. After the huge lizard slithers away, Maggie is grabbed from behind in a panel even more effective in color than B&W: only five colors which clarify objects and action. Toth can draw as many big leaves and shadows from which Hunter emerges, since the dark green knocks out and flattens the backdrop.

Why draw a screaming lady's face as she's carried away when you can feature her rear end? Harmless khaki cheesecake for boys!

Nice design: The rule of thirds applied, the lower 1/3 rendered with simple arcs for water ripples; a variety of outlined shapes and patterns for foliage in the upper 2/3; blacks spotted on the boat and figures for depth, contrast and interest; slight perspective on the boat so it's not a straight horizontal; textures on the boat side, rudder and rope to differentiate from the open space of the water and the background.

3/4 overhead shot. No holding line for the shore, formed instead where open water space meets chiaroscuro trees and leaves. Simple lines indicated the wake, small dots in water to prevent flatness.

The crew moves through fog in search of Maggie. The stark silhouettes softened by a single muted color, an effect Toth obviously planned for color to indicate the murky soup.

Yet another frame that works better in color than B&W, the color of the ground softening the hand silhouette and shadow on boot, all to focus on the footprints.

A thin sliver of the lake in the foreground gives way to the shore which shows the footprints which lead to the absent vessel. The characters are cropped by the edge of a hill draped in shadow, framed by exotic roots and leaves.

A panel attractive in both color and B&W. Toth could hardly simplify this shot more, but the three main shapes are interesting and abstract: the lake horizontal with swath of black (depth in color indicated by lighter water tones receding into background); the squarish sky shape, broken by the curve of the rock, rendered with vertical grooves. The centers of interest are offset in the panel, the crew in the raft pointing to the smoke (casting a shadow) emanating from an opening.

A close-up on Hunter, mysterious with his face nearly all in shadow, lit by a fire in a cave.

In panel 1 of page 19, Maggie's tookus is featured again, framing a cropped Hunter speaking from the background. The characters are cropped and framed by Hunter's handmade ladder.

Another posterior (!) - this time in the background as Maggie climbs the ladder, though her figure is cropped to avoid drawing to much attention from the talking heads in the foreground. The crew (again, cropped) then takes their leave as Hunter raves in silhouette. Simple curves and dots indicate water.

Storytelling! Back at the site, Hal counts the days. Angled heads throw shadows. A foreshortened hand. And in the final panel, sparse rendering of foliage. Subtle, pretty stuff!

For dinosaurs, chases, gunshots, leaps, roars and tentacles (!) go directly to Part 8, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 6

The Land Unknown picks up on page 13 with a bang - a quintessential Toth comic book panel. This shot is so ahead of its time, it would fit right at home in his superb Bravo For Adventure, drawn nearly thirty years later. A big ol' bold sound effect, daring silhouette figures and objects, negative graphic symbols, and impressionistic inking of the grassy foreground. This frame makes me wanna go "OOOOOOOOOOO!"

Every panel in this two-page sequence is strong, as well as the full page compositions. Toth expertly mixes silhouettes, close-ups, mid-range shots, low and high angles and clever cropping to tell the story, all within a basic six-panel grid, which he blows out to stretch across the page in one tier for the debut of another monstrous creature.

The cropping and shadows on this frame focuses attention on the ransacked boxes and supplies, arranged with an assortment of angles which carry through to the following panel, where the characters are placed and cropped for a natural appearance; it doesn't look staged.

The colors on page 14 couldn't be more basic, well-balanced and drawing the eye to the most important elements.

A nice chase shot opens the page, before Toth cuts to a heroic low angle for Hal atop a rock. The two panels are tied together compositionally and with the lizard's growl across the top. Typically of Toth, he spots his blacks and places his shadows with authority to dictate center of interest. I love the loose, expressionistic rendering on the surroundings by this disciple of Noel Sickles and his Scorchy Smith strip.

A classic, heroic adventure comics panel, full of movement and bravado. What lyrical, expressive outlines, sweeping shadows and folds!

When Maggie trips, Toth chooses an unlikely, difficult and extremely effective pose, set against the crazy close-up backdrop of the lizard's massive head. But it only stands out because it doesn't look like a typical, cartoony tripping pose - it's totally naturalistic. Next, he pulls back to another long shot, once again using silhouette, a light line for the creature in the background, and a return of the curve of the display lettering as the horn sounds again.

(These panels have been rearranged side-by-side for display on this blog.)

Capping an incredible sequence, Toth pulls out all the stops with this brilliant shot, the lizard moving away from tiny Maggie, but towards us and out of frame. The size of the creature is thus enhanced, receding towards the background, the curve of its body and path shown by its markings and texture, and the perspective and shadow of and from the fins. All of this surrounded by a variety of shapes and textures of the foliage and trees.

Most artists, I think, might feel compelled to show more of the creature, or have it move away from us, or make Maggie more prominent in frame. Toth's approach in terms of composition, cropping, relative proportion of figures/objects is unorthodox, but superb storytelling and picture making. Gorgeous!

As an extra bonus, check out John Kricfalusi's (Ren & Stimpy) take on Land Unknown, who offers some prime panels and interesting insights of Toth's work, like "He has a knack for drawing buttocks wrapped in khaki." Spot on! Toth really does!

Move on to Part 7, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 5

On page 12 of Alex Toth's adventure adaptation of The Land Unknown, the crew encounter the T-Rex. This set of panels from the middle tier of the page are a real eye-grabber! A quarter century after King Kong (1933), thirty-five years before Jurassic Park, kids must've been enthralled by this confrontation, far more exciting in the comic book than in the movie from which it is adapted.

It's a fine page, kicking off with a bang as shots are fired and the crew heads to the 'copter to defend themselves and send the T-Rex away.

Toth draws our eye from the upper left to Maggie's figure (indulging in some subtle cheesecake) to the bottom center, bouncing back up on a diagonal to the upper right, lead by Hal's shadowed outstretched arm as he shoots. In panel 2, the pattern is repeated somewhat, across and down by the helicopter and gunshot, then up again to the dinosaur. Panel 1 is superb - great action and composition; and while we view the action in panel 2 from 3/4 above (nice storytelling), the rendering of the grass obscures things as it gets too busy. An older, wiser Toth would've simplified more the backgrounds.

Panel 3 is a daring, exciting tour de force, juxtaposing and balancing light and dark areas, effective in B&W and in color. The chiaroscuro angles of the copter and Hal's leg jut into and across the panel, cutting towards the approaching T-Rex. Nearly in silhouette, the 'copter is pushed into the foreground, broken up smartly by the foliage (colored red to heighten the sense of danger), the dinosaur the only cool element in the frame, surrounded by warm and hot colors (see above). With panel 4, we get a close-up of the T-Rex as the blades tears into him. Ouch!

From inside the 'copter, we see the dinosaur depart, the crew largely in silhouette, a splash of light on one face, the character faintly defined with subtle and careful rim lighting.

The final panel gets the job done, but isn't a standout. Sure, it makes sense that eschewed the angled action of the rest of the page, but it's too static for my tastes. It'd probably be fixed if the dinosaur was less upright, instead partially cropped in an action-packed pose, heading off-panel, tail flailing behind him. In this and a couple others, Toth's T-Rex looks all too similar to the "man-in-a-dinosaur-suit" look of the movie. It's puzzling, since he handles the other creatures so expertly in the rest of the story, as you'll see in future installments...

Continue now with Part 6, which features a couple superb pages, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. s always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


TothPix: Stop That Man!

Here's a sweet Toth panel from an unfinished, unpublished story he was writing and drawing, Stop That Man! So good - what fun!

This is panel 1 of page 2, the lower half of the page not yet inked. This panel is pure comics! Personality, movement, dogs, action, barks & yowls sound effects, a perty lady, bouncy lettering and balloons, playful, rhythmic dialogue - there's so much going on, but everything's still clear and readable. Take it all in, enjoy!


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 4

In this installment, we'll focus pages 10 & 11 of Alex Toth's adventure adaptation of The Land Unknown, in which the crew deals with mechanical difficulties and faces a T-Rex. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series.

Having crash landed, the crew discovers broken parts on the 'copter, establish camp and try to make contact with the ships, to no avail. Toth sets up a very nice page, balancing medium shots of in the upper left and lower right, and a shadowed head of the radio man in the 'copter in upper right and lower left. Throughout the rest of the page are smaller figures in long shots, grounded by the four corners.

Each shot is carefully chosen by Toth to tell the story clearly and smoothly. Panel 1 is from a vantage point slightly below so we see the mechanic holding the bent rod, and past him look up into the workings of the main rotor mast of the helicopter. Toth is known for having had a formidable visual library in his head, but I'd be hard pressed to believe he didn't have reference for the incredible detail shown here. The shadows from and on the figure and objects give the pictures and depth.

In panel 2, he moves us inside the cockpit as the radio man tries to establish contact. Hal and Maggie exchange engaging banter and exposition, Hal framed by the 'copter window.

Back outside and from below again, we check out the crew unloading supplies from the helicopter, reminded of its broken parts. Toth uses lots of great diagonals  again here, leading the eye thru the frame and to the two figures. Then, camp set, they hear something from above, looking up, Mr. Radio rushing to his unit. The reader's eye is led from the balloon to the crew then back up towards the sky by black area of the tent, then across with the dark horizontal of the 'copter, reinforces the movement of Radio Man.

With panel 5, we're back inside the cockpit for a classic Toth silhouette, couching the head of the smaller figure just outside. In frame 6, Toth's balloon tail makes us hear the sound from inside then around the 'copter, to the turned face of Maggie, looking on to the mechanic in concern. His down-turned expression tells us all we need to know about their situation. Man, I love those faces, the rendering of the smooth surface of the 'copter and thin lines of the foliage. Toth really mixes it up in interesting ways.

I should mention the coloring on this page is basic, but solid and effective, telling us their locale, balancing warm and cool.

With page 11, just when they might figure they have enough problems, a roar soars through the jungle (across the page), sending critters skittering. Our eye shoots across the page, over the two panels, then back again by half, as Toth smartly send the creatures against our natural reading flow, a jarring effect to prepare us for the debut of the T-Rex.

Opening up that shot to a 2/3-page splash is just right, although the dinosaur is static; he could have more movement and be more menacing. No excuses, but I betcha kids reading it in 1957 thought it was super-cool!

A detail of page 11, panel 2, comparing color to line art. By cropping the heads and tails, Toth conveys movement and action, as well as mystery as to just what creatures inhabit this Unknown Land.

Okay, eleven pages in, we're about 1/3 through the story. Keep reading with Part 5 as Toth really starts heating up! Or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series.