Blackwing 811

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The moment I set my eyes on the 811, I loved it. I’m a fan of bright colors and while it’s not super bright, the 811 certainly stands out among other offerings from Blackwing. Besides the color scheme, I really like the story behind the 811. As an individual that works as a writing tutor for both a high school and a college, I have such a soft spot in my heart for libraries. I miss my childhood where I would search through one of many card catalog drawers and put it on the pull-out table built into the magnificent piece of library furniture— I would flip through and find the call number of the book I needed and transcribe that onto a scrap piece of paper (you NEVER took the actual card with you— that is bad library manners) only to search through the stacks for what I needed. A lot of that is digitized now and when I was in college last year I would request a book online and it would be waiting for me at the front desk. It’s just not the same. I especially like the focus on Maya Angelou. There is not enough focus on women when it comes to stationery limited editions (especially with BW) and especially women of color. While Angelou was not the main focus of the edition (a library lamp was), she does have the honor of representing the 811 on the pencil.

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I really like the gradient on this pencil as it fades from a minty green to a darker, emerald-like green. The gold ferrule is spot on as it represents the base and the gold pull chain of those iconic green library lamps. The 811 is coated with phosphorescent paint which makes it glow in the dark— this is super cool, but really just a gimmick as you need a light to write, but it is super cool to see a cupful of these on your desk in the dark. Sadly, the glow doesn’t last very long. I charged these pencils for a few hours in natural sunlight and under a lamp and it fades pretty quickly. Because this is just an aesthetic offering and has no bearing on the performance of the pencil itself, this finding is inconsequential. The eraser is pink and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, white would be too bright and black would just clash with the gold ferrule, so I guess pink it is. I was worried about the finish of this pencil since it is wrapped and not lacquered, but unless you look closely, it appears seamless. My other worries mirrored Johnny Gamber’s comments on his blog Pencil Revolution when it came to hand feel and grip, but I have not had a problem with that at all. The core of this pencil is firm just like the 602 and stays true to the 602’s performance. I am not a big fan of the softness of the 602 as it is very difficult to write small and I find myself sharpening a lot. I am also a very heavy-handed writer, so my experience with point retention might be different than others’.

602 core made it difficult to fill out my D&D character sheets

602 core made it difficult to fill out my D&D character sheets

Overall, I think this pencil is a buy if you like the 602 and/or have a particular affinity for the theme. Based on the community’s response, these may be hard to find in the near future as Blackwing’s website crashed the moment the 811 was released. You can head over to Blackwing’s website to purchase a dozen while they last as they are sold out elsewhere. They retail for $27.95 a dozen now due to Blackwing’s recent price increase.

Ticonderoga Neon

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For those of you that know me, you know that I love all things neon. Pencils, pens, highlighters, notebooks, you name it, I love it. I’m not sure where this obsession comes from. Perhaps it is from my childhood as I grew up in the 80s and 90s and every now and then I enjoy the pull of nostalgia when I use my stationery. Whatever the case, if it’s neon, I own it. When it was brought to my attention that Ticonderoga had a new neon edition out, I was excited. The photo that was posted on their Instagram was all I needed and I absolutely had to find out where I could acquire these beauties. Turns out, you can only find them in Office Depot/Max (for now), so I am guessing they are an exclusive offering. The pack of 30 pencils comes with a free pencil-shaped sharpener as well. After an hour and a half long trek to my nearest Office Depot, I got my hands on a couple of packs. They are priced at 12.99 which, for 30 pencils and a sharpener, isn’t bad at all. If you order online, you can usually find a 20 percent off coupon which makes them a bit cheaper. Anyhow, on to the review:

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My first thought when taking one of each color out of the pack was “WOW” as these are bright. The pink, orange, yellow, and green are the brightest while the blue is just okay. I especially enjoy how the traditional green imprint and green and yellow ferrules have remained the same on these pencils. It’s Ticonderoga’s “thing” and I’m glad they didn’t change it up with say a black ferrule or something. The erasers match the barrel of the pencil and are a nice touch. It really pulls together the whole neon theme. The juxtaposition of bright neon colors sandwiching the traditional yellow/green really makes the whole thing work. The core of these pencils are the common “soft” core (HB) that most Tics have. These pencils are made with basswood and not cedar which is kinda disappointing because for a while you were able to still find some cedar Tics on store shelves. The core is consistent in the sense that it writes just like all the other current day Ticonderogas I own. There is no grittiness and point retention is about average for an HB core. The provided eraser does a pretty crappy job completely erasing the dark marks that this pencil lays down, but that’s an easy fix (cue: Hinodewashi).

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The sharpener that comes with these pencils is mediocre. It sharpens, sure, but the point is left brittle and almost always breaks when writing for the first time. It’s good to use in a pinch, but I’d ditch it for something a bit more functional. Overall, I love these pencils— they perform like they should and they look great. As far as whether or not to purchase them, that’s up to you— do you like neon? If yes, buy. I mean, that’s the only reason you should pick these up as they are just like a traditional Ticonderoga with a different paint job. I don’t always grab a Ticonderoga for my everyday writing (I usually use a Neon Casemate or a Blackwing), but this pencil just might make it into my rotation because it makes me happy looking at it. Really, at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters most? Using something that bring us joy?

Baron Fig Archer: Oracle Limited Edition

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Perhaps one of the most used toys of my childhood was my beloved Magic 8 Ball. I shook that thing to get the answers to the most pressing questions of a pre-teen’s life: Does that girl that sits behind me like me? Will we have a snow day tomorrow? Should I ask her out? While this grapefruit-sized ball with a icosahedron inside could not have had the prescience to predict my life, it was amusing and fun. As an adult, life has a lot less of those urgent questions nor is carrying around a Magic 8 Ball is practical. Enter the Oracle pencil by Baron Fig. Designed to provide a bit of fun to break up the monotony of our days, the Oracle provides six possible answers to our pressing questions: Will I get a promotion? Should I call out of work tomorrow? Should I get out of *bed* tomorrow? A simple roll across the desk will decide your fate if you so desire. Aesthetically, these pencils don’t do it for me. I might be an anomaly though-- I love everything neon and bright-- this color palette is quite muted. I have previously given Baron Fig shit for not being colorful enough and in the beginning, I even dared to call them “bro-ish” with their choices. They have delivered color since then, and I’m grateful for that, but these pencils match their original color choice style. I’d like to emphasize: there is nothing wrong with that! Just not my jam. The iconography on the other hand is pretty cool. I like the incorporation of a crystal ball intermixed with the different suits of cards. It really drives home the whole Oracle theme as I imagine sitting at a table across from a fortune teller with a crystal ball and a spread of cards. The design on the packaging is even better as it is a much more intricate version of what is depicted on the pencils. I’d love to see this design on a limited edition Vanguard or Confidant.

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Performance wise, these are right on par with other pencil offerings. If you have used a Viarco, you have used a Baron Fig Archer. While not confirmed, I’d bet my last 211 on the fact that Baron Fig uses Viarco for all their custom pencil needs. I will say that there is a slight difference when it comes to grittiness— other Archers suffered from this problem. So much so that I really didn’t care to write with them, but this iteration is free of that sandiness. You will still experience that scratchy feeling when writing. I don’t think it is necessarily the graphite that is scratchy, I think it is the feedback this very lightweight pencils provides its user. I am a fan of a heavier hand feel when writing, so it’s not my thing, but others will probably not even notice. All of that aside, you really cannot go wrong picking up these pencils. At $15 for a dozen of limited edition pencils, it’s worth it. Especially so since you can predict your future! Pick them up on Baron Fig’s website while they last!

*** I was provided these pencils free of charge for review purposes. Free items in no way influence my view of a product and my opinions are mine and mine alone***

Blackwing Natural

It has been quite a long time since I have reviewed a Blackwing pencil— I stopped reviewing special editions since I was really only talking about form since function never really changes (besides hardness). This new offering is different though— it is something Blackwing fans have been asking for for a long time— a natural Blackwing. If we remember back to the time of the 211, we remember how loved that edition was (and still is). There was something about a “naked” Blackwing that seemed to please everyone. It is so nice to have an affordable 211 look-a-like, but does it live up to the hype and expectations of the community? Let’s find out:

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When opening up the box of the BW Naturals, I am immediately drawn to the beautiful wood grain of the cedar. There are many other natural pencils I have used before, but there is something about this smooth finish on the BW Natural that really makes it pop. The shiny gold ferrule is a perfect mate to the gold imprint on the barrel. The gray eraser on the other hand? Meh. I really think any other color would have worked here— I personally like the pink or the yellow, but there is an easy fix as Blackwing sells replacement erasers in almost every color.

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The Blackwing Natural is advertised as “Extra-Firm”, but I did not expect how dark of a line this pencil laid down. To me, it writes like a F which is on the lighter side of grades, but definitely not what I would classify as extra-firm (I’d put extra firm in the 2H/3H category). It erases okay with the provided eraser but even better with a Hinodewashi (my favorite eraser of course). Point retention is great considering how dark the pencil writes— I was pleasantly surprised here. When one factors in the aesthetics of this pencil coupled with its performance, I can see how this would be an EDC for some folks as it definitely is for me. At 21.95 for a box of 12, you really cannot go wrong here. They are so worth it!

General's Semi-Hex #1

It has been quite a while since I have reviewed a good, classic pencil. Over the years, I have strayed away from just writing about pencils to writing about all things stationery. While I don’t see that as a negative thing, it is sometimes nice to get back to one’s roots. I’ve always loved a bright yellow number 2 pencil (in this case it’s a number 1, but I digress). There is something about a yellow school pencil that evokes a pang of nostalgia— a longing for simpler times punctuated by carefree school days where your only worry was how cool you looked when you walked to the pencil sharpener at the front of the classroom. Even though we can never get those days back, we can use of tools like the Semi-Hex to get those neurons firing that are responsible for feelings of nostalgia. Anyhow, here’s what I think:

The Semi-Hex is one of my favorite pencils from General Pencil Company (the other two are the Pacific and the Badger). Even though I prefer a sharp hex, the Semi-Hex offers me a nice break from those Musgrave Test Scoring pencils. It feels great in my hand and allows me to maintain my Hulk-like grip without feeling much fatigue. I chose this pencil in a #1 because I enjoy writing with a softer, darker graphite and I’d have to say that this pencil is a true B grade. Point retention is decent for a softer graphite and the eraser does a well enough job on a variety of papers. The overall quality of this pencil is what you would expect from General and after sharpening and using several Semi-Hex I have not encountered any barrel-splitting, broken leads, or quality control issues re: fit and finish. This pencil is an absolute deal at 65 cents and can be purchased from CW Pencil Enterprise.

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CW x General's Baseball Scoring Pencil

I love baseball. Growing up, my father’s love of the game was a focal point of my summer/early fall. He loved the Cincinnati Reds. We take a road trip most years to Ohio and would spend a few days in Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium for a few games and then onto see the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Both of those stadiums are no longer there, but memories of my dad sitting next to me teaching me how to “keep the book” have lasted forever. When I was older, I used to keep the book when I would watch games on TV and would always delight when I could write that backwards “K” (a strikeout looking). Life has gotten busier and changed these past two decades, and I haven’t kept score of a baseball game in years. That’s why when I saw Caroline collaborate with General Pencil company to make a Baseball scoring pencil, I was hit with twinges of nostalgia and excitement.

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Everything about this collaboration is great— the packaging design is A++ and I really like how the lettering and color scheme take me back to the 50s when signs and lettering were hand done. The pencil itself is round-barreled and white with a gold ferrule and red lettering. What I really like about the design of the pencil is that there are three little v-shaped marks on each side of the lettering that make you instantly thing of the stitching on a baseball. They could have gone overboard with trying to make this pencil look like a baseball, but they didn’t and I like that the subtlety evokes the same sentiment without being over-designed.

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This pencil has a very smooth, dark graphite core. I’d say it falls in the B range. It is a bit too soft for me to comfortably write with as I have to sharpen frequently, but for keeping score the pencil is perfect. It works well on a variety of papers— toothy, smooth, standard printer paper, and notebook paper. I will say it really shines on toothier paper though. Marks make with this pencil erase well. I did have some trouble erasing all the marks I made while journaling in my Baron Fig Confidant, but I also press pretty hard, so that is an experience I have often. Next year, I plan on using these for score-keeping my good ol’ Cincinnati Reds, but I cannot bring myself to use these pencils in any other capacity. My heavy-handedness, dislike for round pencils, and impatience with having to sharpen every half page makes these a pass for me. These pencils are $2 a piece for $10 for half a dozen. I’d suggest ordering the six— you save two bucks and get the cool box.

CW x Iron Curtain Press Notebook

Yellow is my favorite color and the brighter the better. Bright yellow is a color that one doesn’t see often in their daily life. Sure, we see the yellowy-orange of street signs and traffic light poles, but not the bright, cheery yellow that never fails to put me in a good mood. When I clicked on the “new” tab on CW Pencil Enterprise’s website, I was not prepared to fall in love so quickly, but I did. The Iron Curtain Press (ICP) Standard Notebook in a striking yellow with black accents. I had never used ICP (gah— makes me think of Insane Clown Posse, but that’s for another blog entirely— lol) notebooks before mainly due to their hefty (to me) price point. This 160-page notebook is $17 and I just could never justify spending that much on a notebook. Until now. Let me just say that you get what you pay for and then some.

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To start off, the aesthetics of this notebook are super clean and no expense has been spared re: materials. The cover of this notebook is nice and thick with rounded edges so sliding it in and out of a bag is great as it doesn’t snag on anything. Also, it is spiral-bound with a matte gold wire binding. Letter-pressed on the front cover is space for your name, date, and subject. Inside you will find lined paper with a slight (and I mean slight) hint of toothiness. Pencil feels great in this notebook and erases beautifully as well. Each notebook is hand-made and while the CW collab does not offer it, ICP offers either lined, graph, or dot-grid options AND left-handed binding for you lefties out there (Lenore <3 ). I can’t recommend these notebooks enough. In fact, my next pick-up will be their dateless planner. You can pick the CW collaboration here or browse the entire catalog here.

Baron Fig Archer Elements: A Conversation with Caroline Weaver

It's time again for an Archer release from Baron Fig and this time we are graced with the presence of Elements. This design is a collaboration between Caroline Weaver and Baron Fig. Quite frankly I was waiting for this to happen and while the design is great, there are a few misses. In addition to my review, I sat down with Caroline to discuss a few things. Let's get to that first:

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Me: What made you want to collaborate with Baron Fig?

Caroline: BF actually approached me about doing a pencil! I've known Joey and Adam since I first opened the shop since they're also in NYC and I love the products that they make. When they asked me to do a pencil with them I didn't think twice about it. 

Me: Tell me a little bit about that process (designing, how much input you had, etc.)

Caroline: I worked through the concept with Baron Fig, they designed it and I approved it--it was all very easy because they did a great job capturing what I was going for. A big part of what I do in my job is educate people about pencils, so I thought this was a good opportunity to throw a little lesson into the actual design of the pencil. It was all collaborative, but I'm grateful that they trusted my opinion and my ideas. I can't really take any credit for the actual design--that's all them!

Me: What would be your dream pencil? Graphite, wood, finish, ferrule, eraser choices?

Caroline: Oh man! I don't even know. For years I was saying it was a double ended graphite/red pencil but then we made the Editor, so that exists now. BUT if I could really have anything, it would probably be Try-Rex shaped, with a good cedar barrel, the core of Mono 100 in F, an elaborate early 1900s-esque brass ferrule, a Matomaru-Kun eraser on the end and vertical stripes in burgundy and a nice red-orange. 

Me: Are there any other CW collaborations in the works?

Caroline: Yes! Before the end of the year we'll release 3 more new products that we've been working on making with three different brands. 

I want to thank Caroline for her time and willingness to participate. Also-- it's super exciting to know that there are not one, not two, but THREE CW collaborations coming soon! Now let's get to the meat and potatoes-- the review.

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As a fan of bright colors, I wasn't wowed by the Elements Archer at first. That's my own subjective bias, so it's not a fault with the pencil, but muted colors are not for me. What I DID love were the symbols for each element of what goes into your average pencil. What was weird though is one of those symbols is for foil and this pencil has none. I get why that was used-- most pencils have foil imprinting, but this one doesn't and to the uninitiated pencil fanatic, they might be left feeling confused. One final aesthetic observation was the consistency of the finish on the pencils. This is not a problem with Baron Fig, but more of a problem with Viarco's quality control. When evenly lined up, some pencils either had a "wavy" transition between two colors or were dipped higher or lower (see picture below). I feel like I'm being a bit nitpicky here, but it's not fair to Baron Fig for Viarco to have so many issues with delivering a perfect product. 

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The way the Elements pencil writes is consistent with the other limited edition Archers I have reviewed in the past. The graphite is a bit harder than I like, but it seems to me like this batch has less imperfections re: grittiness than other Archers I have used. I sharpened up three different pencils and they all performed the same. I will say that a toothier paper is better to use with these pencils since the harder graphite feels as though it is "biting" into smoother paper at times. With all of this being said, I still like the Element. I'm a big fan of minimalist design and while the color scheme is not my cup of tea, the muted pink and slate gray work well together. Also, the iconography is brilliant and really like how it tells the complete story of how a pencil is constructed. One thing Baron Fig really has going for them is design and I have yet to encounter a product that is way off the mark from them (Okay, the mousepad was bit off there. Haha). You can pick them up here while they last!

***I received these pencils free of charge in exchange for a review. My opinions are mine and have not been influenced at all by free stuff.***

Galen Leather Pencil Cases

I'm a creature of habit and don't often stray from products I enjoy using. If I find a bag, pencil case, sharpener, eraser, etc. that I like, I forever use it. I'd say one of my faults is not straying from things I love, so that's why when I got an email from Galen Leather about reviewing their products, I was inspired to step outside my box of stationery accessory monogamy and try something new. Before I get to the good stuff, let's talk about Galen Leather as a company. Like most reviews I do, I start by reading over a manufacturer's website to get all necessary details about the products I write about. Galen Leather's story is not only amazing, it's deeply inspiring. The owner of the company, Zeynep, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and lost the ability to talk for a year. Because of this, she had to leave her career and find something new to pursue since she was unable to communicate verbally. That's when Galen Leather was born. I won't take up much space getting into the details, but you should read about it here. It's worth it.  

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Okay. So the two products I am going to review today are the Student Leather pencil case and the XLarge Zipper pencil case. Galen Leather's products are packaged beautifully. The sturdy kraft boxes have a nice black stamp on the surface with the company's logo. Inside each product is a care card and a small evil eye charm with a strange, yet fascinating story about the origins of the evil eye. Anyhow, A++ on presentation and packaging.

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First up is the Student Leather case. This pencil case looks great-- it is made of vegetable tanned leather and features brass hardware with an unlined interior. The design is simple and is made of a single piece of leather. I will say the leather is a bit stiff, but this will change once you use it a bunch of times. Included with all of their products is a care card which will give you advice on how to take care of your leather. All edges on their products are burnished which gives them a nice clean, finished look. The Student Leather case can fit 18 pencils, unsharpened Blackwings, and its slim profile makes it easy to slide into a bag or purse. I will say that undoing the clasps at first is a bit difficult-- this is due the the stiffness of the leather and will get easier over time. What I would suggest is to open and close the case several times to work the holes in the leather a bit. 

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The other case I am reviewing is the XLarge case. This case is a classically styled zipper case with a YKK zipper, a leather zipper pull, and a lined interior-- it definitely lives up to it's name-- it's HUGE! This case can fit 48 or so pencils and will fit an unsharpened Blackwing sideways. It's not ideal, but it works. Again, the leather is a bit stiff and the design of the case is such that it is slightly triangular so it stands up on it own. This makes it a bit bulky for a bag, but not so much that one wouldn't want to carry it. As I use this case more and oil the leather, I predict it will become a lot more pliable and less bulky feeling. This case would be good for not only pencils, but accessories like erasers, sharpeners, and highlighters since it is quite deep. The zipper is smooth as butter and the hand-stitching is on point. I'd recommend this case wholeheartedly.

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I unequivocally recommend anything by Galen Leather. The quality of their products is outstanding and their customer service is wonderful (I had communicated several times with the owner and she was responsive and informative each time). Their items ship from Turkey, but I got them quick-- it took a little over a week for my stuff to arrive via UPS. I did not have to sign for the package and it was left at my doorstep which was a bonus since I hate going down to FedEx or UPS to sign for something. 

***I was provided these items free of charge from Galen Leather. My reviews of both products were in no way influenced by free stuff and are completely my own.***

 

 

Blackwing Volumes No. 1

It's been a while since I have reviewed any Blackwing products and I really wasn't going to do so this limited edition either, but something remarkable happened. I used a round pencil that I did not hate. Yes. You heard that correctly. I have always been a fan of hex or semi-hex pencils and prefer super sharp hex. There is a method to my madness-- I use the edge to rotate my pencil when I notice the point is wearing down at an angle. If I just rotate it ever so slightly to the next "side" it makes the point wear evenly. Needless to say, when I got the latest Volumes edition from Blackwing I first said "meh" and then was extra meh when I found out the pencils were round. As I heard others in the Erasable group talk about their own experiences with the latest edition, I heard a few people say that the finish on the barrel was unique and provided a distinct grip experience. I decided to take the plunge. I figured if I hated them I would just trade them for something else. Well I didn't. Here are my thoughts:

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Let's start with aesthetics. I didn't like this pencil at first visually. I think it was because pictures online really do not capture the right color of the pencil. Same thing with the eraser. In person I will say that they look much better. The matte finish on the barrel is very thin which allows the wood grain of the pencil to show through a bit. It is very reminiscent of furniture that you can buy at IKEA or fancy hardwood flooring. The blue eraser is a nod to Guy Clarke's (the name of the person this pencil was made in tribute to) blue collar of his favorite shirt. The blue is very subtle and at a quick glance one would think that it is more of a grey/black. 

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Performance wise this Blackwing edition does not disappoint. The graphite is not scratchy and erases well. The graphite formula used for this edition is the "balanced" formula. This balanced formula is what can be found in the Pearl and Volume 725. I usually prefer to 602 core to the Pearl, but I kinda liked using it this time around. Perhaps it's because I have been solely using Neon Casemates and I am used to that softer, darker core. Not sure, but I'll take it. The eraser performs better than the old formulation but still not up to the standards I like. I have been spoiled by foam erasers and the eraser on the Blackwing is a bit dusty for me and takes way to much effort to erase things cleanly. It's no Hinodewashi but it is not as bad as a Musgrave eraser. 

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I am not sure I would say that I am in love with this pencil, but I like it. I purchased a dozen and will probably use half of that for trade fodder in the future. Volume 1 does its job, looks decent enough, and comes with the quality one would expect from Palomino. Seriously though, where is the estrogen in these releases? The day you devote a pencil to a woman (and not a woman that happened to use a photo process/style because that felt like an aside) is the day I become a subscriber.