Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Earth Defense Command Wants You



My thanks to Derek Wakefield, Meri Davis, Logan Darklighter, Jeff "Dynamic Do-All" Blend, and Steve Harrison for their assistance in preparation of this article, which originally appeared a few years back on starblazers.com.



Once upon a time, one of the major anime fandom groups in the United States was based in Dallas, named after the military organization in Star Blazers, and made up of space battleships devoted to defending the Earth in the early 2200’s. This is their story.

Star Blazers fandom in Texas came out of the early 80s with a salute and a table of organization thanks to roots in both high school R.O.T.C. and Star Trek fandom.  Derek Wakefield was still in Denton high school when a January 1982 rerun of Star Blazers sparked the decision to turn his embryonic science-fiction club into a dedicated Star Blazers fan organization.  Derek had experience in fandom, being a SF fan introduced to the national Star Trek organization “Star Fleet Command” by the flight commander of his school’s Air Force Junior ROTC class.

(Derek) I was already a raving SB fan by that time. However, I was of the belief I was probably alone in that conviction. As such, a general SF theme seemed to be a safer bet.  Once SB returned to the airwaves in Jan 82, I opted to throw caution to the wind.

As a result of Derek’s organizational fervor and love of Star Blazers, American anime fans would not only get a Yamato-themed fan club with a slightly militaristic bent, but the genesis of the longest-running continuously operating anime convention in the United States. 



Derek’s new SB club attracted attention through flyers in local comic shops and a publicity blitz at “Star Con”, a Dallas area SF convention.  In the meantime Derek was in contact with Westchester Films, who put him in touch with Mike Pinto of the Star Blazers Fan Club in New York.  Not seeing eye to eye with Pinto on several issues, Derek would build his Star Blazers club – the Earth Defense Command – in the spirit of the Star Fleet organization he’d previously been involved with; meaning, a naval-type organization with chapters serving as “ships”, chapter heads as “captains”, and a hierarchical structure based on the Earth government military as seen in Star Blazers.

(Logan Darklighter) There was an awareness of The Star Blazers Fan Club (SBFC) in the northeast at the very beginning (…). To be honest, one of the reasons (though most definitely not the main one) that Derek started the EDC was in part because he had been a member of SBFC and the leader of that club, Mike Pinto, rubbed him the wrong way on something. I don't even know if Mike Pinto was even aware of the EDC at the time, or if he had any antagonism towards Derek. I just know that Derek had some mild antagonism towards Mike when the subject ever came up. And even that antagonism was mild. More of a rivalry of sorts. "We can do better than them" sort of thing.

(Mike Pinto) My problem with the EDC was that I felt that what set Star Blazers apart was that it wasn't a mere cartoon aimed at kiddies, and was in fact a serious science fiction epic that could be watched by adults just like re-runs of Star Trek or the Star Wars film. So my modeling a club and giving everyone faux titles like "Captain" was just down right silly! How were we going to win over fans to anime if they came across a closed fandom where everyone pretended they were in the show. Certainly Star Trek fans didn't do this, and I was going to be damned if this lot ruined anime for generations to come! PS: Of course keep in mind that in 1980 I was just 15 years old, so the topic of a teen watchin' cartoons was a pretty sensitive one.

  
August 1983 was the date of the first convention dedicated to Japanese animation in America –the fabled Yamato Con at the Harvey House in North Dallas. Coordinated by a shadowy Dallas figure known only as "Bobb", Yamato Con surfaced in 1983 and again in 1986. The same organization sponsored another show with the name Ani-Magic. At the first Yamato-Con, the big attraction was an entire series of Star Blazers shown back to back, and a Yamato film screened in the original Japanese.  The EDC was organized enough to attend and distribute flyers. 



(Derek)The EDC had nothing to do with that event (other than showing up, putting out EDC flyers, and taking advantage of the co-mingling of SB fans). However, the con and the establishment of a SB fan base in the area did coincide during the same time period.
 
(Logan)The very first convention held in the local area that was all Star Blazers oriented was called Yamato-Con. And that was where I joined up with the EDC. I won the model contest there. Mostly by default, as I was practically the only entrant! (But I think I would have won anyway, with my meticulous cut-away model of the Yamato. Which I still own, BTW)

By the early 1980s Japanese animation was an undeniable part of American popular culture.  Anime – “Japanimation” or “Japanime” as it was then known - was carving out its own fandom niche alongside Star Trek, Doctor Who, and other media fandoms.  Audiences enjoyed Star Blazers, Battle Of The Planets, the Jim Terry “Force Five” package of super robot cartoons, and reruns of earlier shows like Speed Racer and Astro Boy, as well as a steady infiltration of toys and model kits marketed to an America hungry for science fiction in the post Star Wars era.  Anime comics, manga, model kits, LPs and other merchandise were available at SF conventions and the cooler comic shops, and fan organizers were already beginning to marshal their forces on a regional and national level to create the anime fandom of the 80s and beyond. Though shrouded in obscurity, Yamato Con’s existence is proof of Japanese animation’s impact in early 1980s America.



At Yamato Con, the star attraction was a copy of Be Forever Yamato with commentary provided by Jeff Blend.  In the audience was Meri Davis, who would later go on to head not just the EDC but also Project A-Kon, the first continuously-operating Japanese animation convention in the United States. As she puts it, “I heard Jeff translating Be Forever Yamato from the front of the room, and realized there was a lot more to the genre than just the series we'd seen on TV.”

Jeff and Derek and the burgeoning EDC would become the go-to guys for showing Yamato and any other anime at any Dallas area science-fiction fandom social event.

(Jeff Blend)There was a convention being held downtown.  The actual con was being held in an underground parking garage (that’s what they thought of Sci-Fi fans, I suppose).  Anyway, the convention had agreed to allow us to show this Yamato stuff.  They basically roped off a section of this garage with bedsheets to form a room that held maybe twenty chairs.  We showed a multi-generation copy of Be Forever Yamato with no subtitles (in those days, there was no such thing as subtitled pro copies – and we watched and liked it, damn it!  We had fun trying to guess the plot and making up our own dialogue – a non-parodied version of MST3K, you might say).  If I recall, we didn’t do too bad with the results – we certainly had people curious, some even stuck it out to watch.

United in their love for Star Blazers, Meri and Derek would join forces. The EDC began to have regular meetings, screen anime at SF conventions (particularly Larry Lankford’s Dallas Fantasy Fair), and reach out to anime fandom on a national level. At its late 80s peak the EDC had chapters in several states and a membership in the 300-400 person range. The primary means of communication and participation for members outside the Dallas “Metroplex” area was the fanzine NOVA and the newsletter WHISPERS OF ISCANDAR. The EDC would also publish an interim newsletter (“Sunburst”), an all-comics companion to NOVA titled SHONEN WILDSTAR, and SASHA'S SOLILOQUY, a collection of fan art. 



Dues to join the EDC started off at $5 a year and were adjusted upwards to $7, $8, and $10 (as of 1993).  Members were promised quarterly issues of NOVA and WHISPERS.  In practice, both fanzines appeared roughly twice a year.  NOVA began as a 8.5 x 11-sized magazine, spent a few issues as a digest, and returned to the full-page format for the remainder of its run.  Early articles included synopses of the various Yamato films and TV series, with notable exceptions being articles about Mobile Suit Gundam and fan fiction including Logan Darklighter’s epic saga “Between Galaxies”, one of the earliest Star Blazers fanfics. Robotech fever struck NOVA #8 (1986) with a Macross feature and an interview with Carl Macek. By the next issue of NOVA, characters ranging from Lupin III to Eve Tokumatsuri to Captain Harlock paraded across the pages.



My own involvement with the EDC started with a flyer I picked up at an Atlanta Fantasy Fair in the summer of 1984.  I came home from the convention astonished that fans of Star Blazers existed beyond myself and my friends, and that there were enough of them to start a fan club.  After sending my membership check off to Texas, my next contact with the EDC was a telephone call from Derek asking me if I was interested in becoming head of my own EDC chapter in the Southeast.  Boy, would I!

I really didn’t give the naval organization of the EDC much thought.  It was a Star Blazers club, that’s all that mattered.  I would have joined the Masons, a clown college or the Communist Party if they’d promised me Star Blazers fandom.

The EDC always was faced with the disinterest the majority of its members held towards the paramilitary organizational “warship = chapter” thing.  Most EDC members were there for the anime fandom; the zines and the meetings and copies of Be Forever Yamato were most important. Reading the newsletters from the 1983-1985 period, several motifs are evident; difficulty in printing and distribution of fanzines, problems in starting chapters and keeping chapters active, and a general frustration at trying to fit the square peg of military task-force-based organization into the whatever-gets-us-anime round hole of fandom.

(Meri) I remember as the secretary of the EDC, typing the fanzine (Nova) and the newsletter (Whispers of  Iscandar) at work when nobody was looking (or staying late to sneak copies using trash paper to try to save a buck…)  



In the days before the desktop publishing revolution, producing fanzines was, let’s be honest, a tremendous hassle. Text had to be typed out on an old-fashioned typewriter. Typos were corrected with white-out.  Spaces for illustrations were created by judicious use of the tab key or the carriage return.  Headlines and logos had to be hand-drawn, or lettered using rub-down Letraset type.  Once ready to print, you had to find a copy machine.  In the days before Kinkos assumed dominance, photocopies were expensive, difficult to find, and varied widely in quality.

Then came the tedious business of typing out address labels, putting zines in envelopes, and schlepping the whole mess to the post office, who would proceed to lose a third of the mailing and mangle the remainder.  It was a struggle for a local fan club with 20 or 30 members; producing and mailing out a 60 page magazine to hundreds of people was a Herculean task.

As the 80s progressed, the EDC would ditch the more unwieldy military appellations and concentrate upon its core competencies – fanzines with plenty of fan art and fan fiction and whatever anime news could be gleaned from primary and secondary sources, backed up with convention anime screenings and a tape distribution service that provided the lifeblood of anime fandom, anime on videotape.

The only other national anime club - the C/FO – would eventually splinter into dozens of independent anime clubs.  However, with a core group of dedicated Dallas area fans enthusiastic about the medium and willing to work hard to bring anime into the spotlight, the EDC proved a central organization could play a role in anime fandom.

(Meri) I remember carting vid recorders and tapes to Ft Worth for their chapter meetings in a local rec center (long drive, big clunky equipment) and taking our own TV, vid recorder (this was the day of the top-loading VHS recorders that weighed a ton) and tapes to meetings in rec centers in Dallas monthly for a long time.

(Logan) Based on our rep that we made, the EDC ran the "Japanimation" rooms at the Dallas Fantasy Fairs and a couple of other local conventions. We were pretty tightly organized too. We had a set schedule of people there to run the machines and even to provide color commentary and explanations for what was happening on-screen when there were no subtitles, which were rare back then. We sometimes had people reading from a script translated from various sources in order to allow people to get the gist of the story. It was all rather intensive.



The man MOST responsible for keeping these operations all organized and running like they should was Jeff Blend. He did SO much work that he became known, somewhat jokingly, but always with great affection, as "the Dynamic Do-All" (in reference to the machine shop in the lower part of the Yamato where they made all the spare parts for the ship).



I REALLY want to stress this - Jeff Blend was THE go-to guy in the local fandom. Derek Wakefield and later Meri were good at organizing "the big picture", but if you wanted something copied, if you wanted the scripts, if you wanted the raw information, if you wanted something DONE. NOW. You went to Jeff. And he worked with everybody, regardless of fan politics. (…)  Jeff deserves more recognition for what he accomplished for fandom. Much more.

After a few years Meri was editing all the EDC publications and a crew of talented people were handling the operations of the club; Guy Brownlee would provide slick artwork for NOVA and act as convention liason; Jeff Blend continued to function as the “Dynamic Do-All”, collating all the translated information he could get his hands on and copying hundreds of hours of anime per month for anyone who asked. Logan Darklighter and Lee Madison provided hundreds of pieces of anime fan art for NOVA and related publishing projects.  Tommie Dunnam, JP Reader,  Max McArn, Tim Collier, Bud Cox, Lynn Hayes, Kenneth Mayes, Pat Munson-Siter, Bruce Lewis, James Staley, Robert Jenks, Edith DeGolyer, and scores of others worked tirelessly in the ranks of the EDC. 

 The slightly vindictive SDF Ft-Worth newsletter; YUKI, published by the Southeast chapter

Not without problems, however; whenever there are fans there are fan politics, and the Dallas area’s hothouse environment and the long history of fandom in the area meant that opportunities for drama and troublemaking were never far off.  A feud with the San Antonio C/FO club is now shrouded in the mists of time, but it caused real distress among the participants.  The Fort Worth chapter of the EDC splintered off into its own organization and published a newsletter seemingly for the sole purpose of complaining about a Ft. Worth convention and asking what was holding up the latest issue of NOVA.  At one point the head of another anime club attempted a hostile takeover of the entire EDC organization.  The situation resembled the fan feuds of today, minus the lightning quickness provided by our modern high-speed internet.

Over time the focus of the EDC shifted away from Star Blazers and towards Japanese animation as a whole. By 1987 issues of NOVA frequently featured articles on new OVAs like Iczer One, television shows such as Robotech and Saber Rider, fan fiction from Lensman and Voltron, and articles on older series like Speed Racer and Gundam as well as newer fare like Megazone 23 and Wings of Honneamise.  Artwork and comics included work from professionals like Ben Dunn, Colleen Doran, Tim Eldred, Dave Sim, the Waltrip brothers and Mike Manning, not to mention scores of amateur fan artists of every skill level.

fan art by Ken Mayes from NOVA
 The focus away from Star Blazers alienated some of the older fans, in particular Derek Wakefield, who would resign from the EDC in 1987, but the growing appeal of and  appreciation for the entire medium of Japanese animation was undeniable.  It would be years before Japanese anime fan culture in America would become sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to factionalize. Ironically, American anime fandom gained that sophistication and knowledge in part due to the convention anime screenings, the fanzines, the tape traders and the culture of the EDC and its staff and contributors. 

It’s this skilled group of EDC staffers that in 1990 would create Project A-Kon  - a anime-themed convention in Dallas aimed squarely at the audience the EDC had been cultivating for most of the 1980s.

(Meri) A-Kon started when a group of EDC'ers were at a general SF show (Star One in very late 1989) sat around talking with the head of the local Dallas EDC chapter Robert Jenks, who was going to permanently move out of state). The wish went out that 'gee everybody else has a convention, I wish we could put on an anime con before Rob has to leave' and (I) talked with the heads of Star One who gave tips, advice and hints on how this could be done (although way more expensively than first thought), and  proposed it to the group at the next EDC meeting the following month. A group of longtime EDCers including Edith DeGolyer, Guy Brownlee, Steve Treiber (who first proposed the name Project: A-Kon as a double pun on the words = it was a Project: (to put on an) Anime Convention (switching the C for the Japanese K),and playing off of  Project: A-Ko the anime show, which was still popular and new) and several others stepped up to run various departments, as they had already been working at other shows in various capacities over the years.

In addition to being an EDC staffer and a Project A-Kon volunteer, Robert Jenks would start his own Dallas anime convention, AnimeFest, which continues to this day.

Project A-Kon took off, computer networks began to take the place of print fanzines, and the new availability of Japanese animation in the American home video market began to replace the fan distribution system.  The need for a national anime fan club diminished at almost the same rate as the enthusiasm of the members shifted from fan club activity to convention planning.

(Logan) Ultimately, what killed the whole concept of the club - ANY club, not just the EDC - was how irrelevant fan clubs were becoming with the much more ready availability of films and merchandise and Anime Conventions themselves. And of course, then there was the Internet. With people able to communicate over the internet, what (was the) need of fanclubs and their printed newsletters? If you can get your info and tapes from conventions or even ordering straight from online, who needs to go to someone distributing tapes?

 By 1993 the EDC would be absorbed within the Project A-Kon organization. Without TV reruns or a home video release Star Blazers had ceased to be a “gateway” to anime fandom and certainly wasn’t popular enough to build a national fan club on, and anyway, the whole idea of a national anime club was fast becoming irrelevant.  As the 90s ended, anime conventions replaced anime clubs as the primary focus of fandom in just about every major metropolitan center in the United States.  The Earth Defense Command vanished not with a wave-motion bang but with the noisy buzz of anime convention crowds and computer modems.

Most EDC organizers continue to participate in anime fandom; Meri still runs Project A-Kon, attended by 14500 people last year.  Derek spearheaded the Yamato APA “Starsha” for several years and is still involved in Yamato fan fiction projects.  Jeff Blend continues to enjoy anime, particulary Rozen Maiden and Romeo X Juliet, as well as Avatar The Last Airbender.  Logan Darklighter describes himself as more of a manga fan these days. EDC chapter heads and members around the country went on to fill anime fandom with their own zines, clubs, conventions, and blogs.

The EDC is now merely a fond memory, but for a decade it was on the forefront of America’s anime fandom culture. Those involved look back warmly on print fanzines, narrated video rooms, fan feuds,  13th generation copies of Yamato The New Voyages with the video glitch when Iscandar explodes… but for all its hassles, the EDC was part of a tightly knit group of true believers working for a better tomorrow, or at least a tomorrow with more anime in it.  The success of Japanese animation in America today is a testament to that vision. 

  EDC promotional artwork by Guy Brownlee

4 comments:

GoofyRobo said...

I love reading stuff like this, I'm instantly flooded with memories of my own days copying tapes or finishing that newsletter 10 minutes before the club meeting.

Now that I think about it, our local club disbanded around 10 years ago. The need for printed newsletters and guys hauling around VHS tapes was petering out.

ferricide said...

in a weird way i feel a bit jealous. i was too young to get in on the 1980s fandom wave and got on the boat in 1991, when i was 14, right as things began to become "easy." that's not to say i didn't tremendously enjoy being part of the fandom at that time, but i was able to ride the wave of commercial VHS and discovering new anime at otakon, and soon after i began being interested in anime, getting involved in internet fandom.

The Erotic Spinning Bird Kick said...

The EDC were certainly interesting times. So much of the chapter splinters/fan drama was lost on me simply because I was just too young to get the gist of it. I still have worn out copies of Aura Battler Dunbine, Megazone 23, the Dirty Pair, and other shows courtesy of Mr. Blend. I think I've still got all copies of Guy's Dirty Pair zine as well. I think the only time I can remember really 'getting into' the Traveller RPG was using Guy's Meizuru University character generation rules. If you're sharp there's even an occasional Saturday or Sunday you can find me feeling nostalgic and running a game of Star Blazers Fleet Battle System over in Grapevine. Great times and the EDC certainly kept me abreast of all things anime back in 'the day'.

Mr. Cris said...

its like a second hand window into my childhood.

as someone who was an early EDC me member...and later CFO San Antonio and CFO Dallas (if there was a club in the 80's I joined it) who was present when EDC Fort Worth split to become SDF Fort Worth...there has been some politics on both sides, but what finally brought things to a head was a long winded, insulting "editorial" in the pages of NOVA by Jim Reader aimed squarely at several people in the FtWorth club. And while the initial announcement of the split made for a fanzine issue that was just as rude as the one that spawned its birth, the fanzine existed for the same reasons all fanzines existed...to promote the genre, share the love, and of course lots of fan art and fan fiction. I can say this with certainty as I was one of the people who put it out... I worked with Bryan and Jerry Grim with myself as "Art Director" for 3 years.
Besides, everyone still went to the same conventions, shared the same tapes, and laser disc buy in's, etc.
And we shared much...the dust up lasted about a month...maybe two. I recall specifically running art from Logan, Lee, Tim, Guy etc in our pages...so clearly the blood couldn't have been THAT bad now could it?

also... FWIW "Star One" took place in late 1987.