In Memorium - Derek Wakefield

Place for miscellaneous discussions. This includes off-topic items, crossovers with other series, and discussions of other Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshinobu Nishizaki productions such as Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Blue Noah, and Yamato 2520.
Mon May 12, 2014 8:34 pm

  • Derek Wakefield, who I'd known since 1983 - my friend and mentor in all things Space Battleship Yamato and Star Blazers, passed away in his sleep on May 8th. He'd developed a whole host of health problems in the last 6-7 years, mostly related to diabetes, and finally succumbed.

    To say I'm still reeling would be something of an understatement. But I'm hardly alone. Many people whose lives he touched are in shock. Most from Anime Fandom and more specifically Star Blazers/Yamato fandom.

    I'd fallen out of touch with him the last few years - he had very spotty internet access and he more or less had "hermited" in Denton TX due to his health problems. But I did make an effort to get back in touch with him briefly earlier this year before my own family issues took away my time. I really wish I'd gotten to visit him once more.

    For those of you who don't know who he was - here's a brief thumbnail. Derek Wakefield was the founder and head of the Earth Defence Command (EDC) Star Blazers fan club starting from about 1982.

    If anyone could be said to be the founder of North Texas Anime fandom, the guy who really got the ball rolling initially - it's Derek.

    And because the EDC existed, Project A-Kon - the oldest national and ongoing anime convention in North America came to be.

    He actually had no direct hand in that convention, having resigned from the EDC in 1987. But if not for the core of fans and friendships that he started via the EDC, then A-Kon would never have been - or at least happened much later than it did (or under a different name).

    He resigned the EDC leadership largely because the EDC became a general anime fan club and he actually had somewhat less interest in anime that wasn't Yamato related. He was a fan of a few other shows and OVAs - such as Area 88 and Harlock and other shows that Leiji Matsumoto had a hand in creating. But he felt he was a fifth wheel in the larger EDC by the late 80s.

    Even so - he kept up correspondences and friendships and contacts across anime fandom. And when anything Yamato related popped up, he was there - if not in person, than at least being available as a knowledgeable source.

    And BOY was he knowledgeable! His knowledge and near perfect recall of everything in the classic Yamato series of TV shows and movies from 1974 to 1983 was uncanny. We even poked a bit of fun with him over the years because his study of the Space Battleship Yamato was SO THOROUGH that he actually had found some of the HEADS (toilets) in the deckplans!

    In the mid-90s, when Tim Eldred and Bruce Lewis - two other mega-fans of Yamato - and comic-book artists/creators - got tapped by Voyager Studios to produce an official Star Blazers comic book, they contacted their friend and "Yamato-Guru" Derek Wakefield, to help vet their continuity and give feedback on the scripts before the comics were made. In turn, Derek contacted Jeff Blend, Fred Kopetz myself and a couple of others to assist him with this, since he valued our opinions as well and wanted to give Bruce and Tim the most balanced critiques possible. The half-dozen or so of us dubbed ourselves - jokingly - "The Talmudic Scholars of Yamato" but our semi-official name (and acknowledged in the comic book credits) was "The Iscandar Group".

    Ultimately the Star Blazers comic went 12 issues before the forces of the mid-90s comic book distributor crisis essentially killed it. But it was a heady time.

    Throughout the mid 80s to the early 2000s, Derek could be found most often in his "Office" - the garage attached to his house. When myself, Bruce Lewis and others were going to college it was a regular hang-out. Back before his health got bad, you could almost always find him in that garage of his, typing stories or articles on his ancient Amiga. There was a large handmade sign on the inside of the Garage Door that for many years read "The Deadbeat Club" in both reference to a favorite B-52s song and ironic acknowledgement of the situation we were all in when it came to our college years. The garage saw a lot of friends pass through and hang out. I think many of us just naturally gravitated there to hang out at one time or another. I think I can recall times when despite the clutter you'd have as many as 5-6 people in there just hanging out and being fans and talking, arguing and laughing the night away.

    I remember many times, extremely late night, like midnight or later, just popping by to see if he was up - and usually he was - and we'd talk about his latest project. Or one of mine. Or just pop a videotape in and watch Yamato or some random thing.

    And even when we moved away from Denton, we'd sometimes make the trip back on occasion. Sometimes me and Jeff Blend would just do an impromptu "ROAD TRIP" to Denton to visit Derek. He had several friends up in Denton, but he was always glad to see us. No matter what the insane hour we might pop in.

    I truly believe that Derek and "The Garage" was to North Texas Star Blazers fandom in the 80s and 90s what Pancho Barnes' Happy Bottom Riding Club was for the test pilots at Edwards Air Force base in the 40s - 50s - Low rent, ramshackle, but the right slice of unpresupposing heaven for those in the know. If you loved Yamato or Star Blazers - this was the place to be if you could get there.

    And now for the flip-side and some brutal honesty.

    There is indeed a lot of history and good memories involved with Derek. But he did have his faults - chief among which was that he had no real drive for his own sake. He had found the thing in life that he wanted to concentrate on and that was that. He lived in that world of Yamato and all his interests - his love of WWII history, jet fighters, and aerospace in general, battleships, carriers, naval warfare and aviation and a number of other odd assortment of hobbies were all tied into that world on some level. He had his niche and he wasn't going to change. I always wished he could see that he could get himself out of that rut - do something with his life - but keep his world at the same time. He just wasn't interested.

    And that's ultimately what killed him really. He never concentrated on his health when it would have done him some real good. He had nagging ailments going way back to even the time I first met him. Nothing serious when he was in his 20s and could bounce back from anything. But he never really took care of himself the way he should have and it just piled up until it reached critical mass about 6-7 years ago.

    Part of the reason I drifted away - if I'm totally honest, is that it broke my heart to see where I knew he was going and I couldn't bear to see the decline. I preferred to think of him as he was during the good days. I kept in touch with him via email and other means. But I hadn't actually seen him in person since around 2004 or so. When I finally did see what had become of him as his health really declined I was in shock. He had mentioned ongoing health concerns, but I didn't really see how bad it was until early this year.

    He did a lot of good for a lot of people via organizing anime fandom and being a sweet and kind guy and a good friend to all. But he didn't do much good for himself. And he's gone way too soon. He was only 51.

    But as I said above - he influenced or touched many people's lives for the better. On facebook and elsewhere a common theme seems to be "if not for Derek, I wouldn't be where I am" or "I wouldn't have met my wife" or "I wouldn't have had all these wonderful friends" or "I wouldn't have gotten into Anime Fandom". Some people's professional careers were made in part because of him.

    He brought so many of us who in the early 80s thought we were alone in our love of Star Blazers and anime in touch with each other. Made it cool to geek out on this stuff. Gave us a kind of "home". Then, like many a good mentor or parent - let us go our own ways.

    As one friend, Bryan Powell put it: "In ways I'm not sure he fully realized; he really did embody the ideal that, "one person can make a difference" and that's something we'll always be grateful for."

    If you can touch people's lives and even indirectly make them better, than I can think of few better epitaphs one could have.

    I miss those days. And I miss my friend.

    Sayonara Derek. Till we all meet again beyond Heroes Hill.

    At the end of their watch,
    Each captain enters the undiscovered country.
    We honor those have gone before
    And with passion and dedication
    Charted our course across the sea of stars.
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    Joined: Wed Apr 16, 2014 6:42 pm

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