Tajh Morris speaks with the two artists behind The Book of Drexciya Volume 1.
With the help of anime writer and Japanese techno luminary Dai Sato, Haqq has brought the richly detailed Drexciyan backstory to the next level of culture. The Book Of Drexciya Volume 1, released earlier this year, is a graphic novel revealing Haqq's expanded vision of Drexciya's mythological history. Below, both authors give a little insight into past and future of The Book Of Drexciya.
What have you been doing during lockdown? How is the pandemic affecting your day to day?
Abdul: Pretty much just laying low in my basement. Concentrating on art projects and the early stages of working on The Book Of Drexciya Volume 2. I really miss being able to go out and listen to good music. Meeting the few friends I have. Traveling to other countries.
Dai: As anyone in the writing profession who writes for a living like me, I usually work from home anyway, so I was living my life without being greatly affected by the lockdown. I no longer even have to go to the animation studios due to the fact that all the meetings now take place online. However, while I had three films that I wrote the script for this year, all of their launches have been postponed. And with two of them, we still have no clue when they will be released. Those were the main effects on me.
Abdul, when did you start drawing and know that you wanted to make a career of it?
Abdul: I started drawing in the mid-'70s as a young boy. I knew I wanted to make a career of it when I was in high school. Probably around junior year.
Dai, at what age did you start writing? How did you get into writing scripts for anime?
Dai: I began my career as a broadcasting script writer at the age of 18, working in media such as television variety shows and radio. I also started working as a writer for music magazines as well as for game magazines during the time when I was working for a company called Game Freak, which made Pokémon games. Later on, I wrote lyrics for idol songs and anime theme songs (such as Dragon Ball Z, Macross Plus, etc.)
Then the director Shinichiro Watanabe of Macross Plus invited me to develop the story setting of a new film, and that's how I got involved in Cowboy Bebop. He asked me if I wanted to try writing a screenplay during that process, so that turned into my first anime script work.
When and how did each of you discover techno music?
Abdul: I was introduced to techno in the early '80s listening to Kraftwerk and Cybotron. The Electrifying Mojo introduced me to a lot of the early techno when I was in high school.
Dai: My first introduction to electronic music was while I was in elementary school when YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra) was gaining mass popularity. Then later on, when I was covering the popular Japanese bands at the time for music magazines, I learned about the Manchester scene from some of the band members I met. Which made me visit London, Sheffield, Manchester, Berlin, etc. in the late '80s and early '90s. My first encounter with techno as a real dance music came when I went to clubs on those trips (such as The Brain, Ministry Of Sound in London, Hacienda in Manchester, Tresor and E-Werk in Berlin.)
Abdul, when did you meet James and Donald (Drexciya)?
Abdul: I met James in the early '90s. A few of the times I was at the original Submerge, he would be there as well. I met Gerald later in Japan at a temple.
Dai, You were one of the founders of Frogman Records with Kengo Watanabe in the early '90s, can you tell us about the label? How did it turn into FROGNATION and what made that different?
Dai: I discovered techno as dance music and started going to clubs more often. There I met some of my fellow music writers who were going out the same way. At the time [early '90s], artists like Ken Ishii and Susumu Yokota were making their debuts on European record labels. We found out that there were many other active techno artists in Tokyo, but there were not so many labels that could release their music on vinyl. So we decided to start our own label together with a few friends. Around the same time, a number of labels were founded simultaneously in Osaka and Fukuoka as well as in Tokyo.
While other labels were mostly run by artists, since we were also music journalists, we were able to call for demo submissions through magazines and maintain consistent releases. After a few years of operation, I decided to create an agency called Frognation because I had debuted as a screenwriter while running the music label, and I thought it would be easier to differentiate my work if I kept the label management and screenwriting as separate windows.
Can you tell us about Story Riders? How is this project different from your previous ventures?
Dai: While I focused more on screenwriting work, we decided to create our own agency specializing in screenwriting with a few other fellow screenwriters. Unlike Frogman Records and Frognation, we specialize in planning and writing screenplays for animation, games and other visual projects.
Abdul, how did the idea for the graphic novel come about, and how did Tresor get involved?
Abdul: The idea came about when I tried to start a comic company six or seven years ago. I wanted to create an undersea hero and thought of the characters I created for Neptune's Lair. I created a story of the first king and the first generation of Drexciyans. I approached Tresor, as some of the most definitive Drexciya albums were released on the label, including Neptune's Lair.
How much input did Gerald Donald have?
Abdul: Not much at all. He pretty much just let me tell the story how I saw it.
How did Dai become part of the project?
Abdul: I initially thought of two different people to help finish writing the story—a writer from Detroit and also Dai Sato. Dai was instantly interested in the idea, for which I am very grateful.
Dai: 15 or 16 years ago, a music writer Tsutomu Noda, who knew I was into UR's music, introduced me and Haqq* to each other because he was also into Cowboy Bebop and other anime that I was involved with.
From that point on, because we liked each other's work, we started to hang out a lot whenever he was in Japan. We had talked about working together someday, and a few years ago we made an independent art book that combined his drawings with the story developed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of Cowboy Bebop. I also asked Haqq-san to design the guest characters for a story I worked on as a scriptwriter for Watanabe's Space Dandy. We also made a short video for his comic project as Story Riders together with Watanabe. So, after having collaborated several times now, he invited me to work on his book this time which I happily accepted and participated.
*Translator note: everyone in Japan who knows Abdul calls him "Haqq"
What kind of music were each of you listening to while working on the book?
Abdul: It took over a year so a lot of music during that time. Electro, techno, drum & bass, classical, jazz and old-school and avant-garde hip-hop.
Dal: Drexciya's Harnessed the Storm, Neptune's Lair, The Quest, Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller.