Julia Mechler Takes Us Through Time with Hymn of the Teada
Time doesn’t work the same for all. As an imminent invasion looms over old Ryukyu, the high priestesses are engaged by Ryotetsu, a court official in the old kingdom. He embarks on a mission to find the one with the power to change the course of history, and discovers it’s a 17-year-old high schooler from far away.
One of the debut series from Heavy Metal‘s Virus imprint Hymn of the Teada was created by Julia Mechler, written by Morgan Rosenblum and Matthew Medney, featuring art by Santa Fung, color by Julia Pinchuck, and lettering by Voodoo Bownz.
We got a chance to talk to Julia about this brand new series and how much it’s based in reality.
Graphic Policy: Where did the concept for Hymn of the Teada come from?
Julia Mechler: The concept of the Hymn of the Teada, in many ways, comes from my upbringing and roots in Okinawa. It is a tiny island off the southern tips of Japan, which used to be a kingdom, just like Hawaii, before being annexed to Japan. Okinawa has a peculiar history and culture, which has not been conveyed well to the rest of the world. I wanted to make use of the creativity of today’s Okinawa (Japan) to convey Okinawa’s culture and history.
Right after I graduated from college I worked at an anime/video game company in California as a motion graphic designer. During that time I felt the representation of Japan from the anime was lacking in true colors of diversity in Japan. I saw many Samurais, Kendo, and other traditional mainland Japanese cultural themed anime, but none about Okinawa.
Since I practiced Okinawan traditional dance since my childhood, and loved hearing the mythologies of the Ryukyu Kingdom, I wanted the focus to be on traditional performing arts and the myths. In order to fully convey the uniqueness and the interesting side of them, I thought it will make sense to show the history of Okinawa, when it used to be the Ryukyu Kingdom. I didn’t want the story to be just about the history, so I decided the characters who are living in the current world will need to travel back in time to make it more relatable and interesting.
GP: The story is steeped in Japanese and Chinese mythology and history. How much research went into the series?
JM: I think that history and mythology is a tremendously rich resource for creativity. A lot of research was put into them as I was forming the concept. When I just moved back to Okinawa to start this project, I needed to get a job on the island. I thought, if I had to work, might as well work at a place where I can fully research the history of Okinawa. So I worked with the foundation that managed all the history/art museums and the old castle from the Ryukyu Kingdom (Shurijo Castle). There I worked with the Research team where I was able to get hands on with the ancient artifacts, scripts, scrolls, art pieces, and even saw the excavation sites where archeologists were unearthing the ancient coins and jewelries. I also spoke with history professors to get the facts correctly with the timeline of the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
GP: Was there anything about this time period that surprised you?
JM: Along the research, there were lots of surprises. According to the account written by Basil Hall, a captain of the Navy from the UK who visited the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 1800s, people of the Ryukyus possessed no weapons nor army. They strictly relied on diplomacy. When he reported to Napoleon, he did not believe such country could exist. In addition to that, as I read through the journal of the last king of the Ryukyu (King Sho-Tai 1843-1901), the king described in details how his court officials have warned him that the Japanese Imperial Army was going to come to the Ryukyus to take over and conquer the island. Instead of arming for defense, he ordered everybody to go to the prayer sites to pray to God. That really surprised me as it is difficult to understand the concept of being completely disarmed and choosing a path without war in such situation. As a result of him not fighting back, the lives of the Ryukyuan people were saved as the Japanese Imperial Army only had to take the king away and occupy the castle.
GP: How did the team come together for the comic?
JM: I am truly grateful for having been able to put together a truly global, diverse, and talented team thanks to this project. I have to thank Matt (CEO of HERO and Heavy Metal) for introducing me to his wonderful production team. Matt and Morgan (creator of Treadwater and CCO of HERO Projects) brought the concept I had to a beautiful script, and that became the foundation of Hymn of the Teada. The artists visualized what I had in mind beyond my expectations. The characters became alive and the Shurijo Castle which has burned down from last year’s fire was revived.
GP: The comic is one of the debut series from Heavy Metal’s Virus imprint. What drew you to Virus and how does it feel to be one of the launch titles for something that’s so new?
JM: I’m very excited to be part of the launch titles for Virus! I was drawn to this because I already know that whatever the CEO Matt does will be exciting and fun and also I liked the title of it. It turned the name “Virus” which can be so depressing with the current outbreak, to something positive and exciting. I was feeling down for the past few months as I work in the entertainment industry and all of my big projects in NY and Vegas has been postponed, but when I was told about the Virus, I thought it as a great opportunity for not just myself but for all creators.
GP: I got a bit of a Studio Ghibli vibe from reading the first two chapters. What influences were there on the story?
JM: Ghibli is always my favorite and its series have affected my creative thoughts. I love all the little creatures in Ghibli and the nostalgic feeling I get from watching Ghibli anime. I wanted to incorporate some of the elements from Ghibli such as the little Shisas in Maka’s room. In addition to that, I think it is interesting how they are able to show the social problems or political issues without describing them directly into their stories. While it is nice to be known as a popular resort destination in Asia, I wanted to shed a little light to Okinawa’s complicated history and political situation just how Ghibli does with difficult social and political issues.
GP: The story involves time travel and there’s a lot of different ways for time travel and timelines to work. Did you come up with your own? Any rules the reader should know about?
JM: During the brainstorming phase of the story, I thought about having Maka to time travel through the cave under the Shurijo Castle which was used to do religious rituals to pray and make offering to the God of the Ryukyu. After discussing with the team, we realized that the use of cave limits the location of the time traveling. Another way we came up with was using a magical stone to time travel, as many worshipping sites in Okinawa has large rock formations and stones. There is a belief that rocks or stones can emit some sort of energy. We also wanted to make it more interesting by limiting the numbers of the time travel, so Maka cannot go back and forth easily. Therefore we came up with the rule that only by breaking the stone in half you can travel in time. When you can no longer break the stone in half, you’ll no longer be able to travel in time.
GP: The art is fantastic and the design of the characters in the past to me feel authentic (not that I really know this history). What research went into the outfits and design of the buildings of the 1800s? Was it important to try to be accurate?
JM: I wanted to be as accurate as possible. When I worked at a foundation who managed the history museums, I was able to look at the picture scrolls, paintings, and clothing that were made during that era. The foundation also managed the castle (world heritage site) which unfortunately has burned down due to a massive fire last year. I wanted the audience to know how the castle looked like so I wanted to be as accurate as possible. Although most costumes are accurate, I made changes to the main characters’ costumes so they stand out from the rest of the characters.
GP: The real history of the region seems to be a lot of tension between China and Japan with Ryukyu caught in between. There’s still a lot of tension in the region today and I was wondering if that crossed your mind at all while creating this?
JM: The tension has definitely crossed my mind. Growing up, there were always political tensions (constant protests around the US military base, etc) on the island as it is the host to 75% of the US military bases in Japan. My father was in the US Air Force, and my mother is Okinawan. Growing up in an American Okinawan bicultural family gave me a unique perspective on the political tensions in Okinawa, which led me to study a lot about WW2, Okinawa’s history, and the relationship between Okinawa and mainland Japan. I thought Hymn of the Teada could be the “bridge” between the different cultures and countries. I wanted show how we should learn from history and think what we as individuals can do for the future, instead of repeating it. I want the readers to think what we can do for the future to solve political or social issues.
GP: The issues are coming out digitally. Did you make any changes to the series to play off of the digital aspect at all?
JM: I assumed from the beginning that this series will be distributed digitally, so I didn’t have to add any changes. I do hope to make this into an anime series someday.
GP: Any other projects coming up?
JM: Right now I’m still working on completing the Hymn of the Teada series. I’m hoping I can finish the series by next year. After Hymn of the Teada, I’m thinking of making a series completely different with a more realistic drama type of story, with the element of Okinawa in there.