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A Tribute to ''Big Dan'' 1972-2014 by kevinbolk A Tribute to ''Big Dan'' 1972-2014 by kevinbolk

Have you ever had a good friend whose appearance marked a major turning point in your life? A person you knew to be important to you, but who was ultimately one of the most impactful people in your life? For me, that person was Dan Taraschke, known to many of us as “Big Danny T” or “Big Dan.” 

I met Big Dan in the summer 1996 at one of the first Otakon anime conventions. I was 16 and I had just gotten into Japanese animation thanks to Sci-Fi Channel and the old Books Nippon retail catalog.  My parents dropped me off at the Hunt Valley Inn and I explored the place like a wide-eyed orphan in a candy factory.  I brought with me a red cape and a crappy old Beetlejuice wig in a pretty sad attempt at a Tetsuo (from Akira) costume.  Of course, no one recognized me and I had no friends there but this didn’t dampen the joy of being around fellow otaku and being exposed to my new anime-hobby in all its glory.  After a while though, a loneliness settled in and I decided to quietly retreat to a video room to sulk for a bit and watch some music videos.  That was where I met Big Dan.

He was a giant of a man (especially to a 16 year old kid) with blonde hair, bright blue eyes and a Terry Bogard costume from Fatal Fury (which I recognized from the tape I rented from Blockbuster Video.)  In that bright red vest and hat, he was the only other thing I could see in that dark video room, so I sat a few seats down from him.  He looked over and then hopped over to the seat next to me and said “Dude! Nice Tetsuo costume!” 

I beamed and shot back “Nice Terry Bogard!” He was glad I recognized him as well since he didn’t have a wig for Terry’s signature long blonde locks.  After the videos he introduced himself. He was a marine and this was maybe his 2nd or 3rd anime convention. While the staff was trying to find the tapes for the next program, we chatted about Fatal Fury and our shared love for Ranma ½, Dominion Tank Police, and Project A-Ko.  There was a music video with an anime I thought looked cool but didn’t recognize. He told me it was Dragonball Z and a couple of his friends were actually going to enter the costume contest as characters from it.  He asked me if I was going to enter as well. “In a crappy Tetsuo costume only one person recognized? I’d never win.”, I told him. 

He smiled and said “You don’t enter to win. You do it to have fun.” He offered to do a skit where he would heckle me and then I could pretend to strangle him with my crazy Akira powers.  I was delighted at the idea and when we went out there, the audience loved it. Of course, we didn’t win anything but, like Dan said, it didn’t matter.  At the end of the day, Big Dan gave me his email address and I went home with a fire for anime and conventions my little belly could barely contain. 

For weeks afterwards, I told all my family and peers about it and I just couldn’t stop talking about “Dan, my Marine friend.” This was a big deal to me because Dan was not only my first anime convention friend; he was also my first adult friend who treated me like an equal (being friends with a 20-something was very impressive to 16 year old with a very small social circle.)

Keeping in touch with him, Dan told me his next convention was going to be Katsucon 3 in Virginia Beach in a few months.  I thought I wouldn’t be able to go, but for Christmas my parents surprised me with a con badge and a promise from my dad that he’d sew me a Ranma Saotome costume.  Both of these things were dreams come true for me at the time and, with bright new costume in hand, Dad drove me to VA Beach that March. I got to see Big Dan again and he introduced me to a number of folks who have since become some of my closest friends. He had to go off and prepare for the evening’s events (which it turned out would involve him dressed as Sailor Uranus…good times) leaving me alone to wander the halls and show off my new Ranma costume. I beamed with pride over it, a feeling that was only amplified when another older fellow asked me if I wanted to join in on a big group skit his was doing and for which he needed a good Ranma Saotome cosplayer. He told me where to meet and at the appointed time I rushed over there with youthful anticipation. When I arrived, however, I saw that he had gathered a pretty large group—one that included a “better”, skinnier Ranma. He thanked me for coming out but that they were covered and that I didn’t need to be there. I left; utterly devastated. I began the slow walk back to my hotel room where I was going to tell my Dad that this wasn’t fun any more and that I wanted to go home.

That was when Big Dan found me again. He asked me what was wrong and after I relayed the whole story, he told me he knew a few other Ranma 1/2 cosplayers who could use me and some skit ideas.  I reluctantly agreed.  That faithful meeting completely saved the convention experience for me. We put on a fun little Ranma skit I wrote and I even got to show off my Color Guard skills. And when all was said and done, that event turned out to be ten times more fun and amazing than the first. The rest of the weekend was spent partying with my new friends, especially Big Dan. From then on, I was utterly hooked on the con scene and over the next couple years I introduced a number of my school friends to the hobby and we formed our own cosplay group “The Ranma Troop.”  We had a lot of fond memories going to conventions, costuming, and performing skits, many of which Big Dan was involved with in one way or another. Being in that scene, I made a lot of great friends and connections that have stuck with me to this day.  Even though I eventually transitioned to art and comics instead of cosplay, I still make a significant portion of my living these days at conventions. None of this would have been possible without Dan lighting the way when I was younger.

Through those years, Big Dan came out for just about every single one of my birthday parties. He took me along on a road trip to Texas for Project A-Kon as my high school graduation present. We did skits together, worked on costumes together, MC’ed con events together, made stupid videos together, all sorts of stuff.  He was always so excited to be involved in new projects with his friends and his enthusiasm was infectious.  When I turned 21, we toasted my first legal drink at a for-realz hotel bar. He even introduced me to some of my favorite media: Giant Robo (my all-time favorite anime), and Patton Oswalt (my all-time favorite comedian), just to name a few. 

In the days before I would step back from the cosplay scene, I wrote a sketch-comedy movie called “Otaku in Space.”  At a New Years party I was hosting, I read the finished script to my friends in attendance, including Big Dan. I think I heard that goofy high pitched giggle of his more times that night then I had the entire time I’d known him (and that was A LOT.)  We filmed a couple of scenes for it (including Dan as “Michael Fuller: Demon Exterminator”) but the movie was never actually finished. 

A year or two later, I visited Dan’s area to play Laser Tag with his local friends. When I pulled up, he hadn’t arrived yet but I saw a group of people waiting in front of the building. I didn’t recognize any of their faces, but what I DID recognize was that they were quoting lines from the “Otaku in Space” script like it was their favorite Monty Python sketch.  I was floored. It turned out Big Dan had just about memorized the entire thing and had been quoting it to the locals for years. When he finally showed up, he beamed with pride as he introduced me as the person who wrote that stuff.  Like I said, his enthusiasm was infectious.

Even when our paths weren’t directly linked, Big Dan was still incredibly supportive. He continued to be so after I gave up cosplay almost entirely to focus on my art career.  One of his favorite pieces I did was a shirt based on one of my webcomics, Punker Darren, that read “Violence is A-OK!” He would often wear it on video projects he was involved in and he always sent me pictures when he did. This continued as I began to make a name for myself. Dan picked up just about every book I published and he’d often send me notes when a particular comic really tickled his fancy. As I reached my thirties, I didn’t see Big Dan as much, but every con where we were both in attendance, he always made time to share a drink and catch up. On occasion when was in my area, he’d crash at my place and we’d talk about what “the next big thing” we were working on respectively. If we couldn’t actually hang out, we’d exchange notes on deviantArt or facebook. This was something that continued for as long as I knew him.

On November 1st 2014, I was actually doing a guest appearance at a Detroit anime convention (a place my life would have never taken me if not for Dan) when I received a text from a mutual friend. I stepped back from my table in the dealer’s area and collapsed into a chair behind it. My assistant asked what was wrong.  Wide-eyed and almost breathless, I whimpered “Big Danny T died in his sleep last night.”  I sat dumbfounded for a minute and then, like the whole universe punched me in the gut, I buckled over and bawled my eyes out. My heart had been shattered and, of all the places to be when the news dropped, I was an ANIME CONVENTION. I felt like Dorothy on another adventure in the Magical Land of OZ and I just found out a brain aneurism killed the Scarecrow.

The crying wouldn’t stop. I could barely hold it together and I had to do a workshop in less than 2 hours in which I had to talk about drawing adorable happy things.  I couldn’t do it. I felt like was going to throw up. It was widely agreed that it would be understandable if I canceled the workshop. But as I dried my eyes and caught my breath, I knew deep down that Dan would be really sad if I backed out on a chance to make others happy because of him.  Shaking and damming up rivers of tears, I went on and did that workshop.  When I got there, I told the audience I had some bad allergies and started the presentation. It hurt at first, but then a strange thing happened. Feeling all that positive energy and making a room full of people smile dulled the pain and suddenly I felt like that 16-year-old kid again. That same feeling I had when I got a laugh on that cosplay stage for the first time washed over me; all because a wonderful human being inspired me to get out there and shine. Dan, my Marine friend, had done it again.

More strangeness after I had gone back to the table: a number of my young artist and convention friends came by for some advice and/or encouragement.  In spite of a heavy heart, I did my best to support them the same way Big Dan always did for me. Doing so felt like he was standing right there next to me, a comfort and a big brother.  I’m still struggling with things, but that comfort keeps returning and I am holding onto it fondly even as I write this.

After his passing, a lot of folks shared their stories about Big Dan that weren’t all that different from my own. That was one of the amazing things about him. He had so many friends he cared deeply about and he was involved with a lot of people, but when he was with you he always made you feel like you were the most important person in his life.  It’s an amazing feeling to experience; and one that I’d love to pass along. In fact, that’s how I believe we should honor his memory. The world doesn’t have to get darker because Big Dan is no longer with us in body.  He left a little bit of fire, his enthusiasm, and his lust for life with each and every one of the people he cared about. And those thousand little lights could make the world a better and brighter place. That is, if we simply tended them by interacting with the world around us the same way he did.  Laugh a little louder. Rock a little harder. Drink deeply from the cup of life and then joyfully pass it around to everyone you meet. 

But most importantly, be a “Big Dan” for someone else. If possible, be a “Big Dan” to as many people as you can.  If there’s one thing the response to his passing has shown me, it’s that the most beloved and fondly remembered folks aren’t the ones who are simply great heroes in their own stories, but those who go out of their way to be amazing supporting characters in other people’s stories as well.  Big Dan changed my life and I know deep down to the essence of my being that if I can be half the friend to at least one other person that Big Dan was to everyone around him, I could leave this world content.  I only wish I had a chance to tell him that.

Yet it’s also important to remember another of Big Dan’s defining traits: he did not linger in sorrow for very long.  If there was anything that he was more excited about than whatever he was doing right at that moment, it was whatever he was going to do next.  His memory is alive and well in all of us and I look forward to taking it with me on our next big adventure. 

Thank you for everything you did for us, Big Dan, and for what you will continue to do in spirit.  We all love you so very much and we can’t wait to see you once we’re through the pre-reg line of that big anime convention in the sky.  Keep on calling, old friend. Keep on calling.

:iconbigdannyt:
Daniel Taraschke
1972-2014

Add a Comment:
 
:iconadrianeverett74:
ADRIANEVERETT74 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2015
It was my honor and privilege to personally know Big Danny T. I was with Norfolk, Virginia Rocky Horror Shadow Cast Fishnet Inc. I was Chucky as he was Eddie. Danny was a gentle giant of a man. A real nutcase when unleashed and a fierce fierce loyal friend to the end. Must be that Marine thing ! Loved being around him every chance I could. He was everyone's big brother in cast. Dan at one time entertained the idea of being a Pro Wrestler. When he dropped that idea, I would tease him that he tapped out. I got the usual strong response of "I got something you'll tap out to."

The day Danny was found dead, my mother was also found dead that very same morning. She died a day or two before Halloween 2014. But we all say it was November 1. I can't help but think humorously that they bumped into each other on the way over to the other side and I can hear Dan say is "Hey, aren't you Adrian's mom ?"

So Dan, Mom, yall hang loose and we will all see ya when we see ya ! Love yall !
Reply
:iconmaya998:
Maya998 Featured By Owner May 27, 2015
I'm afraid I never met him, however I know people like this. Sometimes it just takes someone stopping to help a random stranger and it can change both people's lives. I have several close friends I only met through dumb chance. Hang on to those memories so long as you do, part of him and what he did lives on in you. As silly. A strange thing I do have in common, one of these friends made me sit the heck down and watch Giant Robo. Funny how that goes eh? 
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:icongariandos:
Gariandos Featured By Owner May 22, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You're a strong man. I'm sure Big Dan's smiling down on you for the things you do.
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:iconbluecat-amber:
BlueCat-Amber Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
He sounds like an amazing person! RIP Big Dan
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:iconthreshie:
Threshie Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Awww. This both made me smile and left a big lump in my throat. Big Dan sounds like a wonderful friend, and it's a great tribute to him to explain how he affected your life in so many ways. The world needs more people that give those who are just starting out at something (like cosplay) a chance ad encouragement! I often encourage beginning artists in the same way. =)
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:iconvdthedragon:
VDtheDragon Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014
Rest in peace, Big Dan...
Reply
:iconblondetardis26:
BLONDETARDIS26 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2014
Wow, hope he's In a better place..
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:icondtjb:
DTJB Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for sharing.
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:iconmelissaduck:
melissaduck Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I am so sorry, man. Losing such a great friend... I can't even begin to imagine how painful that must be. My heart goes out to you, his other friends, and his family.
Reply
:iconayumi-fallassion:
Ayumi-Fallassion Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014  Student Artisan Crafter
Nekocon will always remember Big Danny T. He was a major presence for us as well, and it was not sad, but a much calmer convention this year with the knowledge that he was gone.
Reply
:iconkittykorkoza33:
KittyKorkoza33 Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Oh Kevin! </3 I'm so sorry to hear this has happened! 
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:icond-prototype:
D-Prototype Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Wish I could've met him.  He was definitely a great guy, indeed.
Reply
:iconmerrypsimon:
merrypsimon Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Never met Big Dan, but from what you've said about him, sounds like he was an amazing guy! I'm happy that he was such an impact on your life :) 

I'm very sorry for your loss, And everything you wrote and drew about him and for him is the perfect way to commemorate him
Reply
:iconelectricpoodle:
ElectricPoodle Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
My condolences to your loss...this is a beautiful tribute. 
Reply
:iconfairy-seraphim:
Fairy-Seraphim Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014
You know, I know someone kinda like Dan as well. He goes to just about every event and con in the area as well. Thing is, he's very enthusiastic, good spirited, and is friends with everyone. In fact, he's the reason why my brother got into anime conventions, which I suppose in turn affected me as well. Another thing about him is that every time I see him or talk to him, he seems like he's overjoyed to see me, and everyone else, even though I'm not really much more than an aquaintence. Honestly... his enthusiasm and passion for meeting people, sharing experiences, and always being in the midst of the action at the cons, though for the sake of just having a great time with anyone he meets... it's really a breath of fresh air, to say the very least. Really aren't enough people like him and Dan... but, I suppose that makes them just that more special. And a bigger example of enjoying everything and everyone in our lives.
Reply
:iconskiesdiaries:
SkiesDiaries Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014
So sorry for your loss. I went on his Deviantart page and liked the photos there. It's nice to see people like Daniel having a positive impact on your life and helping you motivate yourself. God knows there are some horrible and toxic humans on this planet who just love crushing other peoples' goals and interests. I have, and had, Big Dans in my lives. Some I have met, others that I didn't meet, but whose lives and stories have had a major impact on my life. Including one whose tragic story I will try to make a tribute to in my story.

RIP Daniel Taraschke.
Reply
:icontsuanimechan:
tsuanimechan Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Professional Filmographer
Wow it sounds like you had a great friend to look up to throughout your con journeys.  It must have been great to looking forward to seeing each time.  I'm glad that you were able to meet someone so wonderful at an anime con.  :D (Big Grin) 

It is certainly sad times now.  Hopefully things will get better within time. It sounds like the memories are amazing and he (as almost an older brother) helped contribute to make you who you are today (who we all adore on deviantart) and for that I applaud him and I applaud you for being amazing people Clap 

You my friend deserve a hug :hug:
Reply
:iconbmann0413:
bmann0413 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Hobbyist
He sounds like he was a really awesome and amazing guy. Wish I could've met him. :aww:
Reply
:icondragondoodle:
dragondoodle Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
A beautiful tribute. You are very lucky to have known him :nod: :iconsadhugplz:
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:iconhellionscythe:
HellionScythe Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014
-hug-
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:iconchelseadanger:
ChelseaDanger Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
RIP Big Dan, what a great friend.
Reply
:iconfixinman:
fixinman Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
A great tribute to a great friend. 
Reply
:iconrandomgirl1298:
randomgirl1298 Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm sorry for your loss.
Reply
:iconneogs99:
neogs99 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Hobbyist Filmographer
My sincerest condolences.
Reply
:iconcarriehowarth:
carriehowarth Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014   General Artist
Thank you so much for sharing this story.  I didn't have the honor of meeting him, but Big Dan sounds like he was an amazing person.
Reply
:iconrecnepsrc:
RECNEPSRC Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Student General Artist
As someone who knows what it's like to have someone die of similar circumstances recently, my heart goes out to you kevin. I've felt how you feel, and i hope you get well soon. Take all the time you need, hombre. You deserve it.
Reply
:icondrforrester87:
DrForrester87 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Student General Artist
I checked his profile on here and immediately saw the rock princess tribute and laughed a lot. He seemed like a great guy, my sympathies to all of you who knew him.
Reply
:icon14bj337:
14bj337 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014
He sounds like an amazing friend. So sorry for your loss.

But, thank you for the inspirational message. Too often, people treat each other with apathy or indifference. Perhaps if I could be a little more like Big Dan, I could make things better, y'know?

Thank you for sharing this.
Reply
:iconelena114:
Elena114 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I couldn't handle the tears...

What an amazing person you've known, and I'm sure he will stay next to you even if you don't see him. He will still present in your memories, laughs and emotions. He might not be physically anymore, but he had touched your heart and life, and anything will ever erase that. Beautiful drawing, so meaningful and everything you wrote is so touching that I even felt like I wish I had known him. 
Reply
:iconjessedurona:
JesseDuRona Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
He sounds like an amazing guy, Kevin. I'm so sorry for your loss, but I'm really glad to hear you're carrying on. 
Reply
:iconayujih:
ayujih Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014
I'm glad that you were able to meet such a wonderful friend and supportive brother.  My condolences to you and all the others for your loss but I'm glad to have heard about such a wonderful man and all the good that he did and shared with the world.
Reply
:iconpsychodemonfox:
PsychoDemonFox Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
My condolences. He sounded like a very nice person, and a good friend. But as long as you still have those memories of all the good times, he'll still be there. And nothing can ever take that way from you.
Reply
:iconninjaheart:
NinjaHeart Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014
It sounded like he meant a lot to you.  I wasn't familiar with him before now, but I wish I could have known him.
Reply
:iconthegutterbunny:
TheGutterBunny Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Oh god this nearly brought me to tears....
Reply
:iconmighty-hetz:
Mighty-Hetz Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
He sounded like he was a true gem of a friend.
Reply
:iconstarlighthawk:
StarlightHawk Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's an amazing person right there, a true friend if I ever heard one.  The pic is awesome, it definitely reflects the joy and optimism he had, even his grip on the belt looks like a thumbs up.  Thanks for sharing this with us K-Bo.
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:iconedokage:
Edokage Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
My condolences.
Reply
:icondoppelgangergrl:
doppelgangergrl Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
I'm so sorry for your loss, but I really glad you shared this story.  I like the "Be a Big Dan" bit, sounds like it should be an inspirational poster or shirt :) People like him add so much to the world :hug: He's gone much too early, but I suppose the world could only take so much awesome in one sitting.
Reply
:iconrobertcr:
RobertCR Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm sorry for your loss. People like him will always live on in life, even after death.
Reply
:iconrechenka:
Rechenka Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
It's a beautiful real life story, I cried too.

It makes me happy knowing about good people like Dan.
Reply
:iconroseserpenthelm:
RoseSerpenthelm Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Oh my god, this made me cry

While I am dreadfully sorry for yours and everyone's loss, I hope he is happier now, entertaining all he befriends in the afterlife
Reply
:iconfeurdelis:
Feurdelis Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
That may have been the most touching story I heard in years. I'm truly sorry for your loss, I could only imagine how difficult it is to lose such a friend like him. But he'll always live on, in your heart.
Reply
:iconteddyberry5:
teddyberry5 Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Sorry for your loss. He sounded like an amazing person who touched many people's lives.
Reply
:iconbluerobbin:
bluerobbin Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
What a sweet guy, may he rest in peace
Reply
:iconunsunkenhedgehog101:
UnsunkenHedgehog101 Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I am so sorry, he sounds like an amazing person. My condolences.
Reply
:iconold-marcie1234:
Old-Marcie1234 Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
I am sorry, sir.
Reply
:iconmuttthecartoonist:
MuttTheCartoonist Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
(shakes your hand) A eulogy he'd have been proud of, Kevin. Sorry for your loss, but I'm proud of you for keeping the spirit of Big Dan alive. The world's a better place for guys like you two.
Reply
:iconchaoni:
Chaoni Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
My sincere condolences. Handing out the support he sold for such a low price as free sounds like something he'd want you to do.
Reply
:iconstylecheetah:
stylecheetah Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
My condolences. 
Reply
:iconnickyvendetta:
NickyVendetta Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
My condolences :(
Reply
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