Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Interview with Fixer creators, Roger Shackelford and Danny Kang


1:  Thank you for this opportunity. To begin, please tell us how you were first introduced to the J-Rock and Visual Kei scene? 

 Roger: I sprinkled in it here and there in high school. My first exposure to it was a brief lesson in my 10th grade history class about Japan where X Japan was mentioned, then later that summer hearing L`arc~en~ciel on the Final Fantasy: Spirits Within soundtrack. But my first true exposure wasn't until I entered college. I got snowed in at my old friend Don's dorm back in January of 2004. We were both huge fans of goth music and were looking to pass time. He turns to me and says “Have you ever heard of Japanese goth?”. I say “who the fuck are you kidding”, as the thought was inconceivable at the time. He threw in the PV of Malice Mizer's Beast of Blood, and the rest is history.

 Danny: Being Korean, I grew up with K-pop but was really searching for new music by the beginning of high school. I was developing as an artist at the time, and began to feel a lack of “satisfaction,” if you will, from pop. I began getting into with some Korean Rock such as the band “Eve,” the closest Korea had to visual rock at the time. From there, I got into Japanese Rock, which led to Gackt and Malice Mizer, which in turn opened up the world of Visual Kei to me. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve found it” the first time I listened to Gackt.

2:  Could you give us a brief history lesson on how Tainted Reality came to be?

  Roger: The seeds for TR were pretty much planted on that day. I was a college radio DJ at the time, looking to play something unique. I was going in thinking “OMG I'm going to expose so many people to In Flames, Lacuna Coil, HIM, CKY”, because people in my high school really only listened to what was on MTV. Well, people in college were a little more cultured, and I was almost disappointed that everyone already seemed to know about these bands. So I started looking for something new, while teaming up with my old friend Andrew Wieler to start my first radio show The Temple of Sephiroth. It was mainly video game music, sprinkled with hard rock and metal, but I wanted to do something that truly no one has heard. After my trip to Don's, I found that. TTOS started playing J-Rock and VK, which complimented the hard rock and metal much better. The following year TTOS got moved to the Sunday night 7-10pm slot and we changed our name to Bad Transitions. This was about when the VK portion of our show exploded. Through out the year, Bad Transitions grew in popularity due to our VK play selection, which became off putting to Andrew and my other co-hosts as they grew disdain for it. It eventually got to a point where 90% of our listenership was there specifically for VK which was inadvertently pushing my friends to the side. I decide to leave the show after that year and in late summer 2005, we had the first broadcast of Tainted Reality.

3:  What is the significance behind the name “Tainted Reality”?

 Roger: A central theme in my writing is the idea of someone's perception of reality being altered in some way. At that time in America, the idea of J-Rock and VK getting any real support besides being a deep underground fan movement seemed not only unlikely, but impossible. This show would become one of the few, and really on of the only, FM broadcast radio shows to play VK. It was as if the fans were characters in the story, and the existence of such a show was something they never thought possible. Thus, Tainted Reality.

4:  Roger, as the head of Tainted Reality, what are some of the most difficult challenges that your job entails? 

 Roger: Right now, its finding ways to keep people vested in VK. With the rise of K-pop and the decline of creativity in VK itself, its really hard to keep fan interest. But there still are some truly stellar artists out there that deserve our support, and thats what we are trying to get across.

5:  And what do you consider the most satisfying part of your work? 

 Roger: Simply filling a venue and hearing that crowd roar when that band steps out on stage.

6:  You've brought several artists to the US over the years. What have been some of your favorite experiences with these artists?

 Roger: There are always in-jokes that develop on every tour. Sometimes they are simple jabs at a band member, to something as oddball as Chicken McNuggets. I really love the camaraderie that develops between band and staff, as it really helps to create a much more friendly atmosphere.

7:  Tainted Reality does a lot of work with Starwave Records. Could you tell our readers a little bit about this relationship?

 Roger: Kiwamu was the first artist I ever worked with. We both had major ambitions and felt that by working together, we could achieve those. To date, TR has done nearly 20 conventions and tours with Starwave artists. Kiwamu and I have a fantastic working relationship, and through this, we have been able to accomplish a lot in this scene. TR wouldn't be where it is today without Kiwamu and Starwave Records.

8:  Last year at Nekocon you debuted Rose Noire's Duel Evil PV. What was it like to direct a PV?

 Roger: PV direction was actually what I wanted to do from the beginning. I had originally approached BLOOD several times to make one, but for various reasons we couldn't make things work. I tried making one for 2 Bullet in 2009, but technical difficulties prevented its completion. Finally, I decided in 2010 that I was finally going to make one for Rose Noire come hell or high water! This became much more real after meeting Blue Core Studios at Magfest in 2011. They were impressed with RN's music and my ideas for the PV, and agreed to produce it and co-direct it as it was my first production. The end result exceeded all of our expectations and it remains as one of the works I am most proud of in my career.

9:  What was the inspiration behind it?

 Roger: I don't know if I'm at liberty to discuss it, but it had to do with things personally happening to lead singer, Louie, at the time. I don't think he even knows that I used those events in his life as inspiration, but I'd rather not disclose it unless he says its ok.

10:  What other songs/bands would you love to direct a PV for if given the chance? 

 Roger: VK music videos are just awful. Completely fucking atrocious these days. They all consist of a stylized performance of the song, sometimes with a gimmick, and that's it. They portray nothing. They are not an extension of the song. No imagery, no plot, nothing. Many bands blame budget. The PV for Dual Evil was more than affordable and if ANY VK band wants a PV of similar quality, I and Blue Core Studios will gladly work for them.

Oh, but I would stab a stranger in the eye with a butter knife to work with Buck-Tick on a PV.

11:  On November 26th 2011 Tainted Reality hosted the “Kabuki Stomp” event – could you give us a ‘behind the scenes’ on what it took to make Kabuki Stomp possible? 

 Roger: A lot of money. Also, a ton of help came from my good friend, DJ Mighty Mike Saga. It was my first club event, and he was a real guiding light in making it happen. Unfortunately, I am not sure if we can do it again as the fan base is too young, and the bar guarantee destroyed us. What a bar guarantee is that you have to promise the venue that they will sell a certain amount of alcohol. If they don't reach that promised amount, you owe the difference. I was happy with the turn out for the event... but a majority of the attendees were under 21 and we had a $2000 bar... we came no where close to it. TR owed the difference and it has made the production of our comic book Fixer, and future touring incredibly difficult as we are still recovering to this day.

12:  Kabuki Stomp had a strong “east meets west” concept - can we expect Tainted Reality to host another event with this concept in the near future?

 Roger: I would love to, but we would have to find a way to make it a much less significant financial risk.

13:  Could you tell us a little bit about your web comic Fixer and what you hope to accomplish with this project?

 Roger: Fixer is a story I have been working on for nearly half of my life now. It is a realistic story that attempts to dive into the psychology of what it's like to be in a rock band. It gathered dust for years until 2008 when I decided to do something more than just radio or tours. It took years of searching, but I finally found an artist who matched my vision and work ethic in Danny Kang. Even though it takes place in the past, I want it to be a fresh take on the concept of “visual kei”. Now a days, so many bands in VK share similar sounds and looks. I want it to be a fresh perspective on what can be VK and breathe some new life into the scene. Personally... really, this comic is something I just want to make a living on. I am forced to take on a day job to keep TR afloat, and I would really like that day job to be something more along the lines of what I want to do in life, and that's entertain people.

14:  You’ve given away physical copies of Fixer for contests - are there any plans to regularly release Fixer in print form? 

 Roger: Too financially risky. We really don't have the fan base yet to support that. But we have started doing prints of the prologue and first chapters for conventions to help spread the word. Those limited prints have been successful, but outside of that, there isn't enough of a demand yet. We need to expand our fan base more.

15:  Roger, the chapters seem very well thought out. Have you had any previous experience with writing?

 Roger: Just fan fiction really. I never really took any formal writing courses. I just dedicate myself to writing a good story. Though a lot of that comes from me asking Danny to always challenge me. I do not want to suffer from Lucas syndrome.

16: Danny, when you first got “hired on” as illustrator for Fixer did you already have mental images of what the characters would look like or was it something discussed between you two?

 Danny: Roger went through several artists before I was hired to work on this project, so the main characters were already somewhat established. I then took those drawings and re-imagined them in my own style to create the current look of the band members in costume. Any and all side characters were completely original though.

17:  Fixer is predicted to be released one chapter a month for the next 6 years. Do you already know what each chapter is going to be or will the story be made up as it goes along?

 Roger: We have the entire story planned out from start to finish, and a hard idea of what we will be doing for the next 27 chapters. However, following the release of chapter 13 (the conclusion of the first story arc), we will have to take an indefinite hiatus. The production costs for Fixer have really set me back and I cannot afford to produce it anymore as a free publication. We plan on using this time to actively find a publisher so we can get Fixer into comic book stores and make it a living. We also want to put some money aside to try and tour the comic around. Trying to get artist alley booths and panels at various conventions to increase our fan base. So, even though we are going on hiatus, Fixer is not done by a long shot. We are just trying to ensure its longevity.

18:   So far what has been the most and least favorite chapter and why?

 Roger: I think my least favorite chapter was chapter 7. I felt it was too much of a connecting chapter and really had no plot of its own. It set up some good plot points that culminated in later chapters, but it really needed to have more of a story of its own to feel more solid. I learned a lot reflecting on it. My favorite is chapter 9. Not only was it our most popular chapter yet, but I felt it really deserved it. It had everything I wanted in it. It really brought you back to that time and made you feel the heart ache the rest of the country felt at that time, while also creating it's own tight narrative and drama. Even with an entire scene cut out of it for length, it felt whole and complete.

 Danny: Artistically, I got to spend the most time on the prologue chapter/chapter 1 so I like it in that sense. The prologue is also where the style of the comic is slowly evolving towards. Story wise, I agree with Roger that Chapter 9 was nicely done. There’s so much we want to tell with the story, so many things planned, and you got to see a glimpse of a lot of it in that chapter.

19:  Danny, besides working on Fixer you work on your own art as well as doing the animations for such things such as the hit PBS show, “WORDGIRL”. How do you balance all these things?

 Danny: Just keep working! It takes a lot of passion and dedication to keep going, but I do what I love for a living, so my “free-time” is often spent on work or work related things anyway.

20: What is it like to animate for Wordgirl, knowing that your work will be seen by millions?

 Danny: I don’t really think about it while I’m making it to be honest. I’m more focused on just making the deadline haha. Wordgirl is a relatively new show and while it was cool to see my name in the credits, I didn’t know exactly how popular it was. It was only after people told me they knew the show at conventions and even seeing a whole kids day at New York Comic Con centered on it that I started to get the scope of how popular the show is.

21: Speaking of animating, when did you first decide that drawing, animation, and video was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

 Danny: I made the decision in high school to pursue it as my life’s career. But when I say “made the decision,” what I mean is that I formally acknowledged it would be my career. But I’ve always been drawing, and always thought of myself as an “artist.” So the decision in high school was to become a “professional artist” (get paid for it). I think it’s an important distinction to make.

22:  What was it about the Rhode Island School School of Design that attracted you to it?

 Danny: RISD was a pretty clear choice to me on many levels. It’s widely considered one of the best art and design schools in the country and has many famous alumni. But more than just that, it was the school’s way of thinking and approach to art that I loved. RISD is a very concept heavy school where they allow you to develop your own ideas, rather than simply learning techniques for a job that can easily be outdated in this day and age. Also, the school’s mascot is a giant penis named “Scrotee,” if that tells you anything about the interesting student culture there.

23: This is the same school that greats like Seth McFarlene went to. Would you ever want to be the executive producer of an animated series?

 Danny: One of my goals in life is to become a director, rather than producer. It’s one of the reasons why I love making short films, where you can have the creative independence to see your vision on screen. I would love to eventually direct both a series and feature length movies.

24: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your senior thesis film, "Kensho” and what is it like for this film to be screened at festivals worldwide?

 Danny: Everyone gets a little nervous when you put your artwork out there in front of other people. After all, you put your heart and soul into it; it’s a part of you. Kensho was my senior thesis film, which means I spent my entire senior year making it (alongside my other classes), so this feeling of nervousness was amplified quite a bit. But it got very good reactions from critics, festivals and festival goers, including winning a few awards, so that’s been a huge relief to me. Many of the festivals are worldwide, but since I haven’t been able to travel outside the country (or across the U.S.) to actually be there, I don’t think about it too much. I’m much more nervous getting the acceptance/rejection letters from these festivals haha.

25:  What is it about a character that inspires you to draw fan-art of them?

 Danny: After college I initially did not do any fan-art. At that point I was now considered a professional artist so I wanted to concentrate on developing my own characters, my own look, my own designs. My outlook on it changed a little bit over time however, since many big name artists do fan-art and even make a living off of it.

I now think of my fan-art as a tribute, an acknowledgement that I am who I am today because of them – this is what I love and it’s what inspires me. So this is what decides which series I draw, it’s not what just happens to be popular at the time. Also, at this point I only draw one from each series, to be more neutral and have the opportunity to cover more things.

26:  One drawing of yours that really catches my eye is “Maki Katana” could you talk about the inspiration about this drawing?

 Danny: Maki is an original character in an anime concept I’ve been developing. It’s a samurai anime symbolically dealing with Buddhist philosophy, where the main character uses a sword to “cut” through false reality to uncover truth. Maki is a ninja that is part of a group called “Samsara.” Samsara (literally circle or wheel) translates as “cycle of existence” and aims to continue the repetition of self and life. The name Maki is actually a false name she uses in the series. The first character “means Truth or Reality but her true nature is along the lines of worldly temptation of the flesh. The illustration is her holding the main character’s katana. The concept is still a work in progress, so obviously I don’t expect anyone to know any of this from the illustration. It’s really just meant to be a badass looking picture of a woman with a sword haha.

27:  What are the biggest inspirations for your illustrations, character designs and sketchbooks?

 Danny: My artwork is the result of a dialogue between my life observations and life philosophies. A lot of the things I draw are people, scenery and objects that exist, but are all drawn after emerging from the lens of my mind – I rarely draw simple life drawings or still lifes. At the same time, my fantasy designs usually start from reality (how clothes or armor works, etc). Other than things in life, I get a lot of creative inspiration from other forms of art like music, singing, dance, sculpture, etc.

28:  Are there any other current projects that you could talk about?

 Danny: The biggest long term project right now is a new short anime film I’m making. I can’t give too much away about the story, as it’s still in pre-production… but I will say that it has to do with dreams. Production will hopefully start soon and I will give updates and production blogs on my site, so please look forward to that. I’m also thinking of starting some original short mangas after the first arc of Fixer is done. They’ll mostly be one-shots, where the entire story is one chapter, but could also start some longer manga projects. I’d also like to experiment with Manhwa (Korean) style net comics. Other than that, I’ll continue with new illustrations and updating my website and facebook. Please look forward to all the incredible art I hope to bring you!

29: One topic often discussed is "the death of the visual kei scene in America". Could you talk about your feelings on this subject?

 Roger: I don't think VK in America is dead... yet. I understand that Mix Speakers' Inc. had a good turn out at Anime USA, so there is obviously still interest alive. Some people cite that the VK fan base as growing into adulthood and the rise of K-pop as the key factors as to the major decline we've seen these last 3 years. While I think those are contributing factors, I don't think it's the main thing. Really... VK fans have gotten their butts kicked over the years. From bands breaking up prematurely, to bands with established sounds going major and conforming, to never getting some of the bigger bands here to the states (K-Pop fans have already had Psy, Big Bang, and 2ne1 come stateside)... VK fans are really burned out. But I personally put a bulk of the blame on the absolute lack of creativity the scene has suffered from in the recent past. So many bands look and sound very similar to each other as I said before. Tatsuro, the lead singer of MUCC said himself on his Twitter, “There are a lot of bands now with no individuality”, and followed up with it in an interview with Rock and Read saying “...there's no one who really puts themselves out there. No one who's really sharp. Everyone is just copying someone else, and everything is borrowed. The sound, make-up, lyrics, singing style. There aren't any bands who for better or worse are too unique. “. While some of these bands do have rabid followings, I fully agree with Tatsuro that it has lead to a loss of individualism in VK. It's as if current VK bands all said “Hmm. D`espairsRay, Phantasmagoria, and old school Dir en grey were really awesome! Let's be just like them!”, and on the other end of the spectrum, just insert An Cafe and it's just as true. I think that visual kei is one of the greatest mediums for artistic expression out there, and very very few artists are truly taking advantage of it... and I think many fans are just as frustrated at this fact as I am. This is why I feel that interest in VK in America is in a total nose dive... but it can still pull up and rescue itself if it really wants to. 

 Danny: From what I’ve seen recently, small to middle sized Visual Kei bands are having a harder time drawing crowds nowadays, while the big names still fill the rooms. I think the VK fans are more selective/conservative on who they watch and just don’t want to spend the time and money on a new generation of VK bands that aren’t as memorable as so many from the generation before. The only way to fill a large hall is with people who have broken into the mainstream like X Japan, Gackt or Miyavi. There’s also a certain part that’s on the organizers/companies though. I’ve seen a few concerts of very talented bands that put on great shows, but the room was empty simply because of terrible advertisement. It’s always disheartening to hear fans say they wished they went to a concert if they had only known about it. It’s on everyone to help keep the word of mouth and attendance at shows going, to continue to support growing talent and most of all to keep the conversation alive on what’s good and what’s not.

30:  Do you believe the scene is destined to slowly die out, or do you think it could be revived somehow?

  Roger: It's all on the bands. Can they create work that will captivate an audience again like it did in 2006 when American interest in VK peaked? Time will tell.

  Danny: I don’t think so, but I also think the scene cannot stay the way it is if it wants to survive, and I mean that on all fronts – from the bands, to the companies, to the fans. Change is not a bad thing, as long you continue to strive to improve. The “scene” often hates when an artist changes/experiments and isn’t what it wants/expects, but this same feeling is what creates so many of the new carbon copy VK bands. The bands and companies want to produce a safe product, resulting in a loss of creativity and originality. But I believe the heart and strength of VK lies in its ability to be diverse.

31:  Earlier in the year, K-pop became more known in the States and around the world due to “Gangnam Style”. What are your thoughts on this?

 Roger: I think is a catchy number! Hahaha. I really have no gripes with it personally. 

 Danny: I have no problem with Gangnam Style in and of itself (I used to listen to Psy back in high school) but worry about some of the repercussions. Korea is trying to brand itself as a product known as K-Pop, which is good on many levels (and obviously working). But Korea also offers so much more diversity in its music… People here seem genuinely surprised when I ask K-pop fans if they’ve listened to any Korean rap, hip-hop, ballads, rock, or metal (and I mean the real stuff, not hip-pop or boy band ballads). While K-Pop is overwhelmingly popular in Korea, the idea that other genres don’t exist is frankly ridiculous. After Gangnam Style fades away, Korea’s image can either solidify into only a certain type of K-pop or open up to Korean music in general.

32:  Do you feel the same phenomenon could be experienced by the J-rock or Visual kei scene. If yes, what do you think it would take to happen? 

 Roger: Absolutely not. J-pop maybe, and maybe J-Rock, but not VK. VK is too counter culture. I think the closest it ever got to becoming viral was that Sakura-con commercial that mentioned girugamesh. I don't think it has enough mainstream appeal to break through, and not weird enough to go truly viral. Gangnam Style achieved both, and that kind of success is catching lightning in a bottle. However, I would love to be proven wrong!

 Danny: Anything’s possible, but I don’t see it using the same formula as Gangnam Style. The “weirdness” of Gangnam style was mixed perfectly with its ability to be accepted mainstream. Keep in mind, Psy was very famous in Korea before Gangnam Style ever came out. Visual Kei has had a very difficult time reaching that level of popularity in the mainstream. As Roger said, it’s counter culture. By definition, VK bands almost have a limit to how popular they can be without changing their aesthetic to something more mainstream. Anything’s possible, but you’ll need the perfect storm of ingredients.

33:  What does the visual kei scene mean to you?

 Roger: Visual kei for me is music experienced both through sound and sight. It has unending possibilities for those who harness it as it is not bound to the constraints of genre.

 Danny: Expression. One reason I personally work in animation is the synergy between art and music. In the same way, Visual Kei has the freedom to use any medium they want to express what the artists feel. When VK bands dress up just to dress up and forget this synergy, the expression is dead.

34:  What can fans and convention-goers expect from Tainted Reality and Fixer in the future?

 Roger: THE SOUND BEE HD will be performing Katsucon in February! As of now it is the only scheduled VK event in America coming up, so I hope fans really support it. The TR crew will be there in full force as well as Danny to support Fixer. After that, we are looking for more conventions to bring Fixer to in our continuing search to get new fans.

35:  And lastly, do you have any closing comments for our readers?

 Roger: Fixer is a project that we here at TR have a lot of faith in. It puts our nearly decade's worth of experience in the music industry into a heartfelt story meant to be a celebration of the culture most of us grew up in, and an insight into how difficult it really is to be a musician. Its our hope that through reading this, you will have a new found appreciation for the people who make music for you and be thoroughly entertained in the process. If you enjoy this story, please share it with your friends and help us expand our fan base. Thank you everyone! 

Danny: Thank you to all our fans who’ve continued to help support Fixer so far. We wouldn’t be here without you. Please continue to read the comic at, help us get likes on our facebook page at and spread the word if you like it. And if you like my artwork, don’t forget to like and share my website and facebook as well at and! Thanks a lot everyone!


About Fixer:Fixer is a free web-comic about the rise and fall of a rock band that is heavily inspired by  90′s American alternative rock and Japanese visual kei. The story, beginning in the year 1998, chronicles in realistic detail the trials and tribulations people go through to form a band, achieve success, and come to grips with fame. Historical events and the cultures of the times come into play as the band eventually become rock legends… but at what cost?

Fixer Links Official HomepageOfficial Facebook Page

About Danny Kang; Danny is currently a freelance animator and illustrator living and working in New York.  He grew up completely immersed in anime, music and videogames. Following his passion, he went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design with a B.F.A in Film/Animation/Video in 2009. While animating for the emmy winning PBS kids show “Wordgirl,” his senior thesis film “Kensho” has been screening at animation festivals around the world. He is now working with Tainted Reality to illustrate “Fixer,” a webcomic series about an American/Japanese rock band as well as continuing to work on his next independent anime film. His artwork style blends traditional anime aesthetics with fine arts, along with a love of visual kei, video games and philosophy.

Danny Kang Links Official Website –  Official Facebook  – Official Twitter

About Tainted Reality: Tainted Reality is the premiere source of sub-culture based entertainment in the United States. They specialize in programing revolving around Japanese Rock (J-Rock), video games, fashion, and web comics. Tainted Reality hosts a variety of video programing on their site ranging from comedic skits, and J-Rock album reviews, and event coverage from the biggest anime conventions, gaming conventions, and concerts. Tainted Reality often conducts interviews with some of the biggest musical artists of Japan like Yoshiki of X Japan, Die of Dir en grey, Miyavi and MUCC. They have managed and organized tours for prominent J-Rock bands such as BLOOD, Versailles -Philharmonic Quintet-, and The Candy Spooky Theater. They have also produced entertainment media such as the Darkest Labyrinth Vol.1 DVD, the Darkest Labyrinth artist compilation CD, and the first official music video for Japanese goth band Rose Noire titled “Dual Evil”.

Tainted Reality Links: Official WebsiteOfficial FacebookOfficial Twitter Rose Noire’s Dual Evil MV

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This interview with Roger Shackelford and Danny Kang was conducted by Michelle R. Gaynor(Tenten).


Read my review of Fixer; Chapters 1-5

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