‘Tephlon Funk’ Creator Stephane Metayer Talks Hip-Hop, Diversity, And Getting Animated
Stephane Metayer was definitely in a "N.Y. State of Mind" when he created the manga-inspired series Tephlon Funk. As a native New Yorker himself, Metayer describes his increasingly popular series as a "love letter" to the five boroughs. Illustrated by David Tako and Nicolas Safe, Tephlon Funk serves as a unique and grounded representation of the everyday gritty life of the Big Apple, and as a Haitian-American born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, it's not hard to pinpoint where the 30-year-old Metayer gains his inspiration.
But that's not the only feat that Tephlon Funk has accomplished. Last year, Metayer raised over $22,000 for the project on Kickstarter --- $7,000 more than his goal. The series is also a rarity in having not just one black lead, but four. The cast features Inez Jozlyn, a mixed youngster who's looking for a way out of the crime-infested Queensbridge; Gabriel, a '70s-esque character from Brooklyn's Coney Island; Giselle a Dominican badass with a mean spin-kick from the Washington Heights; and Cameron, an undercover cop who resides in The Bronx.
Metayer chatted with ComicsAlliance to talk about how Nas' Illmatic influenced his work, the possibility of an animated series, and what readers can expect next from the four-member crew.
ComicsAlliance: Where did the idea for Tephlon Funk come from?
Stephane Metayer: I was like 18 when I came up with it. I'm 30 now. I drew a picture in class right before I graduated --- I drew a picture of a girl with cornrows. It was just some bulls--- sketch and I was sitting in biology class bored and then I just put it away or whatever. Then, after I graduated, I was looking through my sketchbook and I saw it. I re-did another drawing of it and then I just started typing the story on the computer. It was a Saturday afternoon in June. I still remember that day, a little after I graduated. I just started writing the story and then more ideas just started flowing.
I didn't have a name for her though, I couldn't think of a name. I got the name from my cousin. She was dating a guy, and I was telling him about the drawing, I had and I told him I couldn't think of a name, and he's like, "Why don't you name her Ines --- that's my daughters name."
It was Ines with an s, so I was like, "Oh, I like it." And I ran with it. And the last name Jozlyn, I got that from a girl I used to sit next to in second grade, her name was Joslyn. But I just changed it with a "z." And that was pretty much it. So it could go with the z at the end of her name. So Inez Jozlyn. Kind of give it a little flow I guess. That's how it happened.
CA: So this was in 2004 when you created it. How did Illmatic (which came out in 1994) influence you?
SM: All I knew is that I wanted to make it based in New York. I personally have never seen a New York City cartoon, like a properly done one, in my opinion, as far as showing what real New Yorkers go through and real people who live in New York. You know, it's a melting pot. So, I definitely wanted to make it based in New York, but I didn't know where exactly.
Around the time I first started writing and drawing it, I was listening to a lot of Illmatic when I was like 17, 18 years old. Like heavy, heavy, heavy. I got onto that album late, but I really loved it. It just blew my mind. I was trying to figure out where she's gonna live.
Then I was like, "F---in Queensbridge." I was listening to it so much at the time --- I still do though, but I was like, alright, Queensbridge. I was going to make it Bed-Stuy at first, 'cause I'm a huge Biggie fan, but Nas --- it made more sense. And I'm from Queens too, so why not?
CA: What about Illmatic drew you?
SM: It was Nas' storytelling. My favorite song and video is "One Love." I listened to the song a bunch of times but what really got me is when I finally saw the music video for it. I think I saw it on MTV2 at the time. When he was saying his verses... Fab Five Freddy, he directed it in a way that every single lyric he said played out in the video word for word.
That's when I really started to realize that he's really good at illustrating these stories through his lyrics. It just drew me so much. I thought, "Wow, I could really do something like that," but put my own little twist on it. With my influences from not just hip-hop, but also manga, anime, comics, all that stuff. Just put it in the form of animation or comic books or whatever.
That's what really drew me to him so much. It was the fact that he was telling these intricate stories about stuff that people go through on a regular basis, but it wasn't campy or corny. It was just raw and real and very relatable from my life experiences, from my peers' life experiences, people who I see go through it. I just thought it was really really good. And I wanted to do it like that in my own way.
CA: I know you mentioned manga and anime. What are some of your favorites?
SM: Aw man there's a lot. But I would say the biggest impact would have to be... I want to say Dragon Ball Z, but that's the go-to. I would also have to say Cowboy Bebop as far as style goes, it was way ahead of its time, and when it was airing in Japan it wasn't really popular, which is so funny. It's so stylistic.
The funny thing about it is that even before my friend David [Tako] took over to do the art, I would get those comparisons so much --- Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. I understand because I wasn't really looking at it like that, it was just something that I was doing or whatever. But, I get the comparisons. It's a good comparison, I don't mind.
I get kind of annoyed when they think Inez is Riley [from The Boondocks]. Yeah... it does get annoying at times, because I came up with it before the cartoon came on TV and the drawings were there before. I was drawing like that way before, but that's just how it goes you know? It is what it is. But I would say Cowboy Bebop, that was the biggest influence as far as style-wise, storytelling-wise, humanizing characters, fleshing out the characters, the environment, the setting, all that good stuff. It's a masterpiece, in my opinion.
CA: How are you making New York come to life for readers?
SM: I literally... if you look at the backgrounds, they're often photos that I took. ... I'm always in Queensbridge. I've taken a lot of pictures there before, I've been doing it since 2012.
CA: I noticed that you have a young black woman as your lead. What made you decide to do that?
SM: Inez? She's mixed. She's half black half white. She's loosely based on my cousin and my little sister. I thought she'd be an interesting muse.
There's more to it. I've always liked female protagonists, I always did. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, Samus from Metroid, I was always into those type of characters and their environments and the stories. I was a huge Sailor Moon fan as a kid. I always like female protagonists. They were so dynamic. They had so many different layers to them moreso than... don't get me wrong I love male character leads too but I think there's more layers to [female characters], especially when they feel like they have to prove themselves. They're just as capable as guys .... they can do anything anyone else can do, all that good stuff. I was always fascinated by that. It's just stuff that I always see all the time, and I thought, this is really cool.
That's kind of what inspired Cameron. She was inspired to me by Samus, I wanted her to be really really cool. I think she's gonna be a favorite. She's an undercover cop.
CA: I'm still not over Sailor Moon. That's one of my favorites.
SM: I was on Sailor Moon before Dragon Ball. I didn't know what Dragon Ball was, my cousin put me on to that. Sailor Moon was one of the first anime series I used to watch religiously.
CA: Same here. Who are some of your inspirations?
SM: Akira Toriyama, Hayao Miyazaki... there's so many.
CA: Are you still in talks for an animated show?
SM: JM [Entertainment], we're playing on some things. I don't want to spoil it. I've been very quiet online, so I don't really like to say anything. I'm still in talks with JM; JM so far really likes what they see so far, so --- especially when I redid the website and they saw some of the stuff that we're working on that we haven't put online yet.
They worked on The Boondocks season three, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a few animes. Even though they're a Korean studio, they worked on some Japanese anime too. I mean, why not? They're great, they like the stuff, so why not?
As far as animation goes, we would love to, but animation is very expensive. I mean, if we get the support then we can definitely get an animated pilot done. But we need the support.
CA: How is the book coming along?
SM: We're trying to get the book done by October because the book is supposed to be 130 pages.
CA: I saw that you're working on a soundtrack for Tephlon Funk as well?
SM: It's not done yet, it's being worked on. It's going to be great, I think it's going to be really good. There's a lot of hands on Tephlon Funk, it's not just the three of us. There's like more people, we got hands on Amsterdam, Japan, now we got Korea.
People say it's a black comic but I look at it as... I'm trying to make it into a franchise. I think it has the potential to be a franchise with the shirts, the posters, the stickers, the ID cards, all the stuff that we do for it. It can be something bigger than that. I don't want to just cater to the black community, I want to cater to --- I want to go beyond that. It expands to even more horizons, which is kind of why I did the soundtrack the way I did. I don't think it's going to disappoint. The same person that did the beat on the animatic is doing the soundtrack. We're going to have a theme song, we're going to have all that good stuff.
CA: What will it sound like?
SM: The rappers, I wouldn't say they're new-coming, but they're unknown here, but they're really good. I've been following these guys for a few years. Some folks know them out here, but they're not really well known out here. At first I thought I was going to get someone from New York, but I didn't. She flaked on me.
[The rappers] keep the whole '90s essence of hip-hop. They fit the sound that I wanted to give to TF. I wanted to give it a hip-hop tune, but I wanted to give it a different hip-hop tune. It's going to surprise a few people. Think the Samurai Champloo soundtrack, but way better. Yeah, it's going to be really good. I got one more surprise too coming.
CA: How does it feel to have your first project take off?
SM: It's cool. I don't feel like I'm where I want to be, if that makes sense. 'Cause where I wanna be, I want to quit my job and do it. (Laughs). People are like, "Oh, congratulations." I think we just got like 10,000 likes on Facebook. That's nice I guess, it's a'ight. I know I can do better just getting the stuff out there. It's just the beginning. I know a lot of people are watching us.
But it's great, it's cool. It's my first project, it's my baby. So I have to make sure it's taken care of. I would love to do other projects down the line, but how I built it and how I wrote everything and how I finish the whole story with it, I think it could end up being my full time job one day. That would be great. I would hope so.
CA: How long do you plan to have it run?
SM: The 130 pages, I mean, there's more to it. That was just the first book. As far as animation goes, I'll go as long as they let me. If they want to say, "Hey, you can do ten seasons," I'll do ten seasons, no problem. I'll go as far as I can, so long as we're able to do it, we'll go as far as we can with it. Even David is surprised by how big it's becoming, when we first started selling the variant covers. We're all surprised by it. I've seen a lot of great projects that get little to no attention.
CA: Tephlon Funk has a bit of a '70s vibe too --- especially Gabriel.
SM: There's a reason why, but if I tell you... there's more to him than you think. There's a lot more... to all of them actually.
When my dad came to America from Haiti he was living in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and that's where Gabriel is from. 'Cause Gabriel is loosely based off of my dad. ... I don't know if you remember this old show from the '70s; I used to watch it as a kid with my mom; Welcome Back Kotter. [The character] was Washington. It was an old '70s show and it took place in Brooklyn. It was about these high school kids. Everyone always thinks he's a grown up Huey or Bushido Brown (The Boondocks). Like nah, that's Washington. That's where it came from.
CA: I saw that both of your parents are from Haiti. Can we expect any Haitian characters? Will there be kreyol in the book?
SM: We do have a Haitian character in there. Yeah, he's a villain. He's a hustler named Sak Passe. (Laughs) The thing about him --- I'm giving off way too much --- the thing about him is that he doesn't speak a lick of English. The comedy behind it -- cause you know Tephlon Funk is funny as well --- the funny thing about it is that he only speaks kreyol, but when he does, people respond back to him in English. It's like they understand what he's saying, but he doesn't speak a lick of English, if that makes sense.
In the animatic, when you see Gabriel kicking that guy against the window in the corner store, the bodega, that's who he's kicking. He's kicking Sak Passe. He's going to look different from that. That was just a sketch he did.
CA: Who do you think will be the fan favorite of the four?
SM: I think Giselle is going to be a favorite. She's cutthroat. They're all going to be favorites for different reasons. She's going be --- a lot of people are going to cosplay her, I know that for sure. Especially after they see the whole book.
I do get a lot of flack though, for TF, a lot of people don't like the fact that their eye colors are different. None of them have brown eyes, some people don't like that. There's a reason though, I can't say, but there's a reason their eyes are like that. The only one who has dark eyes is Giselle, but there's a reason why she has dark eyes. Gabriel has blue eyes for a reason, it's not just for the aesthetic, it's more than that. They're all connected. It's going to be a game changer, I know that.
CA: Is there anything you'd like to say to the Tephlon Funk fans?
SM: If you want diverse content with diverse characters, just support people, just support the artists. I'm a strong believer in that. I really don't like people that want to be entertained but they don't want to pay for it. I understand that, because the economy isn't really great, people don't make as much money, but at the same time, it's like you can say all you want about these studios, but they still have some really good people who work day in and day out. They don't even get to see their family because they're working so hard on their stuff and people just want to steal it. You don't have to buy it, you can rent it off the website. On demand or something like that. Just support the people who work on it.