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Uncovering Tephlon Funk With Creator Stéphane Metayer and Samurai Champloo's Fat Jon

by Dennis Banda,

Tephlon Funk, a comic written by Stéphane Metayer and illustrated by David Tako, is both a fusion of anime and hip-hop influences and a giant love letter to the five boroughs of New York City. Set in Queensbridge during the mid-90s, the story centers around four characters as they discover their connection to each other and the mysterious Tephlon Funk. Since the comic's serialization in 2015, creator Stéphane Metayer has made great strides in moving Tephlon Funk's story beyond the page, spawning a collaboration soundtrack with hip-hop artist Fat Jon in 2016 as well as a 50-second animated teaser produced by Black-owned, Japan-based animation studio D'Art Shtajio. With a second collaboration album with Fat Jon titled Tephlon Funk: The Dope Tape due to release on December 18, Anime News Network had the opportunity to interview both Metayer and Fat Jon about Tephlon Funk's past journeys and future aspirations.

How would you describe Tephlon Funk to a potential new reader?

STEPHANE: This is a comic about four characters living in New York City during the mid 90's. Over time, we find out how much they're connected to both each other and Tephlon Funk, a mysterious new drug that's making waves throughout the city.

The series is heavily inspired by hip-hop and anime, along with a few influences from the likes of Spike Lee and manga artist Naoki Urasawa.

When did you start conceptualizing the comic and what was the inspiration for it?

STEPHANE: I originally came up with the idea back in 2004 when I was still in high school. I always wanted to make my very own animated series ever since I was a kid.

However, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a solid idea that I could stick to. Until one day while I was sitting in Biology class, I doodled a picture of a young girl with cornrows. Around that time, I was listening to a lot of Nas' Illmatic and that definitely inspired TF a lot, which is why a good chunk of the story takes place in Queensbridge.

Then not long after I graduated, on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of June, I redrew her (Inez) and the ideas just popped in my head. Before I knew it, I had myself a solid story. Over time I refined, tweaked and added more to it, but overall the main premise has been the same throughout the last 15+ years.

Tephlon Funk's cast and protagonist are Black, a rarity in manga out of Japan. Was this a conscious decision on your part, how has this affected your storytelling, if at all, and what has the audience reception been like to this?

STEPHANE: The majority of the cast is loosely based off of people I interacted with the most in my life. They just happened to be Black, West Indian and Hispanic folks. So it was more of a subconscious decision.

I was born and raised in NYC, so I've seen a lot of crazy things happen on a daily basis as well as hearing stories about wild shenanigans through my peers. I believe that's been the biggest strength of Tephlon Funk: it's genuine and doesn't try hard to be something that it's not.

Because of that, the fans love it and want more and more. Which has been tough for me since this is still an independent project that I've been funding on my own.

Tephlon Funk had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015 with one of the stretch goals being an anime series. How many of the stretch goals did you manage to reach and what was it like setting up a campaign and seeing it attain its target?

STEPHANE: We're actually still working on the rewards for the Kickstarter, although there's more than enough content to send out to our backers. There's still one chapter we have left to release before I can do that.

My good friends David Tako and Nico Safe from Paris took over the majority of the artwork for TF back in 2014 along with my best friend Jason who's been helping me since the early days. So although I create, write, do graphic design, web design, make merchandise, fund and self-publish Tephlon Funk, I've had a lot of help along the way.

As far as stretch goals go, there's just one that I had which was an anime series. That's a lot easier said than done, even if you have connections with Japanese and Korean animation studios that are interested. None of that matters if there isn't any proper funding behind it, which has been an uphill battle since 2015.

After the webcomic anime teaser by D'Art Shtajio, have there been any plans or have you been approached by other studios to adapt the work into anime?

STEPHANE: Arthell Isom and Henry Thurlow from D'Art Shtajio are my good friends. I've known them since 2016, when they had just established their studio. I hung out with them in Shinjuku the following year discussing our plans, goals and dreams. Henry said they could help put together the teaser for me and I was down.

The primary goal for the teaser was to help show proof of concept to potential buyers/investors, which did help. I was given offers but nothing that was substantial enough to make me jump at the opportunity – until last year when I was approached by a big well-known Hollywood studio. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit and I got dropped. So now we're back to square one again.

Was the choice of medium i.e. webcomic a conscious one? Have you tried to get published on print media?

STEPHANE: Originally, I always envisioned it to be an animated series on Adult Swim. In 2013, I flew out to LA and met Carl Jones and LeSean Thomas at Cartoon Network Studios (who had worked on both The Boondocks and Black Dynamite). They gave me advice and said I should make it into a comic first. Because having a source material helps a whole lot.

Tephlon Funk isn't necessarily a webcomic. I've been printing and selling TF comics since 2015 – just in small quantities since my budget is very limited. I initially wanted to go with a publisher, but decided to stay independent to maintain creative control.

Tephlon Funk started serialization in 2015. How has the series evolved over the years?

STEPHANE: The overall story has improved substantially since then. I now have a much clearer vision of how the series will end and understand the characters along with their motivations a whole lot more.

There's also a much bigger fan base that still surprises me to this day. I honestly believe that everyone involved have helped create something very special.

You are collaborating with hip-hop artist Fat Jon on an album inspired by the comic. How did this idea come about?

STEPHANE: I previously tried working with a few unknown hip-hop artists thinking both the series and the artist can come up together. Unfortunately, they either flaked on me or overstepped their boundaries. So I decided to reach out to Fat Jon. I was a big fan of his music and figured the worst thing is that he tells me “No.” I sent him an email telling him a little bit about TF and asked if he'd be interested in working on a soundtrack for the comic.

He got back to me the next day and said he was down and wanted to have a convo through Skype. We hit it off immediately – this was back in 2016. I wanted to make a soundtrack for everyone to listen to and called it Tephlon Funk: The Free Tape.

It was specifically made to help spread the word about the series and it worked! The following year, we released it on vinyl, which included a mini manga-style comic of the first chapter. This was all Fat Jon's idea.

Then in 2018, we put it out on Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer. As of now, it has reached over 2.5 million streams on Spotify alone. I recently found out that the vinyl has sold out again at Disk Union (a popular Japanese music chain).

Tephlon Funk: The Dope Tape is somewhat of a departure from the previous soundtrack. We decided to make it back in late 2018. I even flew out to Germany last year to link up and discuss my plans with Fat Jon. This took over a year to put together and it really shows how much TF has evolved over the last 5 years. I really hope that everyone enjoys it as much as I do.

Seeing as there are more successful and aspiring Black content creators inspired by anime today, are you considering more multimedia collaborations such as crossovers, or a live-action short, or maybe even a video game?

STEPHANE: I personally would love to see this made into a big-budget live-action movie, but an anime series has to happen first. A clothing collaboration would absolutely be great – so long as it's with a brand that would make sense in the world of TF. I'd also love to have collectible figures for each of the main characters, maybe with a company like Good Smile or Tamashi Nations.

As far as video games go, I honestly only see it as a 2D beat-em-up game with RPG elements like a River City Ransom or Streets Of Rage or one of the characters being a guest in a popular fighting game. You never know though, if it's something we can pull off then I'll definitely go for it.

Has listening to the music inspired new story threads or character arcs? Is there an inspiration feedback loop thanks to the collaboration?

STEPHANE: Oh absolutely, especially with this new soundtrack. It's helped me come up with new scenarios for some of the characters I had never previously thought of beforehand even though the soundtrack is supposed to be inspired by the comic. Ironically, it's been influencing my future plans for Tephlon Funk now.

What about Tephlon Funk inspired you to create, collaborate?

FAT JON: After speaking with Stephane and seeing the characters and hearing his ideas, it simply became a story I wanted see. I told him that in the beginning and I tell him that now. His characters came to life for me and I want to see them in an anime. I also respected his approach to making his dream a reality.

You have worked on some anime soundtracks before like Samurai Champloo. Do you have a personal history with anime? If so, where did it start? Are you still watching new shows and movies?

FAT JON: My personal anime history is pretty deep and goes back to the 70's. It started with Star Blazers and G-Force (Gatchaman) when I was very young. Robotech (Macross) was/is also a childhood favorite. Even as a child, I could see the difference in storytelling between anime and regular western cartoons. The depth of storytelling, character development and musical scores resonated with me at an early age. I'm still an anime head and watch new shows and movies all the time. It's definitely been a huge part of my life just like music and is part of my personal culture.

Stephane describes you as one of the pioneers of the lo-fi hip-hop subgenre. What is your reaction to the rise of the subgenre (especially considering how closely related it is to anime) and how has it affected your career?

FAT JON: I think it's very interesting because my approach was to create hip-hop music without vocalists. In doing that, you can be more creative in how you tell your story with the music. I've made different types of music and have been in groups and had parallel projects so my instrumental stuff was just me going solo. Being able to have a career from it is wonderful and gratifying. I'm glad there is an appreciation for this type of music and I'm very proud of the part I've played in it.

Describe your process when creating the sound for a piece of work like Tephlon Funk or Samurai Champloo.

FAT JON: For me, it's been about character analysis and imagery. Things like personality, scenery and setting are very important and I'm also very inspired by artwork. I work from the emotions I feel from parsing all these elements. I don't want or need to know too much about storylines because I want to see the finished product with everyone else and take the emotional journey the stories provide. I'm a HUGE fan – I don't want any spoilers!

What does the future hold for Tephlon Funk?

STEPHANE: The original goal is still there, I just need to figure out what the next steps are gonna be. I get contacted online on a daily basis with fans asking when's the anime dropping. The teaser had an unforeseen effect in a sense that everyone just assumed the anime adaption was on its way.

I believe the best approach is to just stay the course and not rush. A lot of times I hear about other artists getting screwed by a production company or a publisher all because they jumped at the opportunity thinking they couldn't do any better.

I'm just as anxious as the fans are, but this has to be done the right way in order to maximize all the potential that Tephlon Funk has to offer. It needs to be with folks that not only understand the anime industry, but also seeing what all of the possibilities are with this IP.

Artwork credits: David Tako

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