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Stephane Metayer grew up with a strict Haitian mother who didn’t allow him to listen to hip-hop. But that all changed when he moved to New York City with his dad in the early 2000s and decided to make up for lost time with Onyx’s Bacdafucup and Nas’ Illmatic (courtesy of his sister’s BMG subscription). The latter album would inspire him to create a manga-inspired series, Tephlon Funk.
As a kid, Metayer wasn’t impressed with cartoon series like CatDog and Ed, Edd n Eddy. But instead of complaining about it, he decided that he would make his own cartoon series. His first idea was Wu-Tang Gang, a series based on the descendants of the Wu-Tang Clan as they used their superpowers to fight crime. Unfortunately (for us), he put that idea to bed. But luckily, he didn’t stop there. In 2004, he drew the first character for what might soon become his first animated series. The rough sketch was of a black girl with cornrows (loosely based off of his little sister and older cousin) who he would later name Inez Joselyn.
Now, over ten years later, the series, Tephlon Funk, earned over 20,000 likes on Facebook, raised over $22,000 on Kickstarter and gained a follow from Willow Smith and Black Twitter’s favorite voice actress, Cree Summer. But Tephlon Funk isn’t just popular, it’s dope, literally.
In the series, Tephlon Funk is the name of an illicit and untraceable drug and in real life, it’s grabbed the attention of comic book collectors and resellers who auction off the first issue for price tags up to $125. It’s not hard to see why though. Tephlon Funk is one of a kind in that Metayer is one of very few creators to bring New York City to life in a manga form. Drawing inspiration from Nas’ Illmatic, Tephlon Funk follows Queensbridge-native Inez as well as three other characters from New York City’s outer-boroughs: Gabriel (Brooklyn’s Coney Island), Giselle (Washington Heights) and Cameron (The Bronx). Together, the four are slowly being brought together for a cause that has yet to be revealed.
With the help of storyboard artist James Stanley and illustrators David Tako and Nicolas Safe, Metayer was able to bring Tephlon Funk to the page. But, Metayer isn’t stopping at black-and-white pages. His first major goal is to get his series animated. As for animation, he’s on his way. He found the plug aka D’Art Shtajio, an animation studio founded by animation veterans and fellow East Coasters, Henry Thurlow and Arthell Isom, who help foreigners get their foot in the anime industry by connecting them with Japanese animators from major studios. Metayer, who’s currently in Tokyo working on the teaser with the studio, chatted it up with Complex to talk about how Nas’ Illmatic influenced the series, what to expect from the upcoming teaser and being a creator in the new black art renaissance.
How did Nas' Illmatic inspire you?
Illmatic pushed me over the edge to actually make something. The idea was always there, the yearning for it was always there. The music video that got me the most was "One Love." I liked how he narrated the music video and the way Fab Five Freddy directed it, like everything was word-for-word. Every word that he was spitting, he put on the screen. Everything that he was narrating was being done on screen and that was something that's not really done really often in hip-hop. "The World is Yours," the music video is really good. I really liked it because it was black and white and it showed all the people in New York City, all their faces and stuff. That's what also kind of influenced me to show so many people with so many different backgrounds with so many different experiences. It really hit a tone with me when I saw that video.
What lessons did you get from Illmatic?
Illmatic taught me to appreciate your blessings, make the best of your situation. It's not always good to dwell on the little things and it taught me to humble myself. I used to whine a lot. It got me out of complaining about everything.
Has Nas ever seen it?
I've heard he has. I was actually supposed to meet him last summer and I was going to pitch it to him. It was through one of his childhood friends who got ahold of me through Instagram. Every time I was supposed to meet up with him, something happened and I wasn't able to see him.
I did meet Large Professor though. He loved it. I told him if he could hit up Nas, let me know. He was like "I'll try but he's busy" I was like "Okay." That's as far as I know. I don't know if anyone else has told him about it but that's as far as I know. So he probably maybe knows about it.
What have you heard from Queensbridge about it?
The kids love it.
I always put #TephlonFunkIsForChildren. I've been saying that for the longest. I was trying to be funny, you know, like when ODB said "Wu-Tang is for the children." But, it really is true though. That's why I always say that now, Tephlon Funk is for the children. It's a lot of context to it because a lot of kids look up to it.
And now you're working on an animated teaser in hopes of turning it into a series...
Yes, it's very short. It's like 30 seconds because I'm putting up my own money. I never imagined it being an anime until I would say about maybe two, three years ago. It's just people kept saying "it could be an anime." We kept getting compared to Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, Michiko to Hatchin, The Boondocks. We were getting all types of comparisons so I tried to hitting up a lot of studios.
It's a lot harder than in the U.S. because I'm a foreigner out here [in Japan]. I'm not a celebrity or anything like that. I'm just a regular guy who's trying to do something kind of big. I spoke to some studios. A lot of them were asking either for too much money, just weren't able to because of their busy schedules or just didn't reply back. It's something that's extensive, it's time consuming and it's not something that can just be done just because someone wants it to be done. It's a long process.
Why do you think there are rarely any black characters in anime?
Think about it. I know a lot of people are saying, how come they always make anime about Japan, they don't make anime with black people in it and it's like you have to understand, why would they make stories about people they know little to nothing about other than the stuff they see on TV. They'll get backlash for that like “oh you're stereotyping, you're stereotyping,” right? It's like okay, so we'll make our own. That's how it should be done. I write about what I know. Tephlon Funk is a reflection is what I know. I tell stories about what I know. This is what I know.
How I ended up with Henry [Thurlow] and Arthell [Isom], it was a happy accident. So, that worked out in our favor. That's why I was like let's stop with the fluff like get this guy involved, get that guy involved. No, get the right people, get it done and everything will fall into place. So instead of going backwards, I go left field.
There seems to be a lot more black creators putting out comics now. A lot of people are calling it a black renaissance. What are your thoughts on that?
I would say it's a black art renaissance. I would say it's bigger than the renaissance back in the '40s with Langston Hughes and Ray Charles. It's happening right now and when Black Panther comes out, it's gonna burst. Not in a bad way, but it's bubbling right now. Get Out was a taste already. Even if Black Panther has bad reviews, it's still gonna made a butt load of money just off of the hype alone because it's 90% black actors on it, it's directed by a black man [Ryan Coogler] who directed Creed.
I'm glad that I took my time to make Tephlon. I was trying to rush it but I'm glad that when I did try to rush it, I got held back because I wasn't ready. Everything that's happening right now, I think it was made for this kind of moment. I just find it funny how all the stuff that I wrote back when I was 18, 19, 20-years-old, it's what people are talking about right now. It's pretty serendipitous.