Combining the urban dynamism of hip hop music with the visual energy of manga and anime, Stephane Metayer’s Tephlon Funk! is a fast-paced paranormal adventure set in the Queensbridge housing projects in New York City in the 1990s. The graphic novel is out now from Dark Horse.

Created and written by Metayer with art by David Tako and Nicolas Safe, the story of Tephlon Funk! is focused on Inez, a Latina teen growing up in NYC’s Queensbridge housing projects, who stumbles into a drug war involving a powerful strain of weed with celestial origins. She encounters Gabriel, a mysterious dude with a big afro, out to stop the distribution of the drug, and they’re joined by Cameron Phoenix, an undercover cop, and Giselle Rodriguez, a samurai sword-wielding bartender, in a funny and rollicking New York City streetwise fantasy.

Born in Queens of Haitian descent with a childhood partially spent in Maryland, Metayer first conceived of TF! while still a teenager, developing it further over the years while working at JFK airport. He eventually self-published an early version as a serial funded via Kickstarter. This new 192-page trade edition from Dark Horse collects seven volumes previously self-published along with an all-new eighth chapter and additional material and art from Metayer and his artist collaborators. PW spoke with Metayer and Safe about finding a publisher, the path to successful self-publishing, and designing the characters.

Publishers Weekly: How did the deal with Dark Horse Comics come about?

Metayer: Dark Horse reached out to me in October 2020, specifically my Editor Judy Khuu. I initially told her that I had to think about it, within that timeframe I did research on them and asked others in the industry about them. I didn’t get back to her until the middle of 2021. I reached out to Judy myself after everything checked out good from my research on Dark Horse. I had read so much of Dark Horse’s stuff already. One of the strong points for me is that they are distributed through Penguin Random House; however, it was also from their good reputation with creators and the diverse range of comics they publish. I pursued a publishing opportunity in 2016 but I didn’t want [a traditional publisher] meddling in my business. Early on I was interested in getting a publishing deal, however I changed my mind and decided to self-publish. I pursued an animation deal [instead] and figured that it could lead into a publishing deal.

Do you believe Tephlon Funk! caters more to fans of manga or fans of western comics?

I don’t consider Tephlon Funk! a manga because it isn’t read from right to left, also none of us who work on it are Japanese. I’m Haitian American while David & Nicolas are French. I have a Creole and French background, but ultimately I’d consider it a Franco - American comic.

What were your early influences?

Spike Lee . . ., the rapper Nas. I was inspired by Illmatic [Nas’s landmark debut album], which is why I set Tephlon Funk! in Queensbridge.

Tell us how you forged the idea behind Tephlon Funk!?

I didn’t like the cartoons coming out [when I was younger] so someone said that I should make my own and that’s what I did. At age 18, I doodled a picture of a girl wearing cornrows. That became Inez, the lead character in Tephlon Funk!. In 2004, I was working at JFK airport when I began listening to [Notorious B.I.G’s debut album] Ready to Die. There was a song entitled “Machine Gun Funk” and the title track included the “tephlon” lyric.

In 2012, I reached out to producer Carl Jones [of The Boondocks and Black Dynamite animated series] over Twitter and he got back to me about doing a Kickstarter. A year later, I was invited to visit the Cartoon Network in Burbank. I met both Carl Jones and artist-producer LeSean Thomas while they were working on Black Dynamite season 2. They gave me a lot of advice; Carl said I should do a Kickstarter for a comic first as well as build an audience through a website. Carl said a good idea isn’t enough and having something tangible to give to potential partners is more important. LeSean Thomas told me to stick with what I was building with TF and stay consistent. I had been writing and drawing it on my own until April-May 2014 when I realized that I couldn’t write and draw at the same time. I reached out to David Tako on back in 2014, then Nicolas Safe jumped on after David told him about the project he was working on with me.

Did your art team use visual references to create the characters and setting for Tephlon Funk!?

Some characters are based off real people and some are original. Gabriel is based off Boom Boom Washington from Welcome Back Kotter. Giselle is loosely based on [R&B singer] Cassie when she cut off half her hair. All the backgrounds are from photos and videos I took of Queensbridge and Washington Heights.

Safe: Our idea for the villains Byrd and Kefflow was based off of rappers Eric B. and Rakim. We didn’t plan on creating too many characters modeled from popular people [because we wanted] to stay creative and bring something fresh. But we love to add easter eggs like posters in the background [indicating] famous golden era hip hop artists, as a tribute to what they did for the culture. So, we’ll still do that in later volumes.

Inez's exaggerated facial expressions while she’s frustrated or angry could be interpreted as a way to bring a fantasy manga element to the series. Was that the intent?

Safe: That was exactly the intent! We put those facial expressions to make the readers smile, laugh, but also to show Inez's mindset. Calm and introverted most of the time, but ready to explode just like her environment. She's a teenager, in the process of becoming a woman. Yet she’s still a child sometimes and those moments show that also, overreacting screaming, being scared, surprised or frustrated. That brings some lightness in a suffocating atmosphere like the projects can also be.

Some of Metayer's responses in an earlier version of this interview have been clarified,