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‘Tephlon Funk!’ TPB (review)

Written by Stephane Metayer
Art by David Tako & Nicolas Safe
Published by Dark Horse Books

 

In 1990s New York, a young girl dreams to escape the projects and encounters a tall stranger from her high school who’s caught up in a new street drug – a super-marijuana strain sweeping through Long Island City in Queens.

In the meantime, an undercover detective joins the drug case while in pursuit of a mysterious figure from her past while running into an old friend.

That drug at the heart of the tale?

The police call it THC+. A weed so good people are losing their minds on it. But the streets call it Tephlon Funk.

Without spoiling too much, that’s the basics of Stephane Metayer’s Tephlon Funk! The book began as a self-published series funded via Kickstarter, and now this 192-page trade edition from Dark Horse collects those seven volumes and adds an all-new eighth part pus additional material and art.

The story I described may sound like an inner-city drama straight out of Juice, but this streetwise tale melds itself with anime and manga stylization from Tako and Safe. We’re much closer to The Boondocks and Afro-Samurai. Characters will break into anime-style overdramatic reactions, and rollicking action can break out at any time.

It is funny to me that so many reviews and articles regarding Tephlon Funk! talk about how inspired by hip-hop the book is. Little of the story concerns or involves Afrika Bambaataa’s five pillars of hip-hop culture — rapping, DJing, breaking, graffiti, and knowledge.

Rather, Tephlon Funk! involves a lot of content familiar from ‘90s rap. The story takes place among Black and brown characters in the Queensbridge Houses public housing development in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, NY. Yes, the famous breeding ground of hip-hop legends from Roxanne Shante and Marley Marl to Mobb Deep and Nas.

And when we meet main character Inez, a 14-year-old girl dreaming of escape from the projects through dealing drugs, that’s a surefire piece of storytelling in rap songs as old as the artform itself. We see cornrows and hoodies, bodegas and pick-up basketball games. The soundtrack to this story surely would be the hard-nosed, made for big headphones rap that dominated the East Coast and set the tastes for the nation once upon a time.

But is that a “hip-hop story”?

But hey, maybe that’s just me. I’m about six years older than Metayer, so I lived through a lot more of the content he’s referencing.

The story is fine enough but could use some more seasoning and baking.

For example, Inez doesn’t have much of any motivation for why she does follow Gabriel, our tall stranger with the taller Afro. Yet there is some storytelling maturity here, such as our detective Cameron not giving away yet to Inez (or us) why she’s chasing Gabriel. And we’re still in the dark about Giselle the Kitana-swinging bartender/bouncer who spends most of the story kicking ass or preparing to.

I do have one big knock against the series, however. It’s supposed to take place in the 1990s, but people have smartphones showing video. Why not button up simple stuff such as that?

If you can get past the limitations of the storytelling and some glaring mistakes such as the smartphones, there is a rollicking adventure tale here with some left turns that were unexpected.

Grade: B-

 

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