Teacher By Day, DJ By Night — Mr. Stephan Releases a New Animated Comic Series

Mr. Stephan, music teacher at Stuyvesant, unveiled the first episode of his animated comic series.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Music teacher Harold Stephan recently released the first episode of his new animated comic series, Dollafin. The series follows the story of Owen Vega, a music teacher who discovers he can alter reality through quantum echolocation. With the help of AI-generated visuals and an original soundtrack, Stephan narrates the story of Vega’s superhero persona, Dollafin. New episodes are to be released every Thursday.

With this series, Stephan wishes to tell an engaging story not just with words, but with other creative elements—including music and art. “I felt it would be much more engaging as a comic [than as a book]. And it feels kind of like a comic,” Stephan said.

Stephan’s inspiration for creating the series came from a fellow musician during one of his own events. “I run a series [of speaker events] called the Songwriters Hall of Fame master sessions. We had a songwriter producer come in here, Sam Hollander,” Stephan said. “He wrote a book about his career and the many failures he had. I realized, we had totally mirror careers. [...] He gave me this impetus to start on a new concept.”

The comic is loosely based on Stephan’s life, and he lives out his music career aspirations via the Dollafin series. “If I was coming up as a young person again, I would probably be a DJ. So a year and a half ago, I was thinking, even while I’m teaching, I can moonlight on Saturday nights as a DJ. I got possessed by this idea of doing tropical house music under the name Dollafin,” Stephan said.

The series continues to captivate its audience as it unfolds, with viewers delving deeper into the protagonist’s journey. Aside from finding out about his passion for DJing, Vega also discovers his extraordinary superpowers, which are influenced by Stephan’s personal interest in quantum physics. “The Nobel prize went to a team of scientists that proved non-locality— that the universe is a hologram, that the outcome of our present moment is possibly held in a hologram everywhere throughout the universe. And dolphins have this incredible ability to use echolocation. So I thought it [would] be cool to give the superhero the power of quantum echolocation, so that he can use echolocation across vast distances of space and time,” Stephan said.

In addition to entertaining his viewers and sharing his life story, Stephan seeks to teach viewers of the series about New York City musical history. “When [Dollafin] discovers his love of DJing, he starts DJing on Tuesday nights, since that’s all that they would give him. He’s realizing that he needs to get people dancing. Suddenly, through quantum echolocation, he causes the Puerto Rican immigration moment in New York City's history in the 1950s, so he adds Latin percussion to the music he’s doing.”

Students who saw the first episode of the series had many areas to compliment, from the plot to the music. “I think that the story has a very cool concept. The concept is very relevant to our modern-day situations and the story was fascinating. I liked how he put background music to make it more natural,” freshman Yuxuan Che said.

The music that accompanies the series is just as innovative and fascinating as the story itself. Stephan pieces together each element of the music, making sure that the music resonates with the viewers at each moment in the story. “It’s a totally original music score. I use CD Baby [a music distribution service for independent artists] to make it. I put the voiceover together based on the script first, and then, and then I score it to the voiceover, because my background is in commercial music.”

Stephan heavily relies on artificial intelligence in his production of the series, using ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas for the plot. “The whole week of Christmas break, I sat down and I wrote 18 chapters of this thing with ChatGPT helping. The whole concept was my concept, but I kept going back and forth and using ChatGPT as a collaborator, where I’m having it give me ideas and then curating those ideas and taking the best pieces,” Stephan said.

Stephan uses DallE, a generative AI art model, to produce the visuals for his animated comic. “Usually, it takes quite a bit of curating to get what I actually think is in my head. Take Dollafin,” Stephan said. “I didn’t have anything that I felt like really represented what was in my head. And finally, one day, [DallE] just spit that out, and I thought, ‘That’s it,’ because it’s unique. Then I edited it in Photoshop.”

Students watching the series felt that the artificially generated visuals complemented the storytelling. “Watching it for the first time, I was a bit surprised—in a good way—about the use of AI generated art. It was very colorful but was surprisingly accurate in regards to the actual content itself,” freshman Devin Imbesi said.

Stephan believes that generative AI is a tool that must be embraced, regardless of ethical stances on its usage. “I was trained for a music industry that, by the time I graduated, barely existed anymore, because [just then] the MP3 file was created. Suddenly, the entire music industry was disrupted because there was nothing to sell anymore,” Stephan said. “[Generative AI is] an incredibly disruptive technology, and it’s going to disrupt artists whether they want it to or not.”

Stephan’s animated series is just the first step in his journey to create personal projects. Under the alias of Dollafin, he will soon begin releasing more music and establishing a career for himself. “[Through this project], I'm trying to, at the same time, establish my new DJ identity as an artist,” Stephan said.

By collaborating with AI technology, Stephan is able to craft an intricate story and make his dream a reality. “I’m not here to draw the moral lines,” he said. “What I know is that the technology exists. I’m having fun doing it, and I’m gonna go for it.”