Pepe the Frog Creator Kills Off the Appropriated Alt-Right Mascot
Unable to reclaim the dignity of his comic character after a season of being appropriated by the alt-right movement, Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has killed of the memetic character.
Originally debuting online in 2005, Matt Furie's Boy's Club featured the "adventures" of Andy, Brett, Landwolf and Pepe. The frog was portrayed as a rather chill dude, who liked to get stoned, relax with his pants off, hang with his three weird friends. Pepe's attitude and Furie's depictions of the character made him a cult favorite of internet users, turning the character into a popular meme across message boards. Often, Pepe was used in mostly positive reactions images, including his "signature" phrase, "Feels good, man."
In an essay for Time, Furie even wrote that early in Pepe's meme career (around 2008), he was excited and found good humor in the use of his character in this fashion. "To zillions of people, mostly kids, teens and college-dwellers, it meant many things, but mostly it was a big joke," Furie explained. There were licensing opportunities and fan art being sent from kids all over the world. Then, 2016 happened, and all the good that had been spread by Pepe had been coopted by the alt-right.
In October 2016, publisher Fantagraphics, home to the print version of Boy's Club, released a joint statement with Furie decrying the use of Pepe by such groups. Because of the frequency of the frog popping up in instances where users on message boards and Twitter and other social media avenues were often defamatory, derogatory, bigoted and frequently racist, sexist and homophobic, the vision of Pepe in media's eyes was largely negative. The radicalized version of Pepe had been seeing more mindshare than the chill version Furie created, and thanks to Pepe's appropriation by these fringe groups, the Anti-Defamation League had classified the character as a hate symbol.
Furie penned what would be the penultimate Pepe strip in October last year, showcasing a nightmare Pepe had of what he'd become in the months and weeks leading up to the US Presidential election. It was a grim vision not just of the character, but how the artist perceived his character after being stolen by the racist fringe groups that had got Furie's creation listed as a symbol of hate in the vein of the swastika. As Fantagraphics and Furie would protest in their statement, Pepe was "a peaceful cartoon amphibian who represents love, acceptance, and fun," not the abominable meme he was turned into by the internet's most deplorable.
This past weekend, after months of unsuccessful attempts in reclaiming the heritage and spirit of Pepe, Furie subtly killed the character off in a one-page story in Fantagraphics' World's Greatest Cartoonists 2017 FCBD edition. Typically Free Comic Book Day is one where the complimentary offerings from publishers are meant to showcase the best and brightest characters, stories and creators. Some books act as launching pads for upcoming events, but rarely does a creator offer a statement as declarative as Furie's in an anthology of sample tales.
There wasn't much of a eulogy from his Boy's Club friends, as Landwolf merely poured one out for his fallen stoner homie, but fittingly, Furie offered what could be considered the final word on his character in that Time article. While most will likely recall Pepe as the face of anonymous right-wing accounts, Furie was still positive about what Pepe meant to him. "I understand that it's out of my control, but in the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is, and I, the creator, say that Pepe is love."
Rest in Peace, Pepe. Your nightmare is finally over.
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