It’s been a weird few years for Pepe the Frog. A wild ride that ought to be reserved for the likes of Mr. Toad – or maybe if anyone tries to deep fry Kermit’s legs again.
Anyone who knows Pepe and his creator Matt Furie knows that the pair are candidates for two of the least likely people/amphibians to show of up on a list of hate symbols. But here we are. Last last month, the creation the cartoonist refers to as “just a chilled out frog” was presented that dubious diction, with Furie’s name coming along for the ride.
When I spoke to the cartoonist the other week in the wake of that revelation, he didn’t know what the make of the whole thing. I remember being excited for him a few years back when one of the characters featured in his small run mini-comic Boys Club was suddenly gaining traction in the strangest places, from bodybuilder message boards to Katy Perry’s Twitter feed.
Sure there’s no direct correlation between meme life and money (unless you’re Ken Bone, of course), but it was, at the very least, a peculiar sort of recognition for an artist whose work might not have otherwise had a chance to extend too far beyond the insular world of independent comics.
For Furie, as with most of us, the turn seemed sudden. Within the space of weeks, Donald Trump tweeted our an image featuring Pepe and the Clinton campaign and Rachel Maddow both dspent time name-checking him as a hate symbol. The last time I spoke with the artist, he expressed interest in taking his creation back, but seemed at a loss for ways to accomplish this.
Earlier this week, the ADL announced that it would be working with Furie to “take back” the chilled out cartoon, in order to “use the frog’s likeness as a force for good.” Furie, for his part, seems to have taken a momentary reprieve from the maelstrom of interviews, but Eric Reynolds, Furie’s long-time editor at Seattle-based comics publisher Fantagraphics responded to our request.
“It was disturbing to me that Matt’s name was innocently yielding search returns in the ADL database despite having absolutely nothing to do with the co-opting of Pepe by racist assholes,” Reynolds said. “Matt is as peaceful and chill a dude as Pepe is a frog, so I’m tremendously relieved that the ADL is stepping up and working with Matt to clear Pepe’s good name. I look forward to this news cycle passing when President Clinton is elected. “
Furie’s own feelings on the matter are probably best summed up by “To Sleep Perchance to Meme” a cartoon posted yesterday on comics journalism site, the Nib, which features Pepe transforming, panel by panel, into a Trump-like figure. According to the ADL, the artist will continue to create work featuring Pepe with “a series of positive Pepe memes and messages, which ADL will promote on its social media channels with the hashtag, #SavePepe.”
Here’s Furie from the same release, “I aim to reclaim the rascally frog from the forces of hate and ask that you join me in making millions of new, joyful Pepe memes that share the light hearted spirit of the original chilled-out champion.”