If the current political landscape couldn’t get more surreal, independent publisher Fantagraphics has released a statement concerning Donald Trump’s campaign and, by extension, the Alt-Right’s use of “Boy’s Club” character Pepe the Frog. The statement, titled “The Truth About Pepe the Frog” describes how use of the character by alt-right groups is antithetical to “the mellow, positive-vibed frog that he is in the hands of his creator, Matt Furie.”
This isn’t the first response by Furie or Fantagraphics to Trump and the Alt-Right’s use of the character. Several weeks ago, Fantagraphics posted an image to their social media accounts, drawn by Furie in the style of the urinating Calvin car decal where the ‘original’ Pepe is urinating on an image of a version of the green frog that resembles Trump, while wearing a cap that reads “Make Pepe Great Again.”
The recent statement is far less playful, as a direct response to the severity of Pepe’s recently labeling as a hate symbol by the Anti Defamation League as well as the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of the character as inherently tied to the xenophobic and borderline fascist ideology espoused by the Alt-Right. The post makes it as clear as possible that creator Matt Furie condemns this use of his character, saying, “[both] creator and creation reject the nihilism fueling Pepe’s alt-right appropriators” while also citing the “significant emotional and financial harm” it has caused for Furie, going as far as to say the alt-right’s use of the character is illegal, claiming it violates the copyright Furie and Fantagraphics have on the character.
Prior to Pepe being associated with the Alt-Right, the character had been used prominently as a reaction image on the imageboard 4chan as far back as 2008. Images of the character became bleaker and more macabre over time, while also becoming a widespread meme on social media. Furie seemed relatively amused but largely indifferent to the internet’s use of his character throughout those years. However, around 2014 sects on 4chan felt the mainstream was taking a character away that belonged to them. As a response to this trend, they created various iterations of Pepe meant to be as off putting as possible to the mainstream so the character could be exclusively used by them. This was accomplished by either making the images more esoteric or by incorporating scatological and violent elements into images of the character. There’s a great deal of overlap that exists between the Alt-Right, which was largely born out of 4chan’s /pol/ or “Politically Incorrect” board and the members of the community attempting to contradict or elicit a negative response from the mainstream. This ultimately lead to Pepe being a recurring symbol for the Alt-Right as well as Trump supporters, finally alienating most of the “normies” from using the character.
They would have fully succeed if Furie didn’t begin speaking out against these groups misusing his character. The statement calls for solidarity with the creator, and cites that he’s available for interviews to set the record straight.
Hopefully one day we can make Pepe great again.