Cartoonist Matt Furie has launched a Kickstarter campaign to redeem his creation Pepe the Frog, a character who, much to Furie's dismay and entirely against his wishes, became an icon of the white nationalist alt-right movement. The campaign, headlined as "Save Pepe" (or #SavePepe), aims to raise $10,000 so that Furie can create a new zine, in the spirit of his original Boy's Club comics, that reclaims Pepe's image.
Noting that Pepe was created as a "peaceful, chilled out frog," Furie says in his Kickstarter video that "recently, he has fallen victim to some very negative branding here in the United States." The zine, then, is "an effort to re-rebrand Pepe the Frog as a symbol of love, peace and acceptance. "
"Negative branding" is putting things mildly: Pepe's unsavory meme stardom led to the Anti-Defamation League branding him as a hate symbol in 2016. Earlier this year, Furie laid Pepe to rest in a one-page story in Fantagraphics' Free Comic Book Day anthology. Unfortunately, you can't kill a meme, something Furie acknowledges on his Kickstarter campaign page. "We understand there's no way to fully control the internet or how people decide to use Pepe the Frog. Trying to control that would be a completely unreasonable goal," he writes. "That said, the aim of this project is to positively resurrect Pepe through the creation of a brand new comic in the spirit of the original Boy's Club."
"My aim for the project is to create a brand new zine in the spirit of the original Boy's Club," Furie says in his video, "and tell the story of Pepe's resurrection, his rebirth, and the story that follows."
Pepe and the Boy’s Club gang debuted on Furie's MySpace blog in 2005 or 2006, leading to a four-issue series from Buenaventura Press. These were collected into a single volume by Fantagraphics in 2016. Pepe, as seen in Boy’s Club, is a mellow dude getting stoned with his friends, regularly engaging in gross-out humor. His image started being used in memes around 2010, according to Furie, and in the beginning these were fairly benign and Furie supported Pepe's internet fame. However, eventually Pepe was co-opted by alt-right communities on Reddit and 4chan, and these racist and violent memes broke through to the mainstream during last year's election cycle, with some casting Pepe as then-candidate Donald Trump.
Redeeming Pepe may be a tall order, but the Kickstarter campaign shows that Furie has not given up on his creation. "This is the continuing story of our efforts to #SavePepe and an opportunity to get creative and keep on truckin'," he writes on his campaign page. "With your help, we can save Pepe."