Cartoonist Matt Furie wants to wrest control of a meme away from virulent internet cesspools and turn it back into the funny, chill character he created.
We wish him luck, because he’s going to need it.
Furie held a faux funeral for Pepe the Frog last month after his creation had warped into an international symbol of alt-right racism and bigotry, but now he’s started a Kickstarter campaign to give his character a new life on the page and the interwebs.
Furie first drew Pepe as a “chill-frog dude” in 2006 as part of an ensemble of characters in a series he named “Boy’s Club.” The frog eventually made his way to the internet, where, naturally he was memed. Then, in late 2015, racists who inhabit certain corners of the internet got a hold of him.
The Anti-Defamation League traced the evolution of Pepe into a hate symbol. “… it was inevitable that, as the meme proliferated in on-line venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted themes.”
Those bigoted memes exploded among fans of President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, to the point that sending a Pepe meme or wearing a Pepe shirt was immediately identified with support for the then-candidate.
Pepe and bigotry became so synonymous that Furie drew Pepe a funeral in May, but he wants a new comic to resurrect his creation.
Furie’s Kickstarter is looking for $10,000 to begin again.
“We understand there’s no way to fully control the internet or how people decide to use Pepe the Frog,” Furie wrote. “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.”
Furie faces quite the uphill climb in this regard. The vast majority of Pepe uses these days have an alt-right political bent to them. The meme has also spawned something of a mini-culture around the frog, where even the “OK” hand signal is an alt-right call back to it. There are websites, merchandise and global usages of Pepe as a populist, far-right icon that currently stand in the way of the creator’s wishes.
If all goes well however, Furie hopes the book will be done by the end of 2017, and Pepe can go back to being the “blissfully stoned frog” he once was. As of this writing, the campaign has collected about one third of Furie’s goal.