CAN MATT FURIE return his comic frog to a happy place?
His character Pepe has gone from slacker to meme to unwilling hate symbol — and now Furie is trying to reclaim him.
Furie created Pepe the Frog about a decade ago in his psychedelic comic “Boy’s Club,” which depicted the character as a chill, “feels good, man” amphibian — before Pepe was launched into a second life as a meme-friendly image. Furie was like the kind owner who was happy to let others play with his pet — until this bizarre election cycle, when Pepe was cast squarely into the Trump and Clinton showdown after the frog was co-opted on 4chan and soon swimming in a cesspool of swastikas and white-supremacist symbols.
Pepe was thrust onto the presidential center stage last month after one of Donald Trump’s sons Instagrammed a Photoshopped image that included Pepe in a lineup of “Deplorables.” As the media picked up the story, Hillary Clinton’s campaign website wrote: “In recent months, Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right.’ ”
“It just all seems like a weird joke,” Furie told the Intersect‘s Abby Ohlheiser last month of Pepe’s “Nazi phase.”
Now, however, the cartoonist isn’t waiting for that phase to fizzle out.
Last week, Furie, 37, created a single comic for the Nib as part of his new campaign to “#SavePepe.” After the Anti-Defamation League recently declared Pepe a hate symbol, Furie is working directly with the ADL to reclaim the frog’s “chill” image through new social memes and events; the illustrator will appear Nov. 17 in New York, at the inaugural “Never Is Now” Summit against anti-Semitism, as part of this effort.
Furie is taking a mellow but focused approach to this campaign.
“Hey, man, you just gotta create love and peace in your life,” Furie says.
The “Save Pepe” campaign asks people to render the character in a positive light.
“It’s been so fun to see all the amazing, artist-crafted Pepes,” Furie tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
The artist-author calls the campaign “a dream come true” — one that “never would have happened if this bigot election crap was not happening — so it’s a way to twist it back to a happy place.”
As for both the Clinton and Trump camps referencing Pepe — the Republican nominee tweeted about Pepe last year, and the Democratic nominee recently labeled the character a hate symbol — Furie says the national political spotlight is “trippy. I’ve just been tripping.”
In his new Pepe comic, titled “To Sleep, Perchance to Meme (The creator of Pepe draws his alt-right election nightmare),” the frog sprouts a Trump-like mane.
“This was a comic about my fear of nuclear war,” Furie says of the Nib strip.” (In the new comic, Pepe is ultimately swallowed up in a fever-dream scenario.)
So what should Pepe ultimately represent?
“Chillaxin’,” Furie says.
Next, Furie is creating a non-Pepe story. “I’m working on a comic strip about a chicken mommy and her fried baby chicken nugget,” the artist says.
So for now, he notes: “Pepe is chilling out.”
Here’s how some artists have responded to the “Save Pepe” social-media campaign:
— Travis Millard (@theotherfudge) October 22, 2016
— Ilana, Badly (@lanawhatever) October 23, 2016
— ☁ Imogen ☀ (@iscoppie) October 22, 2016
— Scott Teplin (@steplin) October 25, 2016