THERE’S A twist on the old saying that goes: “If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.”
Over the weekend, cartoonist Matt Furie aimed to flatline his most infamous comics creation, Pepe the Frog, because the “chillaxin’ ” stoner toad had become a symbol of hate.
For Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, Fantagraphics — the publisher of Furie’s collected “Boy’s Club” anthology — released a one-page strip in which the characters Andy, Brett and Landwolf cheekily mourn Pepe, their slacker friend who was appropriated by the alt-right movement.
Out of the marshes of 4Chan, Pepe became a meme spouting racist and anti-Semitic messages, with the Anti-Defamation League declaring him a hate symbol. Pepe even was thrust into the presidential race in September, as one of Donald Trump’s sons Instagrammed a Photoshopped image of him, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign website said Pepe had been “co-opted by the white supremacists.”
But can Furie’s frog, which he launched on MySpace in 2005, regain symbolic purity through death?
In October, Furie aimed to kick off a #SavePepe movement by publishing a comic on The Nib and asking artists to help join the effort by creating positive images of Pepe.
Furie told Comic Riffs that the campaign was “a dream come true,” and also was “a way to twist it back to the happy place.”
The latest plot twist, however, reads as though Furie has ended the quest for a new happy place. Pepe’s death feels like an admission that the frog cannot be “saved.”
Rest in peace, Pepe, and long live your chillaxin’ spirit.