We Talked to Pepe the Frog's Creator About Accidentally Making the New Swastika
Pepe the Frog's daddy, Matt Furie, wants to Make Pepe Mundane Again.
Pepe the Frog in Boy’s Club 3 by Matt Furie. Photo permission courtesy of the artist. Photo via the author.
Pepe the Frog started his life as a happy, stoned bro-phibian living in an apartment with his three best buds in Matt Furie's comic-zine Boy’s Club. In these books he smokes pot, freezes giant turds, plays computer games, and hangs out in his underwear. Like all good things, Pepe the Frog was soon co-opted by the internet, and he's now a rough-drawn, oft-copied meme legend. But recently, he's been perverted and used by alt-right, white supremacist hate groups as a symbol. Trump recently tweeted a picture of himself as Pepe, anti-semitic illustrations depicting Pepe are gaining ground, Clinton posted an “explainer” breaking down the use of Pepe, and as a result of all this, the Anti-Defamation League added Pepe to their Online Hate Symbols Database. So how does it feel to be Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, and see your work get twisted around and contorted? The Creators Project spoke to the artist about the perversion of Pepe.
The Creators Project: Since last we talked, a lot has changed in Pepe’s life. And we wanted to talk about how crazy everything is right now.
Matt Furie: Oh yeah, it’s just as crazy as anything else, I guess. I’m getting kind of hounded by reporters at the moment because, if you’re looking for someone to speak on Pepe’s behalf, I guess that would be me.
How do you feel about the ownership a creator has over something they create?
It’s kind of a new era of copyright laws, and there’s some catching up to do there, but really I don’t think even copyright laws can stop the proliferation of meme culture which takes existing images and co-opts them to be whatever they want. I think it’s a gray area right now for artists, especially for a guy like me who has a character they did years ago turn into the next swastika.
And even though it’s dumb to ask how you feel about this... how do you feel about this?
I mean I kind of get all zen about it and just try to see the big picture. I’m a relatively happy guy in a relatively good life situation and stuff, so I’ve been blessed with a lot of positive stuff. I’ve got a pretty positive perspective. I like to create things, and I’m kind of a hippie at heart.
Do you feel like these racist memes are being given too much press?
You know, honestly whoever’s making these super racist, fucked up Pepe things are probably just dudes that don’t have much of a life other than message boards and creating dumb, hateful jokes. It’s kind of blown out of perspective because it’s now in the presidential debates.
It feels “perfectly internet,” that it would start as a comic, then a meme, and then get curdled into this hateful subset, and that subset is what NPR reports on.
Yeah that’s my biggest issue with it. Although they quickly note that it’s origins are innocent enough, they all talk about how it’s mostly used now by the alt-right and racists, and that’s simply not true. It’s an international phenomenon. And more famous for whatever dumb-ass joke that doesn’t have anything to do with race. But trying to say it’s now just a racist thing... that’s just not true.
Have people been confused at all about your involvement in the racist memes?
Not really, but like I said, if somebody’s going to speak on his behalf it might as well be the guy who created him. But I created him just as this stoned, chill frog that lives with his dorky roommates and they just fart on each other and watch TV and drink soda and stuff. [The racist memes] are so far removed from what I originally imagined that it may as well be an entirely different thing, but it’s inherently linked to me, so all I can do is try to clear his name, which is kind of pointless.
Does it make you want to return to the world of Boy’s Club?
I think that would be kind of funny, yeah. To just start the next chapter or something. And I can just make it like the most mundane day-in-the-life of Pepe. Like, just getting stoned in front of the computer. But that would be some way to spin it into something positive.
Click here to visit Matt Furie's website.