Matt Furie, the cartoonist whose Pepe the Frog character was hijacked as the symbol of white supremacists and the alt-right during the election, has killed the character, conceding defeat in trying to reclaim it.
In the 2010s, Pepe the frog became a symbol of internet trolls, moving up from Myspace – where it was created and popularised in 2005 – to the lofty, notoriously aggressive, and troll-filled 4chan. It was on 4chan, and with the burgeoning alt-right movement, that Pepe the frog was transformed from a reactionary meme to a coordinated white supremacist image. Hillary Clinton’s staff even wrote an explainer on Pepe in 2016 and the Anti-Defamation League called the cartoon a hate symbol.
Pepe creator Furie had hoped to reclaim his creation, denouncing the use of the cartoon as a hate symbol. A campaign was started to “save Pepe the frog” but failed to really put a dent in the alt-right’s transformation of the image.
In late 2016, Furie described the situation in an article he wrote for Time as a “nightmare.”
White supremacist homocon ‘journalists Jim Hoft and Lucian Wintrich displaying a hand signal associated with Pepe.
Furie had been attempting to wrench back his “peaceful frog-dude” – whom he has often said he imagined as an extension of his personality – for more than six months. Pepe’s passing has been interpreted of his ceding control of the character.
Shaun Manning wrote in Comic Book Resources that “the rehabilitation of Pepe was always going to be a struggle, and it’s hard to imagine Furie taking much joy in creating new Pepe strips knowing that, whatever his own intentions, the character would be read through tinted lenses”.
“While it’s unlikely Pepe’s official death will stop extremists from co-opting his image, this was, perhaps, the most effective way for Furie to reclaim his character; Pepe’s soul has returned to his creator. Rest in Peace.”