Pepe the Frog killed by own creator

Amid all the fervor of France’s presidential election, Emma Watson’s MTV Movie & TV Awards speech, and worrying that we’re all going to die without access to affordable healthcare, one major story managed to hop a bit under the radar this weekend: Pepe the Frog died.

It happened, symbolically, on Free Comic Book Day, when cartoonist Matt Furie debuted a one-page strip/obituary for the once-beloved character he created who ended up becoming a favorite — and super creepy — mascot of the alt-right movement. (In September, the Anti-Defamation League even gave Pepe a permanent place on its list of “General Hate Symbols.”)

In October, Furie — who introduced Pepe way back in 2005, as one of the characters in his “Boy’s Club” comic on MySpace (yes, we said MySpace) — penned an essay for Time in which he made it clear that he was determined to restore Pepe’s not-exactly-wholesome-but-certainly-not-racist reputation:

“Before this election, Pepe the Frog spent years mutating online into the many-faced Mickey Mouse God of the Internet. The frog face has gone through thousands of user-made Internet incarnations, expressing rage, smugness, violence, happiness, coolness and, most notably, sadness. To zillions of people, mostly kids, teens and college-dwellers, it meant many things, but mostly it was a big joke. I have a stack of Pepe fan art sent to me by school children. Moms write me to say how much their kid loves Pepe. Kids write me to ask how his name is pronounced (Peep? Pee-pee? Pep-pay?). As the copyright owner, I was licensing a bunch of things like indie video games, card games; making official clothes, a plush toy; and I was excited by my plans for the future. I was thinking, Memes rule!

But that was before 2016, a time when our culture evolved to include Internet culture in this election (mostly to seek out the Millennial vote). A smug Trump-Pepe was shared by Trump himself on Twitter in the beginning of the election race, a move I assumed was a nod to young voters. Or perhaps it was a more sinister nod to some fringe, racist groups that used Pepe as a mascot for their agenda. Or just another famous person sharing a Pepe meme because it’s cool (like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj did in the past). I have no idea. But I know this: It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate, and that racists and anti-Semites are using a once peaceful frog-dude from my comic book as an icon of hate. It’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.”

But the world’s population of hate mongers turned out to be a pretty powerful enemy. While Furie ended the piece by admitting that he had little control over how the stoner amphibian’s image was construed or used by others he wrote that, “in the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is, and I, the creator, say that Pepe is love.” And while that may be true, Pepe is now dead. RIP, man.

[photo: Matt Furie]