Pepe the Frog Not a Hate Symbol, Cartoonist Argues
Cartoonist Matt Furie wanted his frog character Pepe to be a “peaceful frog-dude” appearing “blissfully stoned” when he rendered him in 2005. The icon first began as a character in the comic book “Boy’s Club,” which ran in the mid-2000s. By 2014, the frog had become a friendly meme. But, then things took a turn for the worst and be began to be used as a darker symbol.
Furie began to raise public objections in 2016 trying to reclaim the frog’s reputation after white supremacists started to widely use the image. Never intending the frog to be used as a political hate symbol, he partnered with the Anti-Defamation League in a #SavePepe.
However, despite Furie’s best efforts, it seems the frog has now made his way into a self-published children’s book titled The Adventures of Pepe and Pede without his knowledge. Assistant school principal Eric Hauser, author of the title, said he wrote it to teach conservative views he feels is lacking in children’s literature.
Hauser uses Pepe and his centipede friend Pede together to bring justice to ‘Wishington’ farm. An old farmer has left after eight years of oppression. “But Alkah and his minions have entrenched themselves in a pond that very much resembles a swamp — and are threatening to spread throughout all of Wishington Farm,” wrote Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. in his review.
Furie believes the book has racist and anti-Islam undertones and alludes to the alt-right, a racial political movement. He intended to sue Hauser for copyright infringement, but before doing so, Hauser agreed to settle. While the author originally claimed to have no idea Pepe already existed, documents provided in the case proved otherwise. The book’s illustrator, Nina Khalova, was provided with a project description by Hauser in June which included an image of Pepe the Frog. The author wrote, “I want The Frog to look very similar to this frog. He will wear a blue shirt.”
Khalova, who is based in the Ukraine, said she had no idea the frog had come to represent a darker political image. “I didn’t even imagine that the Frog and Centipede could be turned into these horrible things,” she said.
Hauser admitted to infringement and has agreed to destroy all copies of the title still in his possession. Profits earned on the title, which total just over $1,500, will be paid to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“From our client’s perspective, the message that he wants to make clear is that Pepe the Frog does not belong to the alt-right,” said WilmerHale attorney Louis Tompros, who took the case with his partner Don Steinberg pro bono. Hauser’s book, “espoused racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes, included allusions to the alt-right movement and was deliberately targeted at children,” the attorneys said.
Now the cartoonist is now trying to crowdfund a new book establishing Pepe as “a universal symbol of peace, love and acceptance” on Kickstarter. The new publication will celebrate “a resurrected Pepe, one that shall shine a light in all this darkness and feel good again,” said Furie in the online campaign.