If you’ve ever gone online and said anything the least bit critical about Donald Trump, you’ve probably gotten one or more of the following thoughtful, measured replies: 1) “Shut up, cuck!” 2) “MAGA!” 3) “Why do you love Hillary so much?” 4) A meme or an animated GIF featuring a strange-looking cartoon frog with bulbous, half-lidded eyes. This last one is known as Pepe the Frog, and his journey from alternative-comics character to alt-right mascot is enough to make me regret the very existence of the Internet.*
You know who I’m talking about. This guy:
— Fantagraphics Books (@fantagraphics) May 18, 2016
If you’re sick of seeing that stupid frog, you’re not half as fed up as the guy who created him.
Pepe was dreamed up by a cartoonist named Matt Furie, who for the past few years has watched helplessly as his character was adopted by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other, somewhat less loathsome Trump voters. Furie wants nothing to do with those guys, but he can’t stop them because hey, that’s the Internet. If a bunch of 4chan dorks who think the Holocaust was hilarious decide to transform an innocent cartoon character into something evil and deranged, all for “keks,” there’s not much anybody can do to stop them.
When those creeps start trying to make money off it, though, that’s when Pepe puts his webbed foot down. Jessica Roy, L.A. Times:
[Matt] Furie, who debuted Pepe the Frog in 2005 in his comic “Boy’s Club,” has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the far-right-wing site Infowars for using Pepe without permission in a poster for sale on the site.
The poster shows the “heroes of the 2016 anti-establishment revolution,” including President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Milo Yiannopoulos, Roger Stone, Matt Drudge, Infowars creator Alex Jones and Pepe.
The poster sells for $29.95. P.T. Barnum was an amateur.
Yesterday Alex Jones responded, as only Alex Jones can:
If you couldn’t listen to all that because it’s Alex Jones, his argument is that when he steals somebody else’s cartoon character and uses it to sell merchandise, it’s free speech. It’s fair use. Y’know, like Andy Warhol painting Campbell’s Soup cans. If Matt Furie doesn’t like it, that means he hates free speech and is an un-American pawn of the shadowy, unstoppable forces that are always trying to destroy Alex Jones yet never seem to succeed. (Also, you should buy the crappy supplements Jones sells, so you can be an alpha male he-man galaxy brain like he is.)
I guess we’ll see how that argument holds up in court. I’m just not sure how sympathetic they’ll be to a blustering millionaire loudmouth insisting he has the right to use a penniless cartoonist’s work in any way he damn well pleases. Goliath wants you to believe he’s really David.
Furie’s art isn’t to my taste, frankly, but a while back I went to Fantagraphics.com and bought one of his books to show my support. He hasn’t done anything to deserve any of this. He just made some silly, weird comic books he wanted to make, and somehow his creation got all twisted around by a bunch of very weird, very bad people on the Internet.
Give ’em hell, Pepe.
*Along with pretty much everything else about the Internet. It was supposed to make us all smarter and better-informed, and now look at us. Decades of life online has turned us all into soulless, touchpad-clicking drones.
** But hey, it beats leaving the house.
***Well, except you, Dear Reader. I appreciate you. I’ve always appreciated you. You’re one of the good ones.