An “alt-right” children’s book featuring a popular cartoon character recently found itself at the center of a heated legal debate.
Earlier this year, a Texas assistant principal named Eric Hauser wrote and published a right-wing children’s book called “The Adventures of Pepe and Pede.” The story follows the two characters, a frog named Pepe and a centipede named Pede as they celebrate the end an oppressive farmer’s eight years of rule and work to make their farm great again in his absence.
There’s more to the plot, which has been criticized as being Islamophobic, but it’s essentially a send-up of our current political climate told from the point of view of some of Trump’s most dedicated supporters. If Pepe the Frog sounds familiar, that’s because he’s become a meme popular on right-wing blogs.
Pepe’s creator, artist Matt Furie, never intended for his drawing to end up there.
And he wasn’t about to let someone profit from his work while spreading a hateful message to children.
While there’s nothing illegal about publishing a book with a racist and xenophobic plot, Hauser made one huge mistake in his process: He stole someone else’s character, running afoul of a number of copyright laws. Pepe, as it so happens, is the intellectual property of Furie, who first published the character in his 2005 comic “Boy’s Club.” Not exactly pleased to learn that someone was using Pepe for personal gain and to teach a hurtful message, Furie sued Hauser.
Furie never meant for Pepe to be associated with hate.
The frog was supposed to just be a “blissfully stoned frog” who liked snacks and soda, not some unofficial “alt-right” mascot.
Around 2010, Pepe began to take on a life of his own as fans began drawing the character into their own stories and internet memes. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, the frog became increasingly associated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and internet trolls. Images of Furie’s super-chill creation began popping up in Nazi regalia and KKK robes, earning a spot on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of hate symbols.
It wasn’t until Hillary Clinton delivered a speech excoriating the “alt-right” and white supremacists that Pepe truly went mainstream. In the speech’s aftermath, the Clinton campaign published an article explaining the significance of Pepe in the context of an image posted to Donald Trump Jr.’s Instagram that depicted a Pepe-fied version of the future president.
As the campaign raged on and Furie saw his creation slip further out of his control, he published a few fresh Pepe cartoons over at The Nib, including one that illustrates his “alt-right election nightmare.”
In May, Furie officially killed off Pepe in one final comic.
The legal battle against Hauser and his children’s book was settled in the best way possible — and it’s a reminder not to give up hope.
As reported by Motherboard in August 2017, Furie and Hauser reached a settlement in which the book would no longer be available for sale and all past proceeds would be donated to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Given the book’s Islamophobic themes and Pepe’s popularity with white nationalists, the decision to donate the money to CAIR was a pretty fantastic bit of trolling on Furie’s part.
Furie also tried preserving Pepe’s more peaceful legacy in an October 2016 #SavePepe campaign with seemingly little success, which led him to draw the character one last time at his own funeral. It appeared that Furie had given up on rehabilitating Pepe’s image when, in June, he launched a Kickstarter campaign geared towards resurrecting the little green frog in hopes of “reclaiming his status as a universal symbol for peace, love, and acceptance.”
He wasn’t alone in wanting a return to the comic’s roots either. By the time the campaign wrapped up, Furie had raised nearly $35,000.
Between his decision to donate the money made in the copyright infringement suit to a great cause and refusing to give up on his own creation, Furie is himself a testament to the bizarre and sometimes wonderful possibilities of the internet.