Pepe the Frog is dead, but that won't stop 4chan

Artists only have so much control over how the internet uses their work.

Reuters/Carlo Allegri

You have to sympathize with Matt Furie. The Boy's Club artist created Pepe the Frog as a positive, mellow character, but the amphibian got hijacked by the "alt-right" and became virtually synonymous with bigotry despite attempts to save him. So now, Furie is taking the next logical step: he's declaring Pepe dead. If you picked up Fantagraphics' Free Comic Book Day offering on May 6th, you saw a strip where Boy's Club characters mourned Pepe as he rested in an open casket. It's no doubt a hard decision for Furie (would you want to kill one of your cherished characters?), but arguably an important one -- he's effectively acknowledging that the internet has taken control of his creation.

Pepe is the quintessential example of the internet discovering something funny, creating a joke from it, and giving it a life of its own. After web surfers discovered the huge-eyed frog, he was originally used for relatively innocuous purposes on sites such as 4chan (you'll still see him in generic "feels good man" and "feels bad man" memes). However, alt-right communities like 4chan's /pol/ and Reddit's /r/the_donald eventually latched on to him as a mascot for both racist views and support for Donald Trump.

Combine that close connection with mainstream exposure (Trump even tweeted an image of himself as Pepe) and it would be very, very hard to disassociate the character from the far right ideology he has come to represent. We checked in on both /pol/ and /r/the_donald, and both are celebrating Pepe's "death" as proof that they effectively own his identity.

You're not likely to see too many other examples of this happening. However, this also illustrates the sense of helplessness that creators sometimes face online. How do you take legal action to protect your work when anyone with a social account and a search engine can abuse it? Furie's decision to kill Pepe may be his best bet. He might not get to reclaim Pepe or get compensation, but he can at least prove that he's not involved in spreading hate.