Yesterday, Fantagraphics Books published a page called "The Truth About Pepe." It's an attempt to reclaim cartoonist Matt Furie's character Pepe the frog from the racist so-called "alt-right" Trump supporters who have adopted the cartoon frog as an in-joke, a meme, and as a cultural signifier. Pepe has since been identified as a hate symbol. Fantagraphics says:
Having your creation appropriated without consent is never something an artist wants to suffer, but having it done in the service of such repellent hatred — and thereby dragging your name into the conversation, as well — makes it considerably more troubling.
Fantagraphics Books wants to state for the record that the one, true Pepe the frog, as created by the human being and artist Matt Furie, is a peaceful cartoon amphibian who represents love, acceptance, and fun. (And getting stoned.) Both creator and creation reject the nihilism fueling Pepe’s alt-right appropriators, and all of us at Fantagraphics encourage you to help us reclaim Pepe as a symbol of positivity and togetherness, and to stand by Matt Furie.
The optimist in me would like to encourage Fantagraphics' attempt to reclaim Pepe, but the pessimist in me believes that this kind of appropriation is really, really difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Generally, when it comes to symbols, you can only add meanings, not subtract them. And when a detested subgroup like neo-Nazis Trump supporters embrace a symbol, that symbol effectively becomes toxic.