Matt Furie, Artist/Illustrator – XOXO Festival (2018)

Matt Furie, Artist/Illustrator – XOXO Festival (2018)


[TRAILER: “FEELS GOOD MAN” DOCUMENTARY]>>”Boy’s Club” is about four Fraggle-looking dudes who smoke weed and play videogames and
eat pizza.>>I didn’t even know what a “meme” was.>>A meme is an idea that spreads from mind
to mind through society.>>My favorite meme has got to be Pepe the
Frog.>>When you put art out into the world, people
can take it and interpret it any way they want.>>The white supremacist movement has taken
over the meme, Pepe the Frog.>>I’m going to be recognized as the guy that
made this shitty meme. It’s like my worst nightmare.>>Memetics is a slightly weird world you
get into.>>It’s, uh, Pepe’s become kind of a symbol…>>He’s unique. There’s no other meme like this.>>I’m going to chop your little froggy head
off like this. [Applause]>>Hi. How is everybody doing tonight? [Applause and cheers]>>My name’s Matt Furie and I’m the creator of Pepe the Frog. He has gotten into some weird situations lately. You know, I’m going to tell you a little bit
about my story with dealing with that. [Laughter]
Pepe is a really personal character to me. As I created him, he is one of four characters
in a comic book called Boy’s Club. He’s just like a stoned frog dude that likes
to hang out, eat snacks, and fart with his buddies. [Laughter] I kind of relate to him. In fact, I kind of feel like how this picture
looks right now. Kind of chill, but totally exposed. [Laughter] Because I’m not used to doing,
like, talking to lots of people. I feel good about it. So the thing about Pepe is, I was just talking
to one of the Andys backstage and he said Pepe was a meme within a meme. He was a meme before there was another kind
of meme. These are a couple of examples of Pepe as
just a random Internet meme. Yeah, one of them, he is, I guess, sniffing
panties, I don’t know. The other one is a goth chick. I can relate to both of them on some level,
I guess. [Laughter] But I thought it was kind of a
cool thing. Like, oh, Pepe is a meme! This happened for almost a decade before the
whole controversy happened during the election when, like, Donald Trump shared a Pepe meme
where it was like Pepe as Trump and then all the Nazi stuff and Hillary Clinton put out
an explainer saying Pepe was a symbol of the alt-right, which it kind of was. It was very strange. I was used to it being an internet thing but
the whole political thing didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Pepe got put onto this list of hate symbols,
and you know, I understand why, but I tried to combat this by doing something positive. I reached out to all of these friends from
the art community and was like, hey, let’s do a Save Pepe campaign and I got to reach
out to all these creators and illustrators to do positive Pepe memes, with him just chilling
out, looking at butterflies, or hanging out and smelling the flowers, saying “Peace, Man”
and stuff. Like, what else are you going to do? That was one of the strategies I used. I don’t know how successful it was. In fact, I don’t really have a platform to
share this stuff, except for this, so these are a bunch. My friends kind of created these here. Before Trump got elected, I was asked by a
website called The Nib if I could illustrate something about my experience having a character
appropriated by the alt-right, and used by Trump and all this stuff. So I did this kind of nightmare scenario of
Pepe slowly morphing into Donald Trump, and then into a monster, and then being trapped
inside the monster’s mouth, and then starting a nuclear war. So, you know, some pretty heavy stuff. I think art is supposed to be therapeutic,
on some level, that’s why people do artwork to work through this stuff. I was feeling a little helpless and was just
illustrating my anxieties at the time. Then Trump got elected and I felt stuff got
out of control, so I ended up killing Pepe, and laying him to rest, just seeing if that
would do something. But I’m not sure, you know, I think death
in general is a tough thing to think about, and you know, killing a character… It was my soul response to the controversy. What can I do in this situation? So this was one strategy that I used. Another strategy that I used was to, you know,
I started the Save Pepe campaign because I wanted to save symbolic frogs, but I’m into
environmental stuff and wanted to save actual frogs too. I started a t-shirt thing with Save the Frogs,
which was a nonprofit organization that was actually about saving frog habitats, and 100%
of the proceeds from this Threadless t-shirt. I just wanted to, like, take it out of the
weird context it was in and try to save actual frogs, because one of the reasons I used Pepe
was because he was kind of like a neutral character. I feel like a lot of people could relate to
because he was a frog, and having it be wrapped up into this weird racist, Nazi agenda, it
totally came out of left field. I wanted to talk about frogs too. I don’t know. So, you know, I’m from Ohio originally. You know, I have got kind of a hard-working
Ohio work ethic and I just do what I do and try to do it daily and try to work really
hard. You know, things would come through my email
and I would just do them. I got approached by Mad Magazine to do a little
frog in front of the swamp and The Nib wanted me to do another Pepe comic, and this time,
I did an explainer and didn’t try to explain anything. [Laughter] Because I don’t have any answers. I’m just trying to deepen the mystery or transcend
this stuff somehow, which is what I normally do. I’m not a political artist. I’m kind of a kid and an escapist. I’d rather draw pictures of dragons than talk
about political stuff, but this is giving me an opportunity to face what’s going on
through the appropriation of my own character and engage more with weird political stuff. I started a Kickstarter campaign with my brother,
Jason, and we did a Pepe Now zine. It was a successful campaign. We made a zine, stickers, buttons, and stuff
like that and our goal was to resurrect Pepe the Frog, because I killed him, but he wanted
to bring him back to life and instill some more hope into the situation. I didn’t want to do political stuff so I made
a weird activity book out of it. There’s like mazes and pictures you can color
in, give him a slogan. That’s him as a tadpole and that is him old. My reaction to life, in general, is kind of
surrealist or absurd so I’m doing whatever comes naturally to me. The way he comes back alive is it turns out
it was just a fever dream. He was at a rave, raving with his friends,
listening to techno music. He was dehydrated, passed out and hallucinated
he was dead, and his friends are like he is alive. Let’s get you some water, Pepe. That was my solution to him dying. [Laughter] And you know, a lot of the other
pages in the book, I was researching the happy hardcore scene in the early ’90s of rave culture
and just like focusing on this hardcore happiness because, like, you have to get hardcore happy
in these times. Man, you got to focus on the yin-yang frisbees
and the smiley faces and just the positive vibes, because otherwise you’re trapped in
your own mind, or trapped in these weird narratives that are being projected into the world right
now. You have to just be like, I am happy, mother
f-ers, you know? [Laughter]
I try to stay positive, I always try to maintain a positive mental attitude but to be honest,
the whole thing kind of got heavy and I got kind of depressed. I wasn’t like creating as much as I would
have liked to, couldn’t get off my couch. And somebody sent me this the day Trump was
elected. That was on the cover of the OC Weekly. What the fuck?Trump Pepe on there. I thought it was kind of funny, but also deeply
disturbing, like what the hell is going on? This stoned frog character I made is now like
a shorthand for this weird new creepy movement that’s going on and this other picture is
just like, you know, people sending me Save Pepe stuff. I’ve gotten trolled, you know? I think this is actually kind of funny. I don’t take it personally even though I’m
having my head decapitated, but it is what it is, right? You know, I’m just like, just dealing with
all this stuff and kind of sad and being kind of unproductive. Finally my wife, Aiyana, she used the internet
for a good way, instead of a bad way, that I was used to the internet being. And reached out to her friends on Facebook,
and said Matt needs help. He needs a lawyer or something to stop this
kids’ book from being made. I was trying not to deal with it and be positive
and stuff but, you know, in my heart, things were getting heavy and especially with this
because I’ve done a kids’ book. This whole frog on a bike is from a kids’
book I did. Anyway, this dude was making this Islamophobic
kids’ book with Pepe in it and I was able to get a law firm to represent me pro bono
to get him to stop that and we donated the profits to the Council on American-Islamic
Relations and that was a big win for me. I was like, oh, cool. [Applause]
>>I can do something about this now because I have this billion-dollar law firm behind
me now and they are continuing to help me, and it’s rad. They are working really hard in copyright
law to aggressively pursue anyone using Pepe as an identifier for the alt-right agenda
and hitting them where it hurts in their wallet. Every time, so far, we’ve been able to cease-and-desist
and stop all these people from using Pepe in ways that are not appropriate. All the cheesy stuff is kind of true that
people say. I have realized you have to be the change
you want to see in the world, and I always look on the bright side, follow your bliss,
you know? But also like free legal counsel is like… [Laughter] [Applause]
That’s it. That is a very bright side to this situation. So the interesting thing about my story is
I’ve been able to kind of turn this Pepe thing into like a positive thing, where it’s kind
of this trojan horse where it infiltrates whatever weird alt-right agenda people are
trying to use it, and if they’re trying to profit from it or use it to represent some
website or something, we can go in and sue them and get them to stop doing what they’re
doing. It’s actually turned out to be pretty sweet. [Applause] I appreciate being able to come
out here and talk to you guys about my story. This wouldn’t have happened if shit didn’t
hit the fan, you know? So, like, it’s been a positive experience
for the most part and I’m going to continue just, like, you know, trying to turn Pepe
into a loving rave baby full of love and joy. That’s it. [Applause]

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