Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has stopped the publication of an Islamophobic children’s book based on his cartoon, and as part of the settlement, the author, Eric Hauser, must donate all profits to the Muslim-American civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Pepe the Frog, lest we forget, was not designed to be a children’s character at all; the anthropomorphized amphibian was a character in Furie’s Boy’s Club comic, a laid-back slacker who smoked a lot of weed and pulled his pants all the way down to pee. The frog became an internet meme and either was picked up by the alt-right as a symbol of hate or was used by pranksters to convince a gullible media that it had been picked up by the alt-right as a symbol of hate—look, it’s a rabbit hole, OK?
Furie tried to reclaim his character by killing Pepe off and then crowdfunding a new Pepe book, but in the meantime, Eric Hauser was hard at work, making Pepe the hero of his self-published children’s book, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede.
In Hauser’s tale, Pepe and Pede (a centipede, which is an image frequently used by Trump supporters) are friends who team up to fight an evil alligator, Alkah, who lives in a nearby swamp and has enslaved its inhabitants, forcing them to wear black full-body coverings. Despite this painfully obvious imagery, Hauser claimed that he wasn’t using Pepe as a callout to the “alt-right,” that the alligator came from a recurring dream his daughter had, and that the book was not intended to be Islamophobic or hateful in any way. “If you love America then you’re going to love this book for sure,” he said in an interview. “Some of the central themes are honesty, humor and friendship.” In fact, there’s an Honesty Tree on Hauser’s fictional farm that hasn’t blossomed in the eight years that the previous owner was in charge.
Yet Hauser was clearly not being honest about several things, as Matthew Gault made clear in a well-researched article at Motherboard: He spoke to the illustrator of the book and tracked down the sources that Hauser had provided as exemplars for the illustrator (who lives in Ukraine and is not well versed in American political imagery). In fact, in a second article, he showed a note that Hauser sent the artist with an image taken from a “How to Draw Pepe” website:
This made Furie’s lawyers chortle with glee:
“It was all the more reason it was indicative of—not just infringement—but infringement that was intentional. [This was] the rare case when you actually establish direct evidence of deliberate copying,” Steinberg told me.
In fact, Hauser admitted it to Furie’s lawyers, Louis Tompros and Don Steinberg of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, who took on the case pro bono.
As for Furie, Tompro said,
“He’s been really disheartened by the whole thing,” Tompros said. “He has a child [and] seeing his character used in a nasty, hateful way towards children was particularly a problem. I think he was, and is, happy that we’ve reached a result that addresses this particular problem. I think he is still disheartened by the way Pepe is being used in the media and is willing and able to respond to that aggressively. That’s his plan. He doesn’t want his rights and pepe to be used and misused by the alt-right.”
Furie insisted that the profits from the book, which come to $1,521.54 so far, be turned over to CAIR. Before the suit was filed, Hauser had already stepped down from his job as vice principal of a middle school because of the controversy over the book.
It’s still not clear whether Post Hill Press plans to go ahead with its plans to publish the book for wider distribution; the Amazon page is still there but says “currently unavailable.” The publisher’s response is richly ironic:
“We are publishing the book in hardcover on November 7, 2017,” Devon Brown of Post Hill Press told me via email on August 14. “We do know that some are trying to make Pepe and Pede controversial, but we do not consider it to be…we find that concern completely unfounded. It’s unfortunate that an educator who has written a book that uplifts the virtues of truth and honesty has received such scrutiny.”