If you regularly use Twitch, Discord, or really any popular chat platform, message board, or social networking site, chances are good that you’ve laid eyes on the magnificent Peepo. Sometimes known as Pepo, the melancholy frog character is actually a rather poorly drawn rendition of Pepe the Frog, a character dating back to 2005.
Pepe the Frog, for those who don’t know, has an absolutely wild history as a meme.
Pepe was created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie as part of a zine, Playtime, that he created in Microsoft Paint. This was followed by a comic called Boy’s Club, in which Pepe was one of four slacker roommates that inexplicably possessed an animal head. A 2008 comic in which Pepe remarks “feels good man” seems to have led to the character’s first popular stint as a meme, largely thanks to being posted on the Something Awful forums.
Naturally, this was shortly followed by a “feels bad man” variation in which Pepe looks distraught as opposed to relaxed. A few years later, in 2011, Furie spoke about Pepe and his origins in an interview with meme encyclopedia Known Your Meme. Then, in 2014, the character’s popularity as a meme exploded, and that year gave rise to Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook accounts all dedicated to the meme, as well as a subreddit.
As if that weren’t enough, that same year popstar Katy Perry used a picture of a distraught, crying Pepe in a tweet about jet lag, which received over ten thousand retweets. A month later, Nicki Minaj used the character in an Instagram post, which received hundreds of thousands of likes.
Things got out of hand in late 2015.
Donald Trump, then a candidate for President of the United States, tweeted an illustration of himself as Pepe, standing behind a podium that held the official Presidential seal. This tweet saw thousands of likes and retweets, (yet received less attention than Katy Perry’s jet lag tweet from a year prior). A few months later, in January 2016, the Russian Embassy in the UK used a picture of a smug Pepe in a tweet about an upcoming meeting between President-elect Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
These tweets are what seemingly led to Pepe eventually being adopted as an unofficial icon of the United States alt-right movement and being branded a “racist meme” and “white supremacist symbol” by several news outlets. In a 2017 street interview, white supremacist Richard B. Spencer was interviewed wearing a Pepe the Frog pin on his jacket. He attempted to explain the meaning of the pin but was abruptly punched in the face on camera.
Pepe creator Furie expressed his unhappiness with the movement’s usage of the character and, in response, officially killed the character off. He was also successful in several copyright battles, getting Pepe imagery removed from various websites and receiving thousands in a copyright infringement case against Alex Jones and Infowars.
Despite a solid year of pretty heated controversy, fast food chain Wendy’s got in on the action in 2017 with a tweet of Pepe as the Wendy’s mascot. Unsurprisingly, they received heavy criticism over the tweet.
Fortunately, Pepe has been largely quiet in the last few years, possibly due to the spin-off meme Peepo rising in popularity. A 2020 documentary entitled Feels Good Man chronicles the corruption of Pepe the Frog and creator Matt Furie’s attempts to save the character and reclaim him as a force for good in the world.
Written by Anna Divya Benjamin