There are no innocent frogs.
A children’s book called The Adventures of Pepe and Pede, written by Eric Hauser and illustrated by Nina Khalova, is being kiboshed. The book was scheduled to be published by Post Hill Press in November. Now, after Matt Furie, the creator of the book’s star character, accused the author of copyright infringement, Hauser has agreed not to continue with the book.
Pepe is, of course, no ordinary frog. If you’re active online in the US, you’ve seen him: a big-eyed, wide-mouthed illustrated frog who wants to make America great again. But before the character was coopted by right-wing internet trolls, he had a creator, one who wants nothing to do with Pepe’s new friends.
Hauser’s picture book is about Pepe and his centipede friend, Pede. It’s set on a farm called Wishington, and the characters fight a bearded alligator villain named Alkah, barely veiled names for Washington and Allah. “Pede” is a nickname for Trump supporters.
“[Furie] thought it was particularly offensive that the book was espousing some hateful and Islamophobic themes and was being marketed directly to children, using his character,” says Louis Tompros, one of the attorneys who represented Furie.
The two reached an agreement on Monday, with Hauser admitting he infringed on Furie’s copyright and agreeing to stop distributing the book. Hauser had already self-published the book on August 1, and so he agreed to donate the $1,500 profits he made from that edition to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
Hauser and Post Hill haven’t responded to emailed requests for comment, but Hauser originally maintained that his book was about “honesty, teamwork, and friendship.” “I’m using Pepe just as a light-hearted way of expressing maybe some conservative values,” he said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News earlier this month, adding, “Obviously, no, I’m not part of the alt-right.” In mid-August, as a result of the controversy over his book, Hauser was dismissed from his job as an assistant principal at Rodriguez Middle School in Oak Point, Texas. Hauser said then he hadn’t known the symbol was one used by the alt-right and has since resigned from the district all together.
Furie created Pepe for his Boy’s Club series in 2005 and has watched his creation take on a life of its own, used in social media avatars and graphics to depict anything from a Trump supporter to a bonafide neo-Nazi. Since then he’s tried to kill his character in more ways than one: In May he drew a cartoon funeral for the stoned frog, and now Tompros says he’s investigating other instances of Pepe appropriation.