Synopsis: When indie comic character “Pepe the Frog” becomes an unwitting icon of hate, his creator, cartoonist Matt Furie, fights to bring Pepe back from the darkness. Feels Good Man is a parable about one man’s fight to retake his creation from the grips of evil and America’s struggle to confront its deep cultural divide.
After Pepe the Frog was declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League in 2016, Matt asked his cartoonist friends (me included) to flood the internet with positive images of Pepe in an attempt to wrestle him back from the alt-right. As much as I wanted to help the campaign, I felt like I was in a unique position to do something more.
This had become clear to me a year earlier when then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted an image of Pepe. At the time, the news media was baffled: Why was Trump tweeting an internet meme most recently used by school shooters? To me, however, it made perfect sense.
I grew up in rural Missouri surrounded by the conservative media of the 1980s and 1990s. Permeating the landscape was the gospel of us vs. them — then considered fringe. After leaving Missouri, I became an illustrator and animator and found myself in the underground comics scene, which is how I first encountered Matt.
Over the years, as I worked with investigative news outlets, Matt and I developed a friendship. I watched as Pepe, his chill frog dude, became an internet phenomenon. As both he and the culture at large struggled to understand Pepe’s descent into darkness, I felt like my background had granted me a unique vantage point. I could see a direct line from indie comics to internet message boards to school shooters to President Trump.
Because of this, and because Matt trusted me, I felt like it was time to document the Pepe spectacle. The process has been anything but linear and it’s far from over. Pepe’s public life continues to expand, grow and mutate into arenas that has at times felt irreversibly bleak and at other times has filled me with boundless hope. “Feels Good Man” is a creative attempt to explain what the phenomenon of Pepe says about our current moment.
Feels Good Man is Jones’s directorial debut, but he’s uniquely positioned to tell this nuanced and layered story. Throughout his career, he’s art directed animation and motion graphics for journalists and documentary filmmakers at news outlets like The New York Times, VICE, The Center for Investigative Reporting and The International Consortium of Journalists. In 2011, Jones published a book of illustrations called “Post-it Note Diaries” (Penguin/Plume Paperbacks). Recently he’s worked on several documentary features: “Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story” (2015), “BUNKER 77” (Amazon Studios, 2017), “Owned, A Tale of Two Americas” (2018) and “Hal” (Oscilloscope Films, 2018). He is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Jones became friends with Matt Furie, the subject of his film, through the alternative comics scene. After the 2016 election, Furie was approached by a number of filmmakers and media outlets, but Furie instead opted to have his story told by his own community. Through various personal collaborations, Jones and Furie came to realize that Jones’ approach to animation and illustration complimented Furie’s wildly colorful cartoon universe, the results of which give Feels Good Man its unique illustrative style.