hile Rage Comics have steadily declined since the early 2010s, their mark on internet culture will never be completely forgotten. One such Rage Face, known as “Me Gusta,” has also had a significant impact on the internet, but like many ancient memes, its true origins are somewhat lost to the ages. Recently, we tracked down the original creator of Me Gusta, who goes by May Oswald now and not Matt, to hear more about her humble contribution to meme culture.
What started out as another routine interview quickly transformed into some major, never-before-seen developments as Oswald revealed the true story of how Me Gusta first went viral on 4chan. Additionally, during our discussion before the interview, we uncovered an elaborate scam where an imposter stole Oswald’s identity online, impersonated them to convince others and then tried to profit from her creation by selling it as an NFT “from the real creator of Me Gusta.” This is a long one, so strap in and get ready to hear the untold story of Me Gusta.
Q: Welcome, May, and thanks for joining us. Since it’s been a long time since the days of Rage Comics, let’s begin with a quick intro. Let everyone know who you are and what you’re known for online.
A: Hello there. My name is May Oswald. A long, long time ago, it's ancient history now by internet reckoning, I was responsible for a Rage Face. Ten years ago, Rage Faces were just sort of like a low-effort, mostly black-and-white, usually MS Paint pixelated doodles. People who were clever could come in and make some clever jokes out of the faces that people provided, and I was one of those people that provided one of those faces. It is known as the “Me Gusta” face.
Q: I’d like to hear about some of your early internet history before you created Me Gusta. Can you tell us what sites or communities you were a part of back in the day that sort of introduced you to meme and internet culture?
A: Specifically meme and internet culture for me, it was 4chan that got its claws on me back when I was a very formative child, or a child with a very formative brain. I was ensnared by 4chan, and I think, like anyone who found that website when they were younger back in its glory days, they just got sucked into that culture. I spent a good chunk of my early years on 4chan, for better or for worse, I don't know. That one remains to be seen, of course [laughs]. But yeah, I got my start on 4chan. I was one of the first few there. I think I found 4chan when I was 14 or 15, so that would have been in the 2004 to 2005 range.
Q: Since Me Gusta was an addition to the growing number of Rage Faces back in the day, do you remember when or where you first saw a Rage Comic? Were you particularly a fan of those memes?
A: Yeah, that's where the Rage Comics began. “I remember being there, Gandalf, 3,000 years ago, when Rage Faces and Rage Comics were first starting to become a thing.” I remember there was a large number of people trying to contribute their faces, and I remember seeing the rise and the fall of many faces back in the day, some of which have stood the test of time. It's fun to know that I was there when a particular Rage Face first began.
Q: When did you get into drawing and illustrating? What other creations did you make before Me Gusta?
A: I mean, illustration, drawing, doodling, that's just been something that has been with me my entire life. Even on homework assignments and stuff, they were just all along the margins of the page, covered in doodles. It's kind of involuntary for me to just make silly doodles all the time, and so I think for as long as I can remember, and as for as long as I have left on this planet, I think I'm just gonna continue to be making really strange doodles whenever the inspiration strikes me. My sketchbooks are filled to the brim with just like a little circle, a little funny face on it, and it's just something that's kind of therapeutic and fun to spit out. They take 15 seconds to make.
Q: So, diving into the backstory of Me Gusta, give us the full account of how you created it, why and what inspired it originally.
A: The actual creation of the Me Gusta face, unfortunately, doesn't have a really interesting backstory. Like I explained, drawing silly faces is just something I do to pass the time, and that was just another day where I was on MS Paint bored, doodling away.
I know that at this time, I had a friend who shared a liking for the really pixelated MS Paint doodles — the sort of illustrations that you see on 4chan. They were oftentimes really long-form comics made in MS Paint and some wonderful artists made some hilarious things using that really pixelated and hatched kind of style, and it was something that we both found really inspiring around that time. So that sort of style was certainly influenced by meme culture on 4chan. But the actual content, the actual face itself was just really a stream of consciousness sort of deal that I didn’t really pay attention to … and then when you blink, “Oh! There's a drawing at the end of it.” It's just another one of the millions of weird faces I've drawn in my life.
Q: What did you think of it at the time when you first made it? After that, what was the initial reception like when you shared it to 4chan and Reddit for the first time?
A: Alright. Here's where it gets a little more fun. So when you reached out to me, you said that you dug through an old interview that I had done a long, long time ago, and the official story back then was that I was encouraged by “this friend,” who I just mentioned earlier, to post it online, right? That was an absolute fabrication because I was embarrassed about what the actual truth was.
Q: This sounds juicy.
A: In the spirit of this being 10 years old and just ancient history now, I think it's time I come clean and we get the real story, right? The real juicy details. It's not that much more interesting, but when the Me Gusta face was created, and I saw that it was awful and had great “viralability” potential, possibly based on the fact that I had seen similar faces rise to prominence on 4chan plenty of times prior to mine showing up, I thought to myself that I was going to force this thing to become a meme. I was like, "I can make this happen. I've seen it happen on 4chan plenty of times. I'm gonna try and repeat that success."
So this friend, who I previously stated encouraged me to post it, did not encourage me to post it. I went in with the intention of this thing going viral, and I came armed to the teeth with a plan. Here was the plan. Oftentimes, when a new Rage Face was coming out in 4chan at that time, how the thread would happen is that there would just be the face, and then with the colorful language of 4chan, there would be the equivalent of, "Hey, new Rage Face just dropped. See what you guys can make of it." So my intention was to do the exact same thing, "Hey, new Rage Face just dropped." Post the image. But what I came in with was that I had made about two or three example comics to kind of get it out there with sort of what I was intending this face to be used for.
Q: I remember the one with the cat in it as the first.
A: The cat was mine. Yup. That's the only one I remember. It sort of went down like this. In order to continue this story, I am gonna just preface this with a content warning because there really isn't an English equivalent for a word that was used in 4chan at the time. So going forward, just for the story, intense homophobic slur, which is just kind of standard for 4chan at the time.
So going into this, the thing that I wanted to avoid primarily was to be convicted as a “samefag,” because this is the ultimate crime on 4chan, so I had to fool them. I had to make comics, make them distinct enough that they didn't look like my art, and I had to go through them and scrub the metadata. I made one comic in Photoshop, one comic in GIMP, one comic in MS Paint. I think I used two different computers and uploaded them from two different IP addresses. So I post the image, "New Rage Face just dropped. What do you all make of it?" and then I give it a little bit of time.
If you don't know how 4chan works, if nobody's posting on your thread it just plummets down the pages until eventually, if no one posts on it, it gets deleted and purged from the internet permanently. But if somebody does post on your original post, it gets bumped back to the top. So things that are really popular, things that people are really talking about, they will oftentimes find themselves always on the first page. Then, eventually, if it's a really popular thread, it might last for a day before it finally hits page 10 and is deleted from the internet.
Q: Right, so how’d you manage that? I know places like 4chan can be pretty good at catching those types of things.
A: So I had to avoid being accused of a samefag and plummeting to page 10, which is what was happening when I posted it. Immediately people were like, "I don't want this. This is not that good." So immediately this thing was dying and I was like, "Oh no. It's time to execute my master plan." So I post the first comic and, much to my surprise, someone posted a very low-effort comic to go with it. Then my ultimate weapon that I had after I was running out of comics to post was to accuse myself of being a samefag. That was my daring attempt at making this thing a success. I had a really well-written response to prove to everyone that this was clearly not the same person. But much to my surprise someone actually came to my defense after I accused myself of being the same person. And from that point, I went to bed, woke up the next day and there were hundreds of comics in that thread.
Q: That’s wild. What were some of the other early memes using Me Gusta like?
A: Some of them were way funnier and more clever than I could have ever come up with. For example, the one I posted of the cat was so sanitized edgy. I don't know how that got through to 4chan, because they should’ve detected that that was such a sanitized version of edginess. It was not the sort of edgy that 4chan was known for at the time. Then when the thing became prominent, I was just too ashamed to admit that I faked the meme into popularity. But that's the actual story of how it went down. I very much wanted to make a meme at the time and see if I could make that thing go viral … and goddamnit, I was successful [laughs].
Q: So Me Gusta was a forced meme this whole time? We’re gonna have to go ahead and shut the interview down now.
A: [laughs] Disconnect. Alright, later.
Q: That’s a crazy story though, especially since it’s been so long without revealing the truth. So I know a few months after sharing it there, Me Gusta became immensely popular as users all over the web began using it in memes of their own. Do you remember when or where you first saw your drawing being used in other people’s memes? How’d you react to it going viral?
A: I do not remember specifically when I encountered them outside of 4chan. I do remember waking up the next day and seeing the 4chan thread with hundreds of comics in it. I think, eventually, it was probably one of my friends who told me to check out Reddit. That was kind of the life cycle of a meme back then. But I remember seeing it somewhere on Reddit, probably the official Rage Comic subreddit, and I believe that's where I had encountered it after I had posted it to 4chan. As for my reaction, it was mostly, “Excellent. All according to plan” [laughter]. No, I was delighted. That's a very exciting feeling to see something you were responsible for, regardless of your feelings for the actual image itself, being put all over the place. That's an exciting feeling for any artist I think.
Q: After Me Gusta became a prominent meme, what did your friends or family think of it? Did you ever discuss your involvement in creating such an internet icon with them?
A: I've never told anyone my deep dark secret, you're actually the first to hear that. But again, my friends were the ones to catch wind of it being on Reddit, and so they were the ones to tell me that it had shown up there. Everyone thought it was fun. Like a friend of mine was in Italy or something and there were some bootleg Me Gusta T-shirts being sold there. They were just like, "Oh my gosh! Isn't this crazy?" and they took a picture and sent it to me. So yeah, I think it was just kind of a fun little thing for everyone.
Q: As one of the most recognizable memes, why do you think people loved Me Gusta so much? What was it about this humble Rage Face that made it so beloved?
A: I've personally never met anyone who would describe their feelings towards it as beloved or anything, but if people got a kick out of it, that's just the ultimate point of making art or making anything and sharing it with the world. It’s to elicit a reaction from someone, or to inspire them. I hope other people wanted to make memes and do weird drawings after this. If that sort of inspiration spread, then I am a very happy artist because that's the whole point, to get people to feel something.
Q: You attended events back in the day like ROFLCon where you met other meme icons like yourself. What were those events like?
A: I was invited to speak at two events. There was ROFLCon and one at a Seattle baseball field that was organized by the I Can Haz Cheezburger team. That was a very small event, but honestly, this is my favorite part of what the Me Gusta thing enabled — these two events. They were so much fun. I grew up watching a lot of these meme creators at some of these events.
Q: While some meme creators or meme celebrities attempt to capitalize on their internet fame, you stated back in the day that you never tried to use Me Gusta commercially, even after your mom suggested doing so. Why’d you avoid going that route for your meme?
A: Yeah, that opinion totally changed, and I'll explain the context of why it changed. So that interview that you pulled up from way back in the day, very much so at the time I was opposed to commercializing it. I thought it was against the spirit of what memes are. I think they're supposed to be freely distributed, free to modify, free to do whatever the heck you want with them. I still, to this day, believe to my core that that's what a meme is. However, at this time, I wasn't doing too well financially, I had some bills that I just wasn't able to get to, and I don't remember which company reached out to me, but they proposed merchandising the Me Gusta face. They wanted to sell T-shirts and probably buttons and all sorts of random little merch items.
I flipped through the contract, which was like 30 pages of legal jargon, and I did not have anyone look at it. I was just trying my best to parse whatever the heck they were trying to say in that document. I remember finding something in there that said they were going to, upon signing this document, have exclusive either copyright of the image or the ability to take down other people's merchandising attempts. There was something in there that they were trying to gain complete control over the copyright of this image, and I remember protesting it. I said, "Hey, I'm absolutely opposed to this section of the contract." And I remember they adjusted it and removed that section. What we ended up settling on was that they were going to have rights to the merchandising and everything else would just be like a bootleg.
But you're me, and you're in debt, and you're being offered an advanced check of a pretty sizable amount. Nothing crazy, but enough to comfortably get rid of all of my debts and have a little bit of money left over. So after I got them to change the contract, I was like, "Hell yeah, let's do this." So yeah, I'm a huge sell-out. If you ever went to a Hot Topic, saw a Me Gusta T-shirt and you cringed out of your skin, that was me that did that. Sorry about that.
Q: Recently among the growing trend of meme crypto-collectibles, we discovered that someone was impersonating you as the creator of Me Gusta and even minted an NFT, which has since been taken down. Before getting to that, can you recap a bit of your experience with crypto and NFTs to give some background?
A: So I'm personally a very big fan of cryptocurrency. I think it's a very important and positive technology going forward. Any sort of decentralized currency like that is very important. However, there is a very significant ecological impact with cryptocurrency, and especially minting NFTs. I follow a ton of artists who inspire me on Twitter, and some of them are profiting off NFTs, and rightfully so. I think artists should be compensated for their hard work. It's very hard to make money as an artist, so this is a new tool. It's a controversial one, but it is a new tool for artists to make money. In my opinion, I think the ecological impact is too significant and we should reconsider them or try and do them differently. I don't know the technical details of how an NFT is minted very well, but I do know that there's a calculator online that tells you how many trees you kill by minting an NFT.
I also have a problem with it in that NFTs, from what I've been able to see like with the famous "million-dollar Beeple" one, it's a way for already affluent artists to gain more affluence and wealth, and I feel like it does not benefit the smaller artists that much. So for me, I personally do not support NFTs. But again, I think they have the ability to be a very positive force in the art world and compensating artists for all their wonderful work. I do not know enough about it to say what's right or what's wrong in the matter, but personally, I just get a bad vibe from NFTs in general. It's really something you should make up your own mind on because they can be used for good.
Q: Alright, so let’s go into this whole imposter who fooled people into thinking they were the true creator of Me Gusta and your reaction after we exposed it just before this interview.
A: So there was someone out there who was impersonating me using information that's available online, reaching out to the Trollface guy and the Nyan Cat guy because we had a panel together at ROFLCon. This person reached out to the Nyan Cat guy and convinced them that they were me, and then they got the Troll Face guy to invite them to one of the official platforms where you can mint and sell NFTs. So someone was pretending to be me on that website with a verified account. It's got that little checkmark, so everyone looks at it and goes, "Oh, it's authentic." They were selling it for 2 Ethereum, $5,000 or something like that. Which, one, I think having my identity stolen is worth way more than $5,000, like come on, aim a little higher, in my opinion. Two, I really hope no one gets scammed off this, that would break my heart. I think the Me Gusta face was largely a positive force on the planet or whatever, and this thing with NFTs having a significant ecological impact to mint each one, so not only is someone potentially gonna get scammed out of way too much money, but there's also, without my consent, someone killing a bunch of trees in my name.
Luckily, it looks like no one wanted to buy this thing. Oh, a third thing that's insulting about it is that it's not even the original image that they're trying to sell. The original image is chunky, pixelated, made in MS Paint, etc., and so this person is doing the Illustrator Live-Traced version with all of the vector graphic artifacts that come with that automatic conversion. It's an ugly image, in my opinion, and so he's not even selling the original. There are so many ways I’m insulted [laughs].
Q: This whole thing was just so crazy to me because he managed to dupe so many people into believing it was you and even went as far as to dig up old info on you.
A: It's actually quite creepy. I went through their profile and I used to be pretty passionate about video editing, it's like a hobby, and I used to put things on YouTube and stuff all the time. Not really anymore, that's just another hobby that I've kind of moved on from. But they had in their profile like, “Hey, I'm an illustrator and video editor.” So I'm like, “Oh my gosh, how did you find these details about me?” But yeah, it's creepy stuff, it's weird. I'm not the first person who's been the victim of having their artwork stolen to have an official NFT minted and have someone scammed. This is something that I've been seeing happening to a lot of artists on Twitter.
Q: Yeah, it seems like something they’ve yet to address very much. So aside from Me Gusta, can you tell us an all-time favorite meme or any recent formats you like currently?
A: I'm still cracking up with new memes. They're getting so good and they're so hilarious. I've got two answers. One is, in my opinion, that the only Rage Face that’s stood the test of time and aged gracefully is the “Okay Face.” That’s the best Rage Face and the only one we should be celebrating now that the Rage Comics fad has largely ended. I remember seeing that thing rise to prominence, and it was actually kind of the inspiration for me wanting to try forcing Me Gusta on the world or whatever. That dejected look and the combination of "okay," it's the funniest image and still cracks me up to this day. Whoever drew that one, they win, in my opinion. As far as Rage Faces are concerned, that is S tier. Me Gusta like C tier at best [laughs].
Recently, some of the newer ones that have been cracking me up are the macros that fanbases will use where they'll do the “Average X fan and the Average Y Enjoyer.” There's usually just some twerpy kid in the fan category and just some Chad-looking dude in the enjoyer category, but what cracks me up about it is the distinction between the words “fan” and “enjoyer.” It's such a weird word, but it's such a funny thing to wanna distinguish your fanbase from the inferior one.
Q: You’re still an illustrator on the side all these years later, but what else are you doing in your career at the moment? Anything to share with us?
A: So illustration nowadays is just something I do for pleasure mostly. The pandemic hit me hard, unfortunately, so to take advantage of the unemployment that I experienced, I put forth a ton of energy and effort into shipping my first video game. If you're into Boomer arcade games and twin-stick shooters, you can check out Satryn. It's pretty dope, I think.
Q: Before we go, I’d like to ask how you want Me Gusta to be remembered in the years to come. What are your hopes and dreams for Me Gusta’s legacy in internet culture?
A: I'm personally content to have this chapter of my life closed and to move on from it, but if Me Gusta still brings people joy and they still wanna share it and do whatever they want with it, that's wonderful. I think it's great. How I want it to be remembered? I hope just positively, and I hope it's not used for any further harm, such as the NFT situation. It's a little corny, but I mentioned earlier meeting Paul Vasquez, the Double Rainbow guy. I was very lucky to share a panel with him at ROFLCon, and I don't remember specifically what he said, but everyone in the audience, including all of the other panelists, were just completely rapt in his speech.
He said something like, “Memes are a way for us to relate ‘cause we're all a part of this plane.” He called the internet a “plane,” like a plane of reality, which in a way is totally what it is. We're all a part of it, and I remember that he thought it was so beautiful that everyone wanted to share in the beauty of the double rainbow with him and how memes are like that. They can be a very positive, wonderful thing that we can use to relate to each other, bring us closer together and can be used for great good. They can also be used for propaganda and great harm and stuff, so be careful with them memes, kids. Only get your memes from trusted sources [laughs].
Q: Thanks again, May. Any parting words to end on?
A: If you don't mind me congratulating you and Know Your Meme, especially because in 1,000 years, when people are studying the humans that were around this time, you know for a fact that one of the things they're gonna study about the ancient humans was the memes that we shared. “Can you believe they shared these stupid images with each other?” And you're doing the researchers a thousand years from now a great service by documenting the context and the history behind these images. Yeah, they're “haha, hu-hu, funny, little dumb images” that we forget about in a week, but it's important, I think, to have all of that context and what they represented to the ancient humans well documented. I think the work you're doing is actually is super important.
This was a wonderful experience. I'm really glad you reached out, and I'm also glad you reached out ‘cause I would’ve never known about this NFT fraud going on. So I'm really relieved to be aware of that, and I'm really glad to have had this opportunity to finally come clean on the real juicy backstory behind it [laughs].
Watch our interview with May Oswald below for the video version of our discussion.
May Oswald, who goes by her online handle Insert, is the original illustrator of the Me Gusta Rage Comic character that became a meme in 2010. You can follow May on Twitter or check out her Itch.io page to see what games she's working on, like the upcoming title Satryn.