Esther Verkest, the lewd, manipulative redhead who stars in comics by Flemish cartoonist Kim Duchateau, found herself in quite a predicament recently. In a strip that appeared on the Esther Verkest Facebook page in early August, the character found herself stranded on a desert island, forced to signal passing planes with a “HELP” sign made out of rocks. And then, she became a meme.
In the comic, Esther’s “HELP” signal failed to attract attention, but when she changed the message to “SLUT,” pilots were literally crashing their aircraft to get to her. A crude joke, to be sure, but also an ideal meme template. All it takes is a change to the second, successful message, and you’ve got an instant commentary about misplaced priorities and what really gets people’s attention.
In the most basic form of the meme, the only thing that changes is the word “slut.” What do people really want? Memes!
This one, where Esther flags down the pilots by removing her top, is only slightly more sophisticated. It’s essentially the same joke as the original strip: “men are horny.”
The next level of complexity uses the meme to discuss what attracts a specific group of people. This meme, which seems to have sparked renewed interest in the Esther comic, was posted on Reddit under the title “/b/ in a nutshell.” The implication is that posters on 4chan’s infamously chaotic /b/ board are attracted to “traps,” rude 4chan slang for trans women (or men who can convincingly “pass” as women).
The next level of complexity is using the comic to refer back to another meme. This example references a stereotype about horny Indian men who ask women on Facebook and Instagram to “show bobs and vagene,” common misspellings of “boobs” and “vagina.”
This one refers to loss.jpg, an infamous abortion-themed strip from the Ctrl-Alt-Del webcomic. Rendering the Loss comic in minimalist form has become a meme in itself, and that’s what Esther is doing with her rocks here:
The final, most sophisticated level of this meme involves changing the characters themselves, whether that means Esther or the planes. These generally comment on the desires of a particular group. For example, this one implies that the U.S. military doesn’t like countries with anti-capitalist policies. (It appeared on the “FULL COMMUNISM” subreddit, natch.)
And this one is a mashup with Distracted Boyfriend, the stock-photo meme that might be the biggest of the summer. It works especially well because both memes imply rejecting one option in favor of another, more compelling option.
In fact, Distracted Boyfriend is probably the reason you’re not seeing many Esther memes on Facebook and Twitter right now. It came along just as the Esther meme was taking off in the first half of August, and served a similar function, but in a more broadly appealing way. Poor Esther was left stranded on her island, desperately spelling out “MEME” with rocks and hoping dank meme posters would notice her. Ironically, she’d been dumped for a meme about fickle people looking to trade their partners in for a newer model.