Johnny Fiveaces: Original meme artwork sells for $5,100

By Tom Gerken
BBC UGC & Social News

image copyrightJames Kunert-Graf

A 13-year-old pencil drawing which became a worldwide meme has been sold on eBay for $5,100 (£3,850).

The sketch features Johnny Fiveaces, a character who entered internet folklore before Facebook and Twitter took hold.

Originating on the Something Awful forums, the character was drawn alongside two others as ideas for a "low-quality" video game.

Despite the game being abandoned, Fiveaces has continued to feature on the website as an in-joke since 2006.

image copyrightJames Kunert-Graf
image captionJames Kunert-Graf, now 30, drew Johnny Fiveaces (bottom right) when he was 16

Johnny Fiveaces is a bearded man reclining at a table while holding an ace playing card, with four more spread before him.

He was drawn by James Kunert-Graf, from Seattle, Washington, and was intended to be a character for a game called The Zybourne Clock, which had been brainstormed by Something Awful members.

Something Awful has contributed many influences, good and bad, in online culture - being the start of British journalist Eliot Higgins' work as Brown Moses and Bellingcat and having birthed the Slenderman urban myth in 2009 - but Zybourne Clock was not one.

"This was late 2006," says James. "It was like every project on [Zybourne Clock] turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. There was a lot of enthusiasm.

"There was a rule: People couldn't be too critical or too negative. That meant basically anybody who had any skills or talent got fired. Everybody was left making extremely low-quality content."

image copyrightJames Kunert-Graf
image captionJohnny Fiveaces eventually made his way into Fallout: New Vegas

James says he was an excited teenager who wanted to be involved, and initially heard no response to his contributed drawings until people started making fun of it on Something Awful.

"I was absolutely horrified. People kept posting about it and posting about it. I was completely earnest, I didn't understand at first what was funny about it."

But the mockery slowly turned into appreciation, as Johnny spawned fanart, fanfiction and cosplays, spilling over to YouTube and Reddit.

"After a few years you had elaborate parody art, comics and paintings: Johnny as Napoleon crossing the alps, Johnny in the creation of Man."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Upon uncovering the original sketch he had posted in 2006, James was swamped with requests to buy it.

"The first person who contacted me offered $75 for it! That was not enough for me to part with it as I still have a sentimental connection to it."

However, James tweeted that his credit card and student loan debts were enough to see what money he could get for the picture on eBay.

"It exploded from $900 to $4,000 in a couple of hours."

And although initially sceptical, he has confirmed to the BBC that the winning bid is legitimate. The auction was won by prominent YouTuber Freddie Wong, who called the drawing "pure art".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

James attributes a lot of the attention paid to Johnny to Something Awful, and in 2010, the character made its way into a real-life video game, hidden in Fallout: New Vegas.

"For some reason these forums seem to be at the hub of a lot of weird online cultural things, so I'm not surprised it's seeped out".

The appearance in Fallout "was probably the biggest surprise, or the first moment it was actually something not directly connected to a forum".

"It's something that on the one hand seems incredibly well-known," says James of his creation. "Yet on the other hand I've never actually met a person who's ever heard of it."