The SCP Foundation—the grassroots, collaborative, creepypasta-adjacent writing project that largely inspired 2019 third-person shooter Control—recently removed the image associated with its first and most popular entry, prompting artists to reimagine the monster at the center of one of the internet’s favorite horror stories.
The wiki that hosts the SCP Foundation is essentially a shared universe concerning a secretive group of scientists that keeps the world safe from all manner of groovy ghoulies. When, for example, farmers are killed by a misanthropic, “hard-to-destroy” reptile or a coffee machine is discovered that can dispense any material, however weird or abstract, in liquid form, the responsibility of securing the anomaly, containing it, and protecting the world from its influence (hence, the SCP initialism) falls to foundation personnel.
The very first SCP entry was posted to 4chan’s “/x/ – Paranormal” board in June 2007. It described a murderous creature—which, much like the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, can move instantaneously but only when it’s not being watched—with the same rote, scientific diction that would become the SCP Foundation’s signature style. SCP-173, as the monster was known, eventually inspired 4chan users to write entries of their own, and in 2008, the SCP Foundation was officially born.
While not particularly well-written by today’s standards, the SCP-173 creepypasta managed to sink its claws into the denizens of 4chan largely thanks to its accompanying image of a haunting, humanoid sculpture. This statue, a compelling work by Japanese artist Izumi Kato known as “Untitled 2004,” gave SCP-173 its identity, and naturally carried over to the SCP Foundation wiki upon its creation. Upon discovering this use of his art, Kato was less than pleased, but allowed the SCP Foundation to keep the photo up so long as it wasn’t used commercially.
Earlier this month, however, the folks who maintain the SCP Foundation dropped a bombshell, announcing the impending removal of SCP-173’s iconic image.
“Kato’s work was designed with its own meaning and artistic vision in mind, which was forcefully hijacked by SCP-173,” the SCP Foundation explained via Twitter thread. “While we cannot fully undo the damage done, we have a moral and legal obligation to at least try separating SCP from Kato’s work. Kato has not demanded we take down the art. However, we believe it is necessary in the spirit of [Creative Commons], open collaboration, and artistic integrity to remove the image. We thank Kato tremendously for putting up with the wiki and the burden we thrust on him.”
The SCP Foundation also indicated that, in accordance with the wishes of SCP-173’s original author, it doesn’t plan to replace the image with something new as its done in the past for similar situations. Instead, the website opened the door for artists to reimagine its “concrete and rebar with traces of Krylon brand spray paint” construction themselves, leaving SCP-173 without a true, canon appearance since it was first created almost 15 years ago. Fortunately, the work produced so far is pretty fantastic.
Take this interpretation by Volgun, who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to the creepy crawlies of the SCP Foundation. His take on SCP-173 is more other-worldly, with illegible, alien scrawlings surrounding the ominous hole in its “face.” Volgun even created a short animation to show how the creature would explore the limits of its confinement.
“The feeling that the original SCP-173 photograph gave me around 11 years ago was ‘what is this and why is it here? I’m unsettled but curious.’” Volgun told Kotaku via email. “So that was a feeling I wanted to try and replicate whilst being as far from Mr. Kato’s design as possible.”
David Romero, a horror illustrator based out of Austin, Texas, also took a crack at giving SCP-173 a new look, resulting in this incredibly effective, POV vignette of the creature approaching you in fits and spurts as you blink. Oh, and did I mention it’s a spider now? Because SCP-173 is a spider now. You’ve been warned.
My hands-down favorite of the art I’ve seen, however, comes from Trevor Henderson, who you may know as the creator of the internet phenomenon Siren Head. I love that Henderson’s take on SCP-173 it this barely humanoid thing held together by tentacle-like rebar, and the almost shamanistic eyes painted on its body are a nice touch as well.
“I just wanted to take the initial sculpture used for SCP-173 and break it down into a more surreal form, as well as emphasizing the rebar,” Henderson told Kotaku via email. “I also thought that something that you had to stare at to save your life should return the favor, hence all the spray-painted eyeballs all over it.”
“For me, it was important to keep the strange proportions and stature of the original entry, as well as the highlights of bright red spray paint that made up part of the face,” Henderson added. “Other than that, I just tried to get them to feel like the original creature while dodging the kinds of shapes that made up the original art project.”
SCP-173 was many folks’ entry into online horror, and its appearance on 4chan ushered in a new era of collaborative creation. In a lot of ways, Izumi Kato’s eerie sculpture was the SCP Foundation thanks to forming the basis for the huge repository, and it’s weird to see SCP-173’s page now bereft of its photograph. That said, removing SCP-173’s connection to Kato’s artwork has also freed it of previous constraints, allowing artists more room to experiment with its aesthetics. And this aspect of the whole situation hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It’s been incredible watching so many people interpret the SCP-173 article and designing their own versions of it,” an SCP Foundation rep told Kotaku via email. “It definitely taps into the collaborative and expansive spirit of the SCP Foundation and has been a complete pleasure to watch. There’s so many amazing art pieces, we’re not even sure if we can say we have favorites.”