With a line of T-shirts and now a book, Des Moines-based Raygun allows Midwesterners to laugh at themselves.
Take one of the company’s best-sellers, “Iowa: Wave the next time you fly over.”
“People from out of state are like, ‘Oh, my God, they know the jokes!” Mike Draper, the founder and president of Raygun, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not like we’re sitting here oblivious.”
With most of his company’s shirts printed in a simple block-letter style, Raygun began with designs such as “Des Moines: Let us exceed your already low expectations.”
Responses from cities and counties have been across the board, from “Don’t Mess with Iowa” shirts being ordered by the Polk County Drug Enforcement Task Force to a thumbs-down from the city for “Waterloo: You may recognize us from ‘Cops.’ ”
“They weren’t excited about that at all,” Draper said.
Likewise, Raygun is consenting this week to a cease-and-desist order from Iowa State University regarding the sale of gold-and-red shirts with a crudely drawn picture of ISU men’s basketball coach Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg on the front.
Draper and the other minds at Raygun combined forces to write the book “The Midwest: God’s Gift to Planet Earth,” which was published in October. They will be at the Establishment Theatre in Rock Island for a signing, Q&A session and presentation Thursday night.
The book tells parts of Draper’s life: Growing up just west of Des Moines in Van Meter, Iowa, going to college at the University of Pennsylvania and spending a year-and-a-half in Europe before returning to the States to begin selling T-shirts.
That started in 2004 and he moved to Des Moines the next year.
“Really we’ve been doing the same thing for seven years. It’s just gotten bigger,” he said.
The book, he said, is a culmination of the past seven years and the business going from T-shirts to posters, postcards and stickers.
Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox
Balancing the Midwest loyalty is a wicked sense of humor.
“We’ve always been into irreverence,” the 30-year-old said. “I’ve always been attracted to humor more than anything else. The store, and especially the book, is modeled after Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ where it’s meant to be satire with a purpose.”
For example, he points to a best-selling shirt, “Des Moines: Hell Yes.”
“There’s a built-in joke because nobody should be that excited about Des Moines,” he said. “But it also establishes what we wanted it to, where we want people to be kind of excited about Des Moines. Embrace the joke, but appreciate what you have.”