With a résumé that included the European Union and a U. Penn diploma, Mike Draper, creator and owner of RAYGUN, could have hardly predicted that he would end up selling t-shirts for a living.
At the end of his undergraduate run, he tossed his hat into the ring for a highly coveted master’s fellowship in history. Confident in his chances, pulling together a back-up plan fell to the bottom of Draper’s priority list. In fact, it slipped his mind entirely.
Draper didn’t get the fellowship—and still keeps the rejection letter on display in his store.
“Some people hold their degrees up in their office, but that’s not going to help me sell t-shirts. I only made RAYGUN because I got rejected from this other thing,” he said.
“It was the biggest epiphany of my life,” Draper said of his rejection. Losing the fellowship sent him scrambling for a new career-track, which, bizarrely, turned out to be peddling t-shirts on college campuses and other street venues.
Though at first he harbored the occasional doubt about this “alternative lifestyle-thing,” he ultimately discovered that screen-printing witticisms about the Midwestern motherland was a surprisingly good fit for him.
“Weirdly enough, I was having more fun [selling t-shirts] than when I was in school and had potential and was on a track that people aspire to,” Draper said.
Des Moines & Iowa City, Iowa
Years after his decision to climb down from the Ivory Tower, this history-major turned t-shirt-satirist now owns two stores in Iowa (and is currently cradling ambitions for a third spot in Kansas City).
Draper also managed to combine his wry sense of humor with his talent for research and history writing. With help from his RAYGUN cohorts, Draper penned the demurely-titled book, “The Midwest: God’s Gift to Planet Earth!”
“Like all of our stuff, we try to be humorous, but it really is an actual Midwestern history.”Mike Draper
The book provides a top-notch sampling of RAYGUN’s humor alongside a healthy serving of regional backstory. The histories presented in the book are accurate (and were exhaustively researched)—but far-flung historical theorizing spices up the plot in each section.
“I like chapters like that, that tie together seemingly unrelated topics with a totally backwards premise,” Draper said.
Like everything else that falls under the RAYGUN umbrella, the book candidly captures Midwestern culture with vim and sarcasm, and a sincere appreciation for regional caricatures. “The Midwest: God’s Gift to Planet Earth!” is a substantive complement to the RAYGUN brand of humor, and a natural fit for Draper.
“Since I majored in history, I’m more qualified to write a book about history than I am to open a t-shirt shop.”