Authors & Artists profiles

Interview with Raid Bug creator Don Pegler

Update: It was with great sadness that I received the news that Don Pegler passed away yesterday, Dec. 26, 2011. He was a giant in the business of advertising and truly one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. RIP Don. You’ll be missed.

(Originally Published Oct. 1st, 2010)

With bedbugs, stinkbugs, and R1N1 in the headlines these days, what better time to check in with Don Pegler, the creator and artist behind one of the most successful ad campaigns ever?

The Raid bug campaign, originating in 1963, is part of advertising history, and Don Pegler designed and drew them for 40 years of his career with Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency (now DraftFCB) in Chicago.

I was just beginning my career with Foote, Cone, & Belding at a time when Mr. Pegler was a veteran of the agency and held the esteemed position of “Artist in Residence”.

When I called on him for an interview all these years later, he was as cordial and generous with his time as always, crafting a thoughtfully written twelve page letter in response to my questions.

Were you surprised at how enduring the Raid campaign has been?
DP: When I started on the Raid account I really liked it, but I never thought it would still be going 50 years later. And I got to go out to Hollywood and work with famous people like Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny and many others) and Tex Avery (Animation Director). At the time, I didn’t realize how famous they were…just a guy making funny voices- and driving a Rolls Royce. Years later at an animation show, some people wanted to touch some of the notes Tex Avery had sent me as if they were touching the Holy Grail.

Where did you learn to be an illustrator?
DP:  I went to The Art Institute of Chicago for a semester, but they weren’t teaching us how to get a job. So I took a night course on how advertising works- one week at a studio, next a printing house, then an agency, etc. At the end of the course, the teacher got us jobs. I was an apprentice at a large art studio- delivering packages and mail, cutting mats, etc. I made $20 a week. But I could use the studio as a downtown base to shop around my samples and look for a real job. One time I went to the office of Esquire magazine on Michigan Ave. to show some cartoons I had done, but they were packing up the office to move to New York. And one of their people had just quit to start a “girlie” magazine. It was Hugh Hefner going to start Playboy. Years later, I was introduced to his daughter, Christy Hefner and I was tempted to tell her that story, but I didn’t.

Did you have other jobs before FCB?
DP: Before joining FCB, I had been a magazine illustrator for five years, and then an animator for five years. A former Disney man taught me animation at a studio called Cartoonists, Inc. in Chicago. But Chicago style animation meant doing the whole job yourself, not like in LA, where you had backup people to do the hundreds of in-between drawings- 12 drawings for each second of film. So I started to feel I was drawing pictures by the pound. And I couldn’t show off because the agency guys would be afraid to change anything after they had sold the idea to the client.

Who would you say were your main influences?
DP: I’d have to say Jack Davis, of course. And a guy named John Huehnergarth, who was a great idea man and artist from the 50′s and 60′s.

Earlier, you mentioned a comic strip of yours that was never published. What happened there?
DP: One day Henny Youngman called me from New York. He told me he was a comedian with a thousand and one jokes and asked if I was interested in drawing a strip. Of course I was. Henny’s strip was about a grandfather who is showing his grandson around New York City. The only gag I remember drawing was: The grandfather takes the kid down to see the subway. When they come back up, the kid says, “I don’t know who lives down there, but he’s got a great train set.” Unfortunately, most of Henny’s jokes were for nightclubs and the syndicate that ran comics had strict rules about what went into the comics, so most of the jokes he sent me couldn’t be used. How do you illustrate “Take my wife….PLEASE!”? They even had words you couldn’t use because “creative” kids could doctor them into swear words. Henny couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use his jokes, so he asked me if I didn’t think he was funny. I told him he was maybe the funniest person I ever met, but his jokes weren’t for the comics, so we gave up. I’m glad I did because even though it was a chance at big money, I wouldn’t want to do the same thing day after day.
I remember walking down Michigan Ave. with Jeff MacNelly, the Chicago Tribune political cartoonist who had just earned his 3rd Pulitzer Prize. I asked him how he had time to draw the strip “Shoe” and do the editorial cartoon AND the cover of the Sunday Magazine section. All he said was “That’s not all I do.” He died young. Too bad. He was a great talent.

What do you think of the more recent computer animated films as opposed to traditional cel animation?
DP: I’m from the horse and buggy days. It’s changed so much that I have no idea how it’s done. Last night I watched the movie “Avatar” and couldn’t tell the real from the fantasy. When digital artists started at FCB, I asked if they drew pictures. They said yes, but it wasn’t that important to what they do. So maybe it’s the end of drawing as we know it.

Any advice for aspiring illustrators?
DP: Because of the difficulty I had getting into the art business- no contacts- no one to ask questions- I always try to help others who want to make a living in art. Through the years, I’ve been asked to look at young people’s portfolios. I’m happy to do that, but I only look at their drawing ability. If they don’t have it, I tell ‘em. There’s other kinds of art jobs- designer, art director, etc., but illustrators have to have drawing ability. And I tell them to be careful of what samples they show. One bad drawing or layout or design will stay in the client’s mind over a bunch of good stuff.
My many years at FCB were helped by my being able to draw realistically and also draw comic line stuff. I would be asked to do a client’s portrait one day and a cartoon the next. And I looked forward to it. Every day.

I’m very thankful to Don Pegler for taking the time to share some of his memories of those early days of advertising. Funny how the Raid bugs meet their end in every commercial, yet they’ve somehow managed to endure through all these years.

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9 Responses to Interview with Raid Bug creator Don Pegler

  1. Bill Dillard says:

    Dave,
    What a wonderful interview of Don. Like you, I remember hours of drawing, trying to imitate Don’s style, studying how he drew each category of bugs and just never even getting close. But, he’s always there to lend a hand and tell a great story.
    I hope he knows what an influence he has had on so many young and upcoming artist, illustrators, art directors and designers.
    Bill

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Kevin for sharing this great interview with me. Your Dad is an amazing man.

  4. John (The Alien) Searle says:

    Wonderful stuff! I worked at FCB 69 thru 72 (then moved back to the Sydney office) and always looked for an excuse to go visit Don’s office and watch him effortlessly draw his little characters. What a guy. What an agency. What a time! If Don is still putting points on his HB, please say ‘Hi’ from John

  5. cmb1986 says:

    Thank you for posting this interview with my Grandfather. I will be sure to pass along the nice comments that were left about him!

    • davesink says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Colleen. Your grandfather is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met in advertising or anywhere for that matter. When his name comes up with friends who’ve been lucky enough to work with him, they always have the warmest memories to share. Please convey my best wishes to him for the holidays. DW

  6. Mary Ann Minelli says:

    DW: I too was shocked and saddened to learn of Don’s passing. What a great guy! He has been an important part of my working life.

    I worked at FCB from 1965 to 1977. I started as secretary to the account team on Armour-Dial and Zenith. We were still located on Superior Street then and some of the account management secretaries were located on the Creative Floor because of lack of room on the Account Mgmt Floor.

    There I met Don Pegler when he came over to my desk one day and asked me about my experience in the Miss Photoflash contest. I was surprised because I thought only my family knew about that adventure. Well he had a picture of me and another girl when we went to a swimsuit shop in the Stevens Building to try on suits. Publicity for the contest, of course. I couldn’t believe that he would remember me from that photo. And from then on we were great friends.

    I left FCB in 1977. Went to Kirkland & Ellis and then in 1984 to Ameritech (Exec Asst to the Chairman). When I retired in 1999, I started volunteering at Misericordia (my baby sister lives there) and lo and behold one Thursday afternoon — in the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant was Don Pegler and his group of “Birthday Boys” from the old neighborhood. They came once a month and celebrated the birthday of whomever in that particular month. It was such a joy to see Don after all those years.

    He did a great cartoon of my sister, Florence, and her husband, Jerry (who owned the Old Boul Mich). It really captures the two of them as Don saw them in their old age. A real hoot as you can imagine. They have it framed in a prominent spot in their home.

    SOME GREAT MEMORIES! RIP, Don.

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