Funny, informative and “just plain stupid” memories from a lifetime in the pest control industry come to life in Harold Leyse’s new cartoon book.
The industry has come a long way in the last five decades, and with the publication of "The Best of Pest Jests and Other Tails," by 50-year pest control veteran Harold Leyse, you can experience the best — and the worst — of these times through Leyse's experiences conveyed in cartoons, "tails," trivia and jokes.
The book is a compilation of Leyse's stories intermixed with Pest Jest cartoons created in the 1980s by Leyse, co-founder of Adam's Pest Control, Medina, Minn., along with illustrator Cliff Johnson.
"I've always had a humorous bone in me," Leyse said. After bringing it into play during an introduction for Dr. Austin Frishman at a Minnesota Pest Re-Certification Conference, an associate approached him during a break and recommended that he contact Johnson to put his humor down on paper in the form of cartoons.
Leyse did just that; and from then on, most evenings found him with paper and pencil in hand jotting down one liners accompanied by stick figures. Leyse would send the jottings to Johnson, who then transformed them into recognizable cartoon images.
Because Johnson wasn't from the industry, however, the cartoons showing pests sometimes had to go a second round. "I had a cartoon with an American cockroach talking to an Oriental cockroach, but I had to straighten him out on the markings," Leyse said.
As the cartoons were created, they were combined with jokes and trivia and printed in a series of small booklets that proved popular in the pest control industry for many years.
The Best of the Pest Jests. Adam's has made some of the cartoons available on its website and via CD, but last year, Leyse's son, Todd, began encouraging him to write down some of the experiences and stories he's compiled over the years and put these together with the pest jests into a single book. "There is a whole generation of people who haven't seen the cartoons," Todd said, adding that his dad has always told stories — "and a lot of them are humorous."
So Harold took Todd up on the idea. "He told me to do it and he's my son, so I had to do it," Leyse said with a chuckle in his voice. Seriously, he added, "I wanted to share some of the foibles and give this generation some history of what it was like to go through training back then."
If truth be told, training was limited in those early years. "The training I got was pretty much on the job," he said. "We didn't have to have licenses or training in those days. When that changed, the industry became more professional real quickly."
Most of the ideas for the cartoons, jokes, trivia and "tails" were from first-hand experience, Leyse said, but he also wrote the gags from suggestions of employees or industry associates.
Then and now, in the original "Pest Jests" and today's expanded "Best of," the purpose of the cartoons is not only to entertain, but also to educate. Sometimes Leyse gets this across through fairly obvious, but fun, cartoons such as Mice Facts, which illustrates "Mice can jump a long way without injury" with a mouse diving off a high dive into a small pool. Other cartoons are a bit more subtle: Two cockroaches eye an egg case; one says to the other, "I think it would be nice to have 24 boys and 24 girls." And others combine the obvious — Two mice hold a gun while a third pokes his head toward the barrel, with the caption "Mice are curious" — with the subtle: The cartoon's curiosity toward the gun symbolizes the curiosity of mice toward anything new, i.e., traps. "Move traps around, mice will find them," Leyse said.
But don't try to flush mice down the toilet unless you have a lot of time, he cautioned, his "humorous bone" continuing to be struck funny. "I've tried that. It takes about 25 minutes. You have to keep flushing, because mice are good swimmers!"
How did Leyse select, from 50 years experience, the situations he would include in the book? "I had some that were a little more shady…" but he didn't figure he could put those into a book. But even editing out the shady, "Best of Pest Jests" contains its share of accounts of less-than-proper practices, which Leyse, in fact, writes of in the book's purpose: "the situations I've selected for this book illustrate improper thought processes or are amusing, funny or just plain stupid." And while pest control is a serious occupation requiring one's undivided attention, "that's another story, not this story. This book is for life's lighter sides."
A Challenging Task. As to publishing in general, Leyse said, "It's a lot more work than I thought it would be." And with his book consisting primarily of cartoons, "I hesitate to think how hard it would be if I had to write it all."
And the next hurdle, he said, is the marketing of the book, about which both he and Todd had questions.
But, Leyse said, "It was fun to do. It was fun to put my thoughts down on paper. … I just hope the industry enjoys it, and that they put it on top of the books on their desks, and in their libraries."
"And," Todd added, "It would make a great year-end gift for your employees."
Questions on promotion? It seems they could write that book too.
"The Best of Pest Jests" will be featured at PCT's booth at NPMA PestWorld and is available through the PCT bookstore, www.pctonline.com/store. Cost is $19.95.