HOLY GRAIL T-shirt quest: MOL Shipping Alligator

About every ten years, I see a T-shirt that I SUDDENLY MUST HAVE. In 1992, I followed the J.A. Serusa Water Well Company owner’s van home in Vineyard Haven, Massachusets because their gushing-wellhead logo was SO AWESOME and it was printed with regular ink, not plastic ink. I still mourn losing that shirt. In 2001, I spotted a “Defend Brooklyn” T-shirt outside my apartment, and totally spazzed out and searched the Internet and the five boroughs until I found it for sale across the street. The “Defend Brooklyn” shirt is still in my drawer, but is now gray and dingy. I am bereft of truly awesome T-shirts.

Until now. I have found the new HOLY GRAIL shirt.

On my way to visit my client in NY about once a week, I drive right past the Port Newark and Port Elizabeth Container Complexes, which is technically not even a part of the USA, but instead is “Foreign Trade Zone 49“. The steel containers are stacked by tall cranes in enormous, tidy piles along the highway. Trucks are constantly rolling by carrying containers with exotic labels.

Yesterday, I spotted the logo for Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), and now I MUST HAVE IT AS A T_SHIRT. Here’s a picture that Flickr user James47ag got:

Mitsui OSK Lines logo

I don’t think I can do a better job describing this logo than Flickr user “imbrettjackson” did in a comment on that photo:

“Look at his eyes – focused, alert, worried. He’s got to get this beauty out of here and back to the swamp A f***ing S A P.

And then there’s that smile: shit. Is this really happening? Oh s**t – Crocky, old boy YOU’RE SET FOR LIFE! Gotta get home. Gotta get home.

I DO believe he’d defend that package to within an inch of his life. And really – you’d want “crocodile tenacity” in your overseas cargo haulage.”

I really, really, REALLY REALLY REALLY want a T-shirt of the MOL logo now. I’m not sure how to go about it, either. Their main website, unsurprisingly, does not have a gift store with T-shirts and soda-can cozies, etc. Disturbingly, their press release section announces that they have gone to a completely vanilla “M-O-L” serif-font combination of straight and reverse type, an approach so overused that it was nicknamed “the logo of death” in the eighties. Plus, I’m not sure how wild MOL will be about random inquiries, given they’re still smarting from recent publicity about the Cougar Ace accident that led to the scrapping of 5,000 Mazda cars.

But against all that, MOL clearly has a long history of GREAT design. Check out this poster from 1926 (click for more):

Wow, and there’s lots more. It turns out that Mitsui OSK made illustrator Ryohei Yanagihara an honorary captain in 1969, and set up an online museum for his stuff. So there’s hope: especially since the Japanese version of the site shows a logo that’s starting to get familiar…

…ZOMG JACKPOT. That logo is indeed Ryohei Ranagihara’s work, created in 1967, and he talks about designing the logo here:

“I belonged to the advertising department of Suntory, and had drawn pictures for advertisements. If you were to sell whisky which would pleasantly intoxicate the drinkers, you could use a very asserting, bold idea. But my new clients were different… more or less sober businessmen. But my clients were not satisfied with [sober] motifs. They wanted something more aggressive and an amphibious character, because containers were active both at sea and on shore. So we arrived at the idea of choosing the alligator…

…The container at first was simply a silver rectangular box, which was condemned by Korenori-san as “looking like a coffin”. So I drew it in full detail into what it looks now.

The anchor tattoo on the Alligator’s arm is dandy, isn’t it?”

Okay,I’m off to Japan to get a shirt. BRB.

UPDATE! MOL turns out to be UTTERLY BADASS at handling inquiries

MOL Container LogoAt about 5PM, I used the “Contact Us” form on molpower.com to say “Hey, MOL! I love your logo! Do you have T-shirts? Do you have high-res art I could use for desktop wallpaper? If you don’t sell T-shirts, could I make one?” I was FULLY expecting to hear nothing for two weeks, then a brusque form letter saying “hey, our IP is ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, crazy blogger, sincerely yours, never contact us again.”

Instead, I get three messages in the space of forty-five minutes. An “out-of-office” from the molpower webmaster, then a Blackberry message from the backup webmaster, saying “hi, I forwarded your message to corporate communications”, and then FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER I get a message from Ed Huebbe, manager of Corporate Communications. His message started out: “Dear John: I am glad to hear that you are so fond of our beloved gator. Attached are two of the highest resolution JPEGs I have available.”

My jaw was on the floor at this point. Corporate Communications, actually acting HAPPY that you like their Intellectual Property? And gladly sharing it? Has the world gone MAD?

Ed’s message just got better from there: “Sorry, we don’t have any shirts. But I don’t see why you couldn’t make one or two for yourself.” And the friendliest-worded legal request I’ve ever heard, asking me POLITELY and NICELY not to use the logo in objectionable or controversial ways, and not to use it for sale. And then he wrapped it all up with an offer to send me a gator mug if I’d give him my snail-mail address.

You might think I’m a weirdo for gushing this much about a corporate communications department. But in a medium-length lifetime so far of pestering Big Companies for information, this is the first time that one has ever acted like someone thinking their IP is cool is, you know, a good thing. And asking nicely to respect their IP, rather than acting like their Space-Based Lasers are poised to destroy me at a word from their high-priced counsel. MOL, you and your tattooed alligator both ROCK.

UPDATE TWO: Now working on MOL Gator Needlepoint
I liked the MOL gator so much, I made a needlepoint pattern of the logo, and have been stitching it up. I think it’s a fairly sailor-ly thing to do. You can follow the progress in the photoset on Flickr:

MOL Gator

15 responses to “HOLY GRAIL T-shirt quest: MOL Shipping Alligator”

  1. Super logo.
    I’ve only had one t-shirt I ever felt that strongly about, but that’s partly because as a usually fat person I didn’t like calling attention to myself. But my Wonder Wart Hog t-shirt — well, that was a shirt to conjure with.
    I think one of the only other times I ever bought a logo tshirt was one of the Pep Boys. Remember that? I didn’t grow up with Pep Boys, so I thought they were a riot. Anyway, I wore that shirt one afternoon, and you came home from school and practically winced. I asked you what you thought about it. And you said, carefully and tactfully and several times, that it was a nice t-shirt TO WEAR AT HOME. IN THE HOUSE.
    I finally asked you what you had against it, and you said that it made me look LIKE A MODERN MOTHER.
    Later I finally had the inspiration to ask you to point out a “modern mother” to me — she was a babe wearing too-tight pants and bleached, overdone hair.
    Love you, kiddo.


  2. “Modern Mother”: Dee Dee Ramone! Who had tight pants and emphatic hair.
    My sincere apologies for calumniating what was, in fact, a seriously awesome T-shirt. And I had forgotten about the Wonder Wart-Hog shirt!


  3. That’s a great story! Nice to see there’s some soul left in the corporate world. I’ll have to Bookmark your blog because now I need to see how your shirt turns out. (Followed you from the NotCot Comment btw)


  4. so if you have those .jpg’s, can i grab one from ya. i am a fellow MOL fan. there is a container outside my office with that logo on it. i really need a shirt with that on it or i will lose all self confidence.


  5. stumbled across this while aimlessly surfing… man, i am the same way about t shirts. i see one somewhere, get fixated on it, and will go to extremes to find one or make one. i started hand cutting stencils out of wax paper with an exacto knife and screenprinting on my kitchen table as a teen. got really good at it too! but its just as much fun and challenge to tweak an image to perfection for a transfer.
    would this by any chance be the aforementioned wonder warthog shirt?


  6. Dan, that’s the very shirt. MAN, I’d forgotten how great that shirt is. Where’d you get it? ARe there any more? I’d love to be the proud owner of a WW shirt.


  7. Funny you should mention this, I had the same thought a a few years ago when I was taking a bus to West Seattle past the shipyards. Best logo ever.


  8. the gator kicks ass,i see mol containers all the time an the first time i saw the gator it made me smile some of the lorrys have the logo on the cab aswell lets us know if ya get the t-shirts made


  9. Hi,
    I’m a huge fan of the logo too: if you’ve got higher resolution versions than the one above, could you shoot me a copy?


  10. Excellent logo. I have an old Gowanus Canal T-shirt somewhere. Yellow, with an alligator flexing its muscles on the front. I love, love, love it.
    Found your post cause I was just blogging about another excellent shirt reading: Plastic bags blow. Made me wonder if I could find an image somewhere of my Gowanus shirt. Didn’t find that, did find you.
    tra la la


  11. I was just driving across the Vincent Thomas Bridge from San Pedro into Long Beach 30 minutes ago when I laid eyes on an MOL shipping container for the very first time. My first reaction was exactly the same…MUST HAVE SHIRT!! Bummer that they don’t exist. Great story, though.


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