The story behind a decal of NC State's mascot eating UNC's mascot
Someone sent me an image of Mr. Wuf chewing on the bones of a dead Rameses. Was this a real sticker from long ago? And if so, how could that happen? We investigated.
Last week, eagle-eyed Rabbit Hole reader Lesa Kastanas flagged this tweet for me:
It bears repeating: The sticker you are looking at is NC State’s beloved Mr. WufFEASTING UPON THE CARCASS OF A DEAD RAMESES. Look, I know that college mascots are pretty much the Platonic ideal of anthropomorphism. That said, I’m really weirded out by a wolf in a sweater feasting upon the bones of a ram in a UNC sailor hat. It’s… a lot.
It turns out that this is not the only sticker that shows Mr. Wuf committing potential war crimes upon other ACC mascots:
I have a particular beef with the decal that shows Mr. Wuf boiling the Duke Blue Devil alive. He’s a devil! He should be impervious to heat! Still, I’m okay with it because 1.) this is Duke we’re talking about and 2.) this appears to be the precursor to the classic NC State Slobberin’/Horny Wolf logo. I’ll allow it.
Also, it appears that Mr. Wuf is putting the Wake Forest Demon Deacon into the Boston Crab or the Sharpshooter. Apparently the Deacon forgave him, since he officiated Mr. Wuf’s wedding a few decades later.
At this point, you may be wondering: How did they get away with this? As in, how can you make stickers that show a representative of an institution of higher learning committing murder and/or mercilessly torturing other mascots? Well for that, I have to take you back. Back in time. Back to a point in our nation’s history where colleges and universities didn’t give a shit about making serious money off of their mascots.
You down with ‘Pack IP? Yeah you know me!
I know! We now live in a world where there’s a mad scramble to lock up every bit of intellectual property because everyone from corporations to colleges sees it as a potential revenue stream. This can lead to hilariously preposterous results, like Ohio State University’s successful trademarking of the word “The.”
But until about 40 or 50 years ago, hardly any universities had any internal licensing departments. UCLA administrators were the first to realize they could make a lot of money by getting others to pay to put their logo on, say, t-shirts and mugs. Ohio State followed in 1974. Then, in the early 1980s, the floodgates opened. UNC and NC State trademarked their logos, along with dozens of other schools. Today, the Collegiate Licensing Company handles the licensing for hundreds of institutions, and the move was one of many that nudged regionally beloved universities toward becoming national brands. This also had the side effect of standardizing all of the looks of the mascots. You can only trademark so many traditions, images, and slogans.
Before that, though, the world of mascots was a free-for-all. “Back in the day, licensing didn’t exist,” says Homefield Apparel founder Connor Hitchcock. “Because of that, it’s hard to find any institutional memory of these things.” Today, Homefield works with universities to create shirts, pants, and stickers that feature vintage logos. If you look at enough of them, you may notice something: They all seem to have sort of a Disney feel to them. That’s because many of them were created by one man, Arthur Evans, who supposedly was once a Disney illustrator. In 1933, a new decal company named Angelus Pacific hired him to be its lead artist, and Evans spent the next 45 years there sketching, drawing, and painting on-demand logos for stickers. If your college or university didn’t have a mascot, Evans would create one.
How custom were these logos? Depends. An authoritative article on the origins of Occidental College’s tiger logo showed that that the same drawing was used as the LSU, Auburn, and University of the Pacific tigers, albeit in different colors and lettering on their sailor hats. UNC’s ram, for example, was also adopted by Fordham, Colorado State, and other colleges and high schools.
Those Murderous Mr. Wuf images? They look like Arthur Evans decals. They seem to be from the right era. But were they actually… real?
Mascot violence, on demand
Right after I saw the sticker, I checked with a source at NC State, who said the university was aware of the Rameses-eating wolf and was trying to stop it. They’d figured it was a modern creation because it was being sold on a website that often sells unauthorized logos and designs without permission.
I worried that the NC State murder wolf decal might be a new version of the Peeing Calvin stickers. There’s a longer story there, but the short version is that the Calvin decals were printed by fly-by-night companies that were hard for trademark attorneys to effectively stop. In this case, I thought that a rogue graphic artist might have created something outrageous, and was trying to sell as many as he or she could before being caught.
But that wasn’t so. I popped the picture from the tweet into a Google Reverse Image Search, which led me to the actual source of the image: A Weebly website with photos of old college memorabilia. I sent a message through a form on the site and got a call back from its owner, Matthew Eng. Today, Eng works as a policy advisor for the City of Seattle, but he’s been interested in old logos for a long time. “My dad got me hooked on going to college bookstores, starting in fifth and sixth grade,” he says. His family traveled a lot, and whenever they’d pass by a college, they’d stop in and buy some merch. That gave Eng a love of old-school university iconography. “I like the artwork,” he says, “although much of it is not politically correct.”
After grad school, Eng started collecting. Patches. Carvings. And decals. “Most of what I come across is on eBay,” he says. He displays his wooden figurines, but most of the other things he buys ends up in storage. So, he decided to scan what he had and put it online. The image of bone-chewing Mr. Wuf? It came from a decal in his personal collection.
Just to verify its authenticity, I had Eng send me pictures of the back side of the stickers. Sure enough, they’re from Angelus Pacific, along with instructions on how to stick them. (Modern decals are often static clings, while old ones are water-based and go on to surfaces in the same way that temporary tattoos end up on your skin.) Eng also sent along a catalog where, in 1951, you could place an order for all sorts of custom college merchandise. And there, on page 18, was an order form for “feudin decals”:
It’s impossible to know for sure, but here’s the most likely scenario: Back in the 1950s, someone in NC State’s bookstore called or wrote to Angelus Pacific and asked for some feudin’ decals. The company then told Art Evans to create several designs depicting Mr. Wuf ritualistically mutilating his in-state rivals. Then those decals were sold at the NC State bookstore. Past that, things get fuzzy. Angelus Pacific was sold four years ago and moved to Minnesota, and I couldn’t track down its former owner. There’s little information out there on Evans himself, who died in 1981. Anybody who would have ordered the stickers for the store is probably long gone as well.
It’s also unclear whether UNC or Wake Forest ordered any feudin’ decals. But Duke? Duke did.
Over the course of a life, a man sees a lot of things. But I have never seen Duke’s mascot grinning as he sticks his trident several inches deep into Mr. Wuf’s chest cavity.
These are awesome, and these schools should definitely bring them back, right?
Don’t you just wish you could buy one of these decals at a bookstore today? Good luck. Any school that uses another school’s name or mascots would almost certainly need permission from their rival. For example: This week I saw “Beat (other ACC team)” buttons on sale in the Wake Forest University bookstore. The button-maker not only needed to get permission from Wake, but also from the rival school that Wake would supposedly beat. When it’s a matter of harmless school spirit like that, a school is more likely to sign off. “But obviously, no school wants to approve its mascot’s thigh bone being eaten,” Hitchcock says.
That permission wasn’t needed in the 1950s, when (clears throat) men were men and mascots were bloodthirsty drunks. “There’s a lot of violence and a lot of alcohol,” Hitchcock says, referring me to a University of Kentucky decal that shows three wildcats singing a drinking song while completely tanked on corn liquor.
Sure, it’s possible that I’m reading too much into this. After all, some of those old mascot are just plain cute and innocent. Others are more sadistic than a vintage Tom & Jerry cartoon. Still, there’s a big modern demand for logos that haven’t been slickly designed by a branding agency. Why? “Objectively, they’re more creative than what we currently have,” Hitchcock tells me. Is it nostalgia? Yes. But maybe they also remind us of an era when collectible items were actually scarce, when regionalism still held sway, and when big institutions didn’t have complete control over their imagery and our imaginations.
I really don’t want to wade into the Mr. Wuf vs. Tuffy debate here. I know some NC State folks declaratively say that Tuffy is the cartoon depiction, while Mr. (and Mrs.) Wuf is a reference to the plush real-life mascots. However, I think Mr. Wuf is funnier to say, so for the purposes of this story, I’m going with it.
The sailor hat motif was strong in Evans’s work; one theory was that the hats resembled beanies that college freshmen wore during a hazing ritual in the mid-20th century, another said that Evans drew them as a nod to his time as a merchant marine.
For what it’s worth, the first Peeing Calvin allegedly took a leak on a Florida State University logo).
Driving out of the your way in the 1990s just to buy weird mascot gear at a college bookstore? I can identify with that.
For more exploration of vintage cartoon mascot-on-mascot violence, I recommend The War Eagle Reader's work on cartoonist Phil Neel who effectively created Auburn's Aubie mascot. Much like Arthur Evans, he also repurposed some of his tiger art in service of Clemson. His football program covers for Auburn and Clemson through the '60s and early '70s regularly featured impending violence against that week's opponent by each school's respective tiger.
You might start with this collection of covers: https://www.thewareaglereader.com/2012/07/the-aubie-archives-the-art-of-phil-neel-an-introduction/
Stories about Phil Neel's work for Auburn and Clemson.
Wow. I thought Marko's mascots ( https://www.instagram.com/p/ClWNJ_JLgB1/) could be something else. This is plain morbid. And this comes from someone who before I became an abolitionist and peace advocate, happily posted bloody sheep on my socials on rivalry weekends, especially the basketball games.
Appreciate all the sport mascot/logo history. I used to have a Mr. Wuf slinky, among so many other things from undergrad and beyond.