Lists

The top 20 posts of 2016 (and part of 2015)

The end of the year seems to be a traditional time for top 10 and top 25 lists. It seems like an American ritual to tabulate lists of the most popular things we did, said, ate or watched over the course of one trip around the sun.

I didn’t do this for 2015 (it would have seemed somewhat meaningless, as I didn’t start this blog until August of that year), so I thought I’d formulate the top 20 articles I’ve written to date (by number of views).

I’ll post them in ascending order of popularity. Try, if you can, to imagine this list read by David Letterman:

#20: 1982 Mattel Wish List

#19: Castle Grayskull prototype – a closer look

#18: Masters of the Universe Trademarks Timeline

#17: Masters of the Universe store display (1982)

#16: Panthor – Savage cat (1983)

#15: Battle Ram – Mobile Launcher (1982)

#14: Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

#13: Rudy Obrero: Heroic master of illustration

#12: Ted Mayer: Virtuoso of vehicle design

#11: Beast Man – Savage henchman! (1982)

#10: Mark & Rebecca Taylor on the origins of He-Man

#9: Man-E-Faces – Heroic human…robot…monster! (1983)

#8: 1982 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog

#7: Mer-Man – Ocean warlord! (1982)

#6: Teela – Warrior goddess (1982)

#5: Faker – Evil robot of Skeletor (1983)

#4: Battle Cat – Fighting Tiger (1982)

#3: Castle Grayskull – Fortress of mystery and power (1982)

#2: Skeletor – Lord of Destruction! (1982)

#1: He-Man – Most powerful man in the universe! (1982)

And that’s the list! Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I appreciate all the kind support and encouragement from all the readers, and for all those who have contributed to my blog with information, images, and corrections. Special thanks to Mark, Rebecca, Ted, Rudy and Martin for taking the time to let me interview them. Here’s hoping for a great 2017.

Good journey!

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Evil Vehicles

Roton – Evil assault vehicle! (1984)

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Roton was a toy that, as a kid, I admired from afar, but was never able to own (at least until many years later). I remember very clearly going over to my friend Tyson’s house in first grade and being bowled over by his collection, which dwarfed mine. Among other things I got to see in person for the first time toys like Zodac, Stratos, and the amazing Roton.

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Design & Development

December 1, 1982 marks the earliest known mention of Roton, where it appears in the Masters of the Universe Bible. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the heroic warriors:

ROTON – when this vehicle’s in the fight, He-Man’s enemies scatter, literally. He-Man rides atop the round vehicle which has a swiftly moving buzzsaw sipping around its center. Instead of blades, the buzzsaw’s blunted, club-like appendages sweep away anything or anyone in the way.

In a way, conceptually the Roton seems to have been merged with another early idea, called the Tornado Traveler (also from the MOTU Bible):

“TORNADO TRAVELER* – a wild, whipping flying craft which only Skeletor can control through the skies of both Infinita and Eternia. Whenever it appears it’s preceded by a violent windstorm.”

While the Roton seems to have been originally intended as a ground assault vehicle, its spinning blades make it look like it could plausibly fly, and so it was often depicted that way.

A couple of early concept drawings related to the Roton appear in The Power and the Honor Foundation‘s Catalog Volume One. Both are illustrated by Ed Watts.

The first is a Roger Sweet concept call the Gyro. This does not seem to be directly related to the Roton, as the drawing is dated September 17, 1983, and the Roton had its name set already in December of 1982 and the trademark filed on August 22, 1983. Still, the rotating blade concept is very similar.

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Gyro, by Ed Watts. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

This undated drawing by Ed Watts shows a Roton that bears close resemblance to the final toy, with some key differences. The color scheme is red and white. The design around the sides is in keeping with the look of the final toy, except the decals are simple triangular shapes. The face on the front is quite different, as is the design of the seat back. All in all this version looks much less monstrous. I would guess that at this point it was still intended to be a heroic vehicle.

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Artwork by Ed Watts. Image via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog Volume One

However, up until this point in the line (1984), there hadn’t been a single vehicle produced that was specifically intended for the Evil Warriors. Perhaps with that in consideration, the design was changed to make it look more sinister:

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Roton cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

The above cross sell art, which matches exactly the look of the final toy, shows what changes were made to make the Roton fit with Skeletor’s crew. The vehicle was now black, with red blades. The face on the front became much more monstrous, and organic-looking spiny plates were added to the back side of the vehicle. The shape of the twin guns on the front was also overhauled.

Packaging & Toy

William George did the packaging artwork for the Roton. In his illustration, the vehicle is cruising along the ground, as a lizard and a tiny demon-like creature look on. George often included little creatures like this in his artwork.

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Scan by Battle Ram Blog

The toy itself is relatively compact and simple. No batteries were required. You simply rolled it along the ground, and an internal set of gears would cause the buzz saw to rotate with a satisfying (or annoying, if you’re a parent) clicking sound. Of all the evil vehicles, this one seems to lend itself most to fleet-building. Like the Battle Ram, it works as a ground or air assault vehicle.

Model Kit & Artwork

Monogram produced a model kit version of the toy, as they did for the Attak Trak and Talon Fighter. In the case of those two vehicles, Monogram based the models on early prototypes or concept drawings of the toys. I wonder if that isn’t also the case with the Monogram Roton. It looks closer to the final toy than the to the Ed Watts concept art, but there are a few differences as well, the canopy being the most obvious one. Larry Elmore did the packaging artwork:

Curiously, the Roton doesn’t show up once in the mini comics, while the Land Shark (released a year later) shows up in multiple comics across multiple years.

Errol McCarthy illustrated this scene of Skeletor “mowing the grass” in the Roton. I believe this was intended for use on a T-shirt:

The Roton makes some prominent appearances in Golden Books stories, including Dangerous Games, The Rock Warriors, Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, and The Magic Mirror:

The vehicle also plays a supporting role in the Lady Bird story, He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom (images via He-Man.org):

The 1985 German Masters of the Universe Magazine is mostly filled with toy photography, but it does include a short comic story, and the Roton is a formidable presence:

The Roton appears in the background of a few different posters by Earl Norem and William George:

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Animation

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The Roton made several appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, although it was never a regularly used vehicle. The Filmation design is simplified for ease of animation, and its buzz saw has longer (but fewer) blades, but otherwise it’s fairly true to the toy design:

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Advertising Images

Of all the evil vehicles produced for the line, the Roton is my favorite. You just have to take one look at it and you immediately get what it’s about and you feel sorry for any heroic warriors who have to go up against it.

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From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org
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From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
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From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
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Roton in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kind contributed the following image and video of the Roton in action:

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Reviews

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2015)

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The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (published by Dark Horse, April 28, 2015) is a celebration of He-Man from his  earliest known concept drawings in 1979 to his latest 2015 evolution in modern comics and toys (images below courtesy of Jukka Issakainen).

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Limited Edition printing of The Art of He-Man, with Castle Grayskull slipcover and exclusive artwork by Gerald Parel.

The focus of the book is primarily on artwork, although there is some time spent on toys. In many ways the Dark Horse book seems to take some cues from Mattel’s 2009 book, The Art of Masters of the Universe (a San Diego Comic Con exclusive). The 2009 book took a broad approach to the subject, starting with early concept artwork and moving on to cross sell artwork, box art, mini comics, the New Adventures of He-Man line, the 2002 He-Man line, the ongoing Masters of the Universe Classics adult collector line, and finishing up with some modern concept art for a potential rebooted line.  The Dark Horse book follows the same general outline, but radically expands it with more than five times as much content.

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The Art of He-Man was written by Tim and Steve Seeley and edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with contributions by Emiliano Santalucia, Joshua Van Pelt, James Eatock, Danielle Gelehrter, Val Staples, and others. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, from current and former insiders at Mattel to external collectors and experts, The Art of He-Man is able to delve deeper into the subject than the 2009 Mattel SDCC book, and expands the territory into areas like the 1983 Filmation cartoon and the 1987 live-action film.

By comparison, The Power and the Honor Foundation’s 2011 Catalog Volume One went into far greater depth on the subject of toy design, but stayed away from topics like packaging design, mini comics, and Filmation. Some of the artwork from both The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog and the 2009 Mattel book made it into The Art of He-Man, but by no means all of it.

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Early on, The Art of He-Man was slated to be much shorter, capping out at 168 pages by the beginning of chapter 10 (thanks to Jukka Issakainen for the image and the reminder):

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After I believe some extensive contributions from The Power and the Honor Foundation and others, the page count was radically increased to about 320 pages total:

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The Art of He-Man starts things off with some tantalizing internal memos, most of them directly or indirectly related to the creation of He-Man. One notable exception is the December 24, 1981 memo from Mark Ellis looking into the creation of a generic male action figure line for use in licensed properties. The He-Man line had already been largely created by then, and the memo seems to favor a smaller scale line of figures.

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If you’re familiar with my blog, it might not surprise you that the first chapter of The Art of He-Man is my favorite, as it covers early concept designs by Mark Taylor, Ted Mayer and Colin Bailey, as well as the first He-Man prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero. We also get to see a number of other concept drawings by Roger Sweet, Ed Watts, Mark Jones, James McElroy, David Wolfram and others. Quite a lot of the artwork in the sample below was contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation:

About 40 pages in, the book switches gears to packaging artwork, including figure and vehicle cross sell artwork, some of it blown up gloriously large. It’s here where I get a little frustrated at the limitations of printed media, as many of these images are heavily cropped.

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At about 50 pages in, the book changes focus to concept artwork for unproduced toys like He-Ro, Turbosaurus, Rotary Man, Rhino Man, Torton, and others. Some of my favorites here are the Ed Watts concepts, which were also contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. Watts created some really imaginative vehicle and vehicle/creature designs in full color illustrations with background scenery included.

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Turbosaurus, by Ed Watts. An early incarnation of Gigantisaur. Originally via The Power and the Honor Foundation.

About 60 pages in the book begins to explore some of the painted packaging artwork that appeared on product boxes and cardbacks. We’re treated to a gorgeous, two-page spread of Rudy Obrero’s iconic Castle Grayskull illustration. We also see a great deal of artwork by prolific MOTU artists Errol McCarthy and William George. There is also the packaging illustration for Tyrantosaurus Rex artwork by Warren Hile, who painted several packaging illustrations near the tail end of the line.

At around the 70 page mark, the book changes focus to the vintage mini comics. I would say that this section had been rendered mostly redundant by the Dark Horse He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection (more on that in a separate article), but this section does feature some lovely blown up pages, as well as an interview with writer Steven Grant and illustrator Larry Houston.

Speaking of interviews, The Art of He-Man is peppered with them. Interviewed subjects include:

  • David Wolfram
  • Dolph Lundgren
  • Earl Norem
  • Eric Treadaway
  • Erika Scheimer
  • Gabriel de la Torre
  • Gary Goddard
  • Joe Ferencz
  • Larry Houston
  • Paul Dini
  • The Power and the Honor Foundation
  • Rob David
  • Scott Neitlich
  • Steven Grant
  • Val Staples
  • William Stout

At the 85-page mark, the book switches focus to the subject of the Filmation He-Man series. It includes some lovely drawings from the early Filmation animated toy commercial, and development artwork and story boards for the actual series. One of my favorites is a page showing numerous early designs for Hordak. There is also included a replica animation cel and three printed backgrounds, so you can get a tangible lesson in the magic of traditional hand-drawn animation.

At 120 pages in, we turn to the subject of artwork from magazines, story books and posters. That means we’re treated to a number of large size images of artwork by the late, great Earl Norem, not to mention the fantastic William George.

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Artwork by Earl Norem

Some 150 pages into the book, there is a smattering of miscellaneous subject matter, from the vintage DC comics, newspaper comic strips, Golden Books, coloring books, as well as some style guide and licensing artwork by Errol McCarthy.

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At 175 pages, the book takes a very in-depth look at the 1987 Masters of the Universe motion picture, a topic not covered in the 2009 Mattel art book. This section is thick with interviews, draft scripts, and concept artwork by William Stout, Claudio Mazzoli and Ralph McQuarrie.

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Ralph McQuarrie’s Man-At-Arms

The subject turns to the New Adventures of He-Man some 200 pages into the book. We get to take a peek at early attempts to relaunch He-Man as a G.I. Joe-like military hero, before designers eventually moved toward a science fiction look for the most powerful man in the universe.

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New Adventures of He-Man concept, by Martin Arriola

At 219 pages we finally move on to the 21st century, with a look at the 2002 reboot of Masters of the Universe. I remember at the time I did encounter the Commemorative reissues of the vintage toys (I bought one of the five-packs immediately when I saw it at Toys ‘R’ Us), but I somehow missed the entire 2002 relaunch.

We get some great concept drawings from the Four Horsemen,  including depictions of many new characters who never made it into the toyline or the cartoon series. This section also covers the Mike Young Productions cartoon, with some lovely background art, as well as an extensive look at artwork from the MVCreations comic book series. I do like the Four Horsemen’s original concept He-Man, but I’m not as fond of the anime look and oversized weapons that are peppered throughout the 2002 line. On the other hand, I absolutely adore the line’s vision for characters like Stinkor, Leech, Mer-Man and Webstor. I also find the stories in the 2002 cartoon series more compelling than the original Filmation series, although I prefer the look of the original cartoon.

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Concept 2002 He-Man, by Four Horsemen Studios. Image via The Art of He-Man.

At about 250 pages in, we turn to the 2009 adult collector series, Masters of the Universe Classics. We to see some of the artwork that Rudy Obrero produced for the toyline (including his maps of Eternia and Etheria), as well as prototypes from Four Horsemen Studios. There are also maps, concept art, packaging artwork by Nate Baertsch and Axel Giménez. Tucked away in this section is also the original 1981 Wind Raider box art, which was used as a basis for the Masters of the Universe Classics version of the toy.

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Classics “Alcala” style Skeletor and prototype Demo Man

The last 20 pages or so are a hodgepodge of subjects, from mobile games to social media,  modern DC MOTU comics and far-out, exploratory artwork.

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is practically mandatory reading for any serious He-Man fan, but I there’s I think it’s broad enough to appeal even to non-collectors who merely remember He-Man with fondness.

Several sections of the book have since been expanded into separate Dark Horse books, or else are in the works:

  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection
  • He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – The Newspaper Comic Strips (Available February 14, 2017)
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – A Character Guide and World Compendium (May 16, 2017)

I hope that at some point we’ll see the subjects of vintage toy concept artwork and packaging artwork get the same treatment. The two topics could easily fill a couple of large volumes, and would be, in my opinion, required reading.

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Modulok illustration for Masters of the Universe Classics, by Axel Giménez

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Interviews

Martin Arriola: Guardian of Grayskull

Martin Arriola was a designer on the original Masters of the Universe toyline. He went on to work on the  1989 New Adventures of He-Man reboot, the 2009 adult collector Masters of the Universe Classics toyline, and many other lines for Mattel. He graciously agreed to sit down and talk to me about his work.

Battle Ram: Thanks for agreeing to this interview! So, how did you get into the toy design business?

Martin Arriola: My dad was a carpenter, I always watched him work. He was good at what he did.  I was always drawing – I was terrible at math, and I didn’t like hard work, so I wanted to see if I could make it in the field of commercial art.

Everyone keeps telling you it’s very competitive. But if you never try you never know. I went to trade school for two years. I went to UCLA, then I started attending Art Center College of Design.  I started at Art Center at night, and one of my instructors told me to come full time.

I went from there in 1980 and freelanced for a couple of years. Then I got a call from head hunters. One was from Mattel, offering a job that paid $33,000, which was decent money in the ’80s. Another was a call for startup newspaper. These guys saw some of my illustrations (I graduated as an illustration major). They wanted to hire me as director, for same amount of money Mattel was offering. They were based in Washington DC, and Mattel was in California. In the end I wanted to stay in California, so I went with Mattel. It turned out that paper was USA Today.  I stayed at Mattel for 32 years.

BR: What did you start working on when you were hired at Mattel?

MA: I started on Hot Wheels stuff. They didn’t have toy major designs back then. Seventy percent of their designers came from the Art Center. I didn’t know a label sheet from an overspray, but I could draw. There were no computers at the time, no Photoshop. Mark Taylor was great at markers. I was a marker freak – that’s what got me the job.

Ted Mayer was still there when I was there. I was hired to replace Mark Taylor, at least that’s what I had heard. That was back in 1982.

I remember rendering a bunch of vehicles. I did a bunch of renderings for Hot Wheels. I learned everything there at Mattel.

When I first got there the designers were over-worked, but it was also lax, it was so much more fun. Mark Taylor had just left to go to Playmates… I almost quit under Roger Sweet. I came close to quitting. The credit stealing was awful.

Anyway, there was a big paradigm shift. I know Ted and Taylor were part of visual design. I started as an art director in Visual Design. Shel Plat asked if I wanted to work on products or packaging. I thought products would be more fun. A lot more goes into it, although you have to deal with engineers.

BR: When was this?

MA: I think I started in 1983 on He-Man. One of the first things I worked on was the figure with the rotating drum, Battle Armor He-Man. We did same thing with Skeletor, same feature.

I may have done Screeech and Zoar. I don’t know what came first. I started out picking the colors. Zoar was the Big Jim Eagle, and Battle Cat was also from Big Jim. He-Man’s Battle Cat was already done. I worked on the other cat, Panthor. I picked the colors. There was a lot of refresh back then.

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Panthor & Battle Cat

BR: Who were you working with?

MA: Colin Bailey was one. He could draw anything, this guy was awesome. I said to myself, I gotta draw like him. I watched him do Fisto, Buzz-Off. He did the original Stridor. I think I picked colors on Night Stalker. I got more familiar with the line,  and I started doing a lot more as far as art directing and sculpting.

BR: Was  it a challenge get a good design through engineering?

MA: It’s totally different now. Everything goes to Hong Kong. Design now has a big role, as opposed to what it used to be. In 1982, designers never went to Hong Kong. Engineering was the big division then. They traveled everywhere. It wasn’t vendors, it was captive plants. We did tooling inside, and there were all these divisions in Mattel that no longer exist. Design got bigger and bigger and more powerful.

Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.

BR: Oh, like what?

MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.

Image via Tomart’s Action Figure Digest, issue 202

I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.

I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.

BR: That’s insane!

MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.

So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.

Image source: 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog, scanned by Orange Slime

There was a lot of trial and error stuff like that. We had to change because prelim would promise that this was going to be the feature, and get it for this much. They would always say it was cheaper than it was going to be. They would say it can’t do this and can’t do that. We were always having to make sure it was safe, affordable and that it would actually work.

BR: Do you know who designed Clawful?

MA: Colin Bailey did Clawful, he was one of the first designers to work on the vintage He-Man line. By then Taylor had already left to do Ninja Turtles with Playmates.

BR: What were the figures you primarily worked on?

MA: Just about all of them, to be honest with you.  I did all the Secret Wars figures as well. I actually became a manager of the (He-Man) line, but they didn’t give me the title. I managed the line from Screeech and the drum rotating guy, until the line got dropped. They over shipped the line to make the numbers, and that’s what killed it.

I hired Dave Wolfram and had some temps working for me too. Basically from Screeech until the end. The dinosaurs, I worked on those as well. I hired a couple of guys. I had to approve everything. I’m not taking credit for that, that’s not what I do. From then until New Adventures. I worked on all that stuff too.

New Adventures He-Man concept, by Martin Arriola (image via The Art of He-Man)

It was not like it is now, I retired on my own time, the politics got so bad. I worked on Disney-Pixar cars stuff. I made a billion dollars for that company.

BR: Do you know who designed Stinkor and Moss Man?

MA: Those were refreshes like Scare Glow and Ninjor. I also worked on Land Shark and Laser Bolt, that was kind of a challenge. I worked on Stinkor, Moss Man, and Ninjor.  Clamp Champ, too. If you look at those, its all existing parts. We tried to save as much money as we could. Whenever we could refresh, we’d do a refresh.

BR: Right, like Faker. Did you work on that figure?

MA: I did label sheets for Faker’s chest, it looked like a reel-to-reel tape deck. On [Sy-Klone], I came up with lenticular lens. We reused the idea for Secret Wars. Sometimes you get lucky.

BR: What about Snake Mountain?

MA: Snake Mountain, I wish I had one now. Eddy [Mosqueda] sculpted it*. Eddy was really really fast. The guy who sculpted [Eternia] was really, really slow.

Snake Mountain. Image via Orange Slime

On the boys’ side, [engineering] was all done inside, and you had to go through politics. Now everything goes to vendor. You had to get saddled with people who were not so talented. Like Bionotops. This guy, Hal Faulkner had a bitchin sculpt, but the engineer started smoothing out the mold and getting rid of musculature. Smoothing it all out. My manager said he was fixing it, but it looked like a piggy bank. He also worked on middle tower for Eternia. There was only so much you could do.

Now it’s different. You do a front three-quarters sketch, send it to Hong Kong, and you see a digital output.

BR: Do you know anything about a brown-haired He-Man variant? People seem to think that you could get it in a mail-away offer. What many people recall is that you would send  in three proofs of purchase and you would get a free figure in the mail, but no one seems to know much about it or why it was made in the first place. It looked like this:

Image courtesy of Arkangel

MA: The brown haired variant was either just done or in the works when I got there, but I think you’re right. Has it been referred to as The Wonder Bread mail-in offer? Again, I just got there and was just trying to keep my head above water, keeping up with great talents like Colin Bailey who drew like an angel with so much ease.

BR: Do you know who designed Jitsu?

MA: I watched Colin draw control art turn views of Jitsu as reference for sculpting.

BR: Besides Rudy Obrero and Bill George, there was another person who painted some of the box art. We don’t know his name, but he did the box art for Point Dread & Talon Fighter, Panthor, Skeletor/Panthor Gift Set, Teela/Zoar Gift Set, Night Stalker, and a few others. Any clues there? Here’s an example of his/her art:

MA: Unfortunately I can’t remember that guy’s name, but his stuff was pretty decent as a fill-in when Bill [George] was overbooked. His art was better than the guy who did the dino art, Warren Hile, who I went to Art Center with. He now makes furniture in Pasadena. I looked up his art in the SDCC He-Man book that I designed, which sold out in a day, but no names are listed. I’ll find out because now it’s bugging me, thanks to you.

BR: What about Tony Guerrero? Do you remember him?

MA: Tony Sculpted THE He-Man. He had a twin brother, Ben. He was on the engineering side and Tony was a sculptor. One of guards once asked Tony for a property pass and offended him. He said, “Do you know who I am, I sculpted He-Man!”

Tony Guerrero’s He-Man prototype. Image source: The Art of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation

Tony didn’t do a lot of the later stuff. I don’t know if he got let go. I can’t tell you how many purgings I survived there. They didn’t care how good you were, or what you contributed. It was how much money you made. They would bring a new guy in that they could pay less and force you out.

Tony and Colin left shortly after I got there. Colin was there for a couple of years.

Bill George did the best art. He was at Power Con, the very first one. Bill’s paintings were the best. He did the best He-Man ever.

Road Ripper, by William George

BR: By 1986, there seemed to be a lot more stylistic diversity in the line. Can you talk about that?

MA: Extendar was designed by John Hollis, he was a temp who reported to me. He did Extendar, and he also did Rattlor and Turbodactyl. Each one has own style. Pat Dunn worked on Mosquitor. They way they turned out depended on they designer’s style and the action feature and play feature. The hardest one I worked on was Sorceress. Her wings popped out on back pack. Roger Sweet promised all those things. It’s hard to pack a mechanism on a thin-looking body. There was no other way I could do it except to put hump on her back.

We did Turbosaurus [later, Gigantisaur] that never got made. Too impractical? Of course. Roger Sweet had a sketch done by Ed Watts. It showed He-Man on this dinosaur. He sold it with all these features at a price that was low. I said, do you know how big this is going to be?

I went to Dave Wolfram, and I said, “We gotta breadboard this stuff.” Sure enough, that dinosaur was probably three feet. I told marketing, if you want this to reflect what Sweet sold you in the B-sheet, this is how big it’s going to be. We hand painted it. One thing that Sweet sold to marketing is that it would swallow a He-Man figure. But you know how splayed out the he-man figures were. It would have been as big as Eternia.


Ed Watts was the best and he actually did some preliminary designing and B-sheets on many of the vintage Masters toys, including Land Shark, the dinos, and Skeletor’s Dragon Fly [Fright Fighter], just to name a few. He actually had talent and thus recognized others who had talent, and was not insecure or jealous of others, so that’s why we got along. He was my manager when I designed/developed all the Bug’s Life line. Unfortunately he died of brain cancer way too young.

BR: What else did you work on in your time at Mattel?

MA: Everything that failed, I didn’t do, like that 2002 series… I was already off the line at that time. I worked on Harry Potter. I remember it was the Four Horsemen that were sculpting it. They were going old school, with clay molds and final waxes. Those guys are awesome. We were going to do Spawn at that time, and then anime stuff came up. I think I was working on Killer Tomatoes and Hook when we left the old building. Anyway, the Four Horsemen went in and did a really great sculpt of He-Man and Skeletor, almost two feet high. But at that time anime was coming in. So when they approached the Four Horsemen they had them sculpt them anime style as well. On that version, He-Man’s neck is coming out of his chest. Mattel did a focus test (which I hate), and the kids picked the anime style.

Then I got put back on He-Man, and started working with the Horsemen on [Masters of the Universe Classics], with no features. So there was this weird roundabout way I came back and worked on He-Man with the Horsemen, which they then gave to Terry Higuchi, because I was pulled to work on Remi from Ratatouille. Terri did a great job.

Masters of the Universe Classics

BR: What figure or other toy are you most proud of in your time at Mattel?

MA: I did so many entire lines there in 32 years. It would seem like bragging if I listed them all, which were approximately 15 to 20. Several never made it to retail. In hindsight I guess my favorites were the vintage MOTU line; resurrecting the then-dead Disney-Pixar Cars Line and generating a billion dollars for the five years I had it before my jealous VP stole it from me; and the Disney-Pixar Ratatouille line, which I designed/developed single-handily with my Hong Kong counterparts.

I’m especially proud that all those toys I designed/brought to retail made kids happy and filled their lives with joy & imaginative play. I’m happily retired now, focusing on painting full time. You can check out my original art on my website, www.martinarriola.com.

To hear more from Martin, check out these Power Con panels:

Several pieces of cross sell art used in this article are courtesy of Axel Giménez.

*Note: Eric L. recently contacted Eddy Mosqueda, and confirmed that Eddy did not actually sculpt Snake Mountain.

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