I’m sure I saw Bashasaurus at some point growing up, if only in a minicomic or in cross sell art, but it never really stuck with me. In retrospect, though, it’s a pretty great concept. A dinosaur vehicle whose primary weapon is a giant boulder attached to a stick? Yes, please.
Design & Development
The early working name for Bashasaurus was Ball Buster, a name which famously caused Filmation President Lou Scheimer to reject outright the idea of ever including it in the animated He-Man series. As evident in the concept below, the early incarnation of the vehicle (illustration by Ed Watts, Sept 19, 1983) would have had the ball mechanism come down from the center of the vehicle. This early concept is intended for the Evil Warriors, and bears little resemblance to the final toy:
According to the patent (Filed January 4, 1985), Bashasaurus was invented by Granville Crow, Larry Renger and Roger Sweet. The drawings from the patent application (below) show the finalized dinosaur design and modified bashing mechanism. According to The Power and the Honor Foundation, the mechanism was moved to the side to prevent pinch injury during play.
Several years back a Mattel employee sold off a number of molds and prototypes, among them one for the Bashasaurus (thanks to Manic Man in the comments for the reminder):
The production toy was produced in a bright red color with orange and blue highlights. The faceplate features a triceratops-like design, and the theme continues in the back with a spiked tail that looks a bit like a stegosaurus. The bashing boulder is activated via an orange push button, the the ball itself telescopes further out by means of centrifugal force.
The cross sell art for the vehicle is closely based on the production toy:
The vehicle includes a tab on the side, which can be used to hold He-Man’s sword and shield, as explained in the instructions that came with the vehicle:
The main packaging artwork, as well as the cross sell artwork was done by William George:
Interestingly, the Venezuelan version of the toy features product photography on the front rather than William George’s box art. The photo that appears in Mattel’s 1985 dealer catalog is used here (images come from MOTU Argentina Blog) :
I’ve written previously about the first release of Castle Grayskull, and how it differs from later versions. I’ve recently been able to acquire a rather unique piece, a 100% complete and quite pristine first release Castle Grayskull. I’ve been looking for one like this for years, especially after my friend and fellow first-release enthusiast John Oswald acquired one similar to this a couple of years ago.
So there are a few things about this example that differentiate it from even other early 1982 Castle Grayskulls (I’ve owned several early examples, but none quite like this). I’ll go over that, but first some wide shots:
The most obvious difference between this and any other Castle Grayskull is the paint on the front of the Castle. As we learned in the MOTU documentary, The Power of Grayskull, factories initially were looking to use some kind of paint mask for Castle Grayskull, but they were instructed by Mattel to do the painting free-hand (presumably to save time and therefore money). As a result, the paint applications seem to be rather haphazard, especially in later editions of the castle. The earliest versions of Castle Grayskull therefore tend to have the best paint. The two best examples I’ve seen are my recent acquisition and one owned by John Oswald:
I have owned a number of other castles (below) that are also nice early versions. You can see they all have pretty decent paint work around the face, with some good definition to the eyes and nose, but not quite like the two examples from above:
The vast majority of Castle Grayskulls, however, have much less care taken regarding the paint, particularly on the black overspray, which is usually applied without any precision at all:
The other thing that sets my first release castle apart from other early examples is the color of the green removable pieces. The jawbridge, turret floors, trap door activator, and trap door floor are all a very pale shade of green, unlike any other example I’ve seen before:
Some variation in color is pretty normal on these parts (and I think early examples do tend to be somewhat lighter in color), but the very light green on this first release stands out from any other example I’ve seen. The color is about the same as the base plastic of the castle itself.
Interestingly, John’s castle has a half-and-half jawbridge – the inside is pale green, like my example, while the outside is the more common darker green. This indicates it may have been put together just as the color for the jawbridge was being revised to the common darker version.
In this example in Mattel’s 1982 Wish List mini catolog, you can see a castle similar to John’s example, but with a jawbridge that is pale green all the way through:
You can also see what look like very pale turret floors on this example in the 1982 Sears Christmas catalog:
Most early Castle Grayskulls seem to have a stamp under the entrance that generally looks like 1xx2C2, with a lower number in the first three digits corresponding to an earlier castle. For example, John’s first release example is stamped 1162C2. Other early (but not quite as early) castles I’ve owned have numbers like 1242C2, 1322C2, 1332C2, etc. Interestingly all of the numbers I’ve seen are unique, at least under the entrance.
The code for my first release castle is 3021C2 – a higher number on the left three digits, but a lower one on the right three digits. I’m not entirely sure what that means. Perhaps the right three digits are general batch code (1C2 = batch 1, 2C2 = batch 2, and so forth), and the left three digits are a more individualized number given to Castles produced on a certain day or week. I can only guess here.
Everything else about my first release castle is pretty typical of any first year Castle Grayskull, including all of the other codes stamped in various places around the castle.
If you’re looking to find a first year Castle Grayskull, there are some easy things to spot that are typical. The smaller of the two turret floors should have no slots for the cannon, and the cannon top should fit loosely into the cannon base, as opposed to within round slots, as shown in the images below.
All early castles also seem to have some green overspray on the teeth, while later ones often (but not always) have unpainted teeth. The best early castles will have some definition around the eyes and nose, rather than the whole area being painted black. These are general characteristics, but there will be some exceptions. All early castles should have USA stamps throughout. Of course because most of these are sold loose, any castle you find could have a mix of parts from different playsets, so you could find an early castle with later accessories or vice versa.
As I mentioned in a previous article, early versions of the castle came in a box that featured only the 1982 figures on the back. The artwork here was traced directly from a photo used in Mattel’s 1982 Dealer Catalog and also shows up in the first version of the Castle Grayskull instructions:
Starting in 1983, the back of the box was altered to feature cross sell art from both the 1982 and 1983 figures:
A very typical example of a second-release, USA-made Castle Grayskull is shown below. The distinguishing factors are again evident in the design of the back of the box, the face paint pattern on the front of the castle, the small turret floor, the laser cannon, and the instructions. This is very much like the Castle Grayskull I had as a kid, and as much as I loved it, I was always dissatisfied with the paint job on the front, which didn’t quite live up to the look of the castle in the box art.
And that’s about it for this discussion on the first release Castle Grayskull. I’ve been fascinated for some time with the earliest release MOTU toys of 1982. You can read more about this topic in the following articles:
Many thanks to my buddy Doug Feague for kindly sharing pictures of his copy for this article.
At the 2019 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 2. It’s a sequel to the first set of sketches released at Power-Con last year. A few pieces from this set appear in the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary, although several of these pieces are new to me and I don’t know the backstory behind them.
To start out with, the cover (shown above) is the famous Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker, which was illustrated by Rebecca Salari Taylor.
The dungeon has all sorts of meaning for Mark Taylor, who envisioned it as having held Skeletor at one point, turning him into the monster who he eventually became. More on that in a future article.
The Sorceress was included in the 2016 Mark Taylor Portfolio, and is one of my all time favorite pieces of art. This character’s design was eventually merged with Teela’s. The Sorceress would later show up in the 1983 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon with a completely redesigned costume. But she does make an appearance in this form (albeit with a green face) in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword. You can read more about this character here.
Face Shifter is one of many face-changing character concepts that Mark Taylor came up with, eventually leading to Man-E-Faces. This particular version may have inspired the armor used on Terror Claws Skeletor, and possibly even the costume for the New Adventures character Flipshot.
Viking Raid depicts and early Castle Grayskull concept. This one also appeared in Mark’s 2016 portfolio collection and in Dark Horse’s The Art of He-Man.
As I understand it, this character was apparently pulled from Mark Taylor’s sketch book from years before his work at Mattel, and the intent was to use him as one of Skeletor’s henchmen, but may have also been considered for the Conan line that never came to be.
Kang Gi’s face bears a strong resemblance to Webstor, and may have been used as a springboard in the creation of that character.
This is a rather exciting bit of concept art for Ram Man that I personally had never seen before. His look is fairly well developed, although he features the red/brown/orange color scheme that seemed to stick with the character right up until the toy was released in stores, where the colors were changed to red and green. The overall look is quite similar to Ram Man as he appears in the minicomic, He-Man Meets Ram Man.
Known to many fans as “Demo Man”, The Merciless is a differently colored version of a piece of Mark Taylor concept art that has been floating around for the fan community for some time. This version features a darker color palette and a blue beard. This may have been a concept for the unproduced Conan line.
The Enforcer is a character that I’ve not seen previously. To me he fits in very well in the world of MOTU, and I would leave to see a figure made from this wonderfully weird and quirky design.
Another character that is completely new to me, Mokus looks like some kind of giant, frightening but also whimsical plant monster. I’d love to learn the backstory behind this character.
Stalker is a great plant monster concept predating Moss Man. The face reminds me just a little of Swamp Thing, and the plant-based costume and weapon are right on target.
Blaster is a classic-looking science fiction concept character. His helmet almost looks like the prow of a space ship. He seems to be shooting beams of some kind out of his writstband as well. This is another concept I hadn’t seen previously.
Finally, the back page features a lovely message from Mark, adorned with another piece of art from the Castle Grayskull playset, again illustrated by Rebecca.
The 2019 San Diego Comic Con Mattel exclusive He-Man and Prince Adam two-pack took most Masters fans by complete surprise. After years of larger scale MOTU Classics figures with modernized proportions and articulation, Mattel was finally doing another line of vintage-inspired 5.5″ He-Man figures. Unlike the 2000 Commemorative Line, however, it was clear that Origins was to be updated with modern articulation, while keeping the overall vintage look.
Because the initial offering, in the form of a He-Man/Prince Adam two-pack, was done in the style of vintage minicomics, many fans (including myself) assumed that the new MOTU Origins line would plumb the “origins” of the MOTU franchise, which generally lie in the early concept figure designs that often showed up in minicomics (minicomics had to be illustrated ahead of production schedule, with artwork often based on prototype designs).
As it turns out, Origins will mainly be based on the vintage MOTU figures as they appeared in the toy aisles. The minicomic styling of this set will be the exception rather than the rule. I certainly hope that Mattel will find creative ways to get more minicomic style figures out to hardcore fans (perhaps in the form of a mini subscription, like the MOTU Classics model), even while the more well-known vintage toy designs appear on toy shelves in the fall of 2020. I would love to see minicomic/concept versions of Skeletor, Sorceress/Goddess, Mer-Man, Beast Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms and Stratos.
The SDCC exclusive set comes with the most richly-detailed and indulgent packing I’ve seen from Mattel. The set is collector friendly – the figures inside can be removed and replaced without damaging the packing in the least. I have to applaud this move from Mattel. Interestingly, the packaging includes credits for all the people who worked on the finished product:
Toy designer: Brandon Sopinsky • Packaging Designer: Roy Juarez • Packaging Engineer: Adam O’Connor • Copywriter: Robert Rudman • Comic Book Writer: Tim Seeley • Line Art: Axel Gimenez • Colorist: Val Staples • Background Painter: Nate Baertsch • Comic Book Letterer: Ed Dukeshire • Illustration Support: Joseph Zacate • Sculpt: Adam deFelice & Sean Olmos
The outer box for the set features He-Man’s harness (in the Alcala/minicomic/concept style, featuring red squares along both the front and back of the harness) over a Grayskull-green stone texture:
The inner box features a transparent cover that adds character and other art over the backgrounds featured on the box itself. All of the artwork is stunning. Below I will show the design of each side of the box, with and without the transparent cover:
The artwork is largely inspired by the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by the legendary Alfredo Alcala. There is also inspiration drawn from Alcala’s He-Man and the Insect People, and Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero. Those influences are more apparent in the included minicomic, written by Tim Seeley and featuring a retcon of the traditional “savage” origin story written by Don Glut that makes room for multiple He-Men as well as Adam as he appeared in early DC Comics (penciled by Curt Swan and George Tuska) and third wave Alcala comics.
Axel Giménez, who did much of the line art, often directly credits the Alcala influence in the artwork, although for the box cover that was removed from the final colored version:
The comic in the set is situated between two windows, featuring Prince Adam and He-Man:
Early photos released by Mattel show some slight differences compared to the final set. Originally the Adam of the set was to include his own boot knife, as well as a gold-painted handle on the Power sword. He-Man’s boot knife originally went all the way through the cuff of his boot, making the tip of the blade visible:
The final figures of course have those peculiarities removed. Let’s take a closer look at He-Man. He comes with a vintage toy style head as well as a new minicomic style head. He also comes with three pairs of removable hands, an axe and a shield. In the photo below I show him with the vintage toy style head, compared with an original, first-release Taiwan He-Man from 1982:
Aside from the added articulation, He-Man of course features the two-tone boots, boot knife, symmetrical bracers, rounded shield, modified axe and modified harness that are all hallmarks of the character as he appeared in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword:
The minicomic design is based on a prototype of the figure, designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero:
The alternative head is meant to represent the look that Alfredo Alcala gave him in the minicomics, with a shaggier hairstyle:
He-Man’s sculpt is closely based on the vintage 1982 figure, albeit with a lot more articulation. The arms and chest in particular are very faithful to the original, although the legs are a bit softer in sculpt. Where the vintage version was rather miserly regarding paint applications, the Origins figure features painted bracers (symmetrical this time, based on the “punching rocks” scene shown earlier) and three colors on his boots. His boots are also slightly larger, which makes him a bit more steady on his feet.
He-Man’s added articulation allows for a great degree of posability. The additional removable hands are a nice touch as well.
He-Man’s head, arms, hands, torso and boots are all removable – a feature that will allow for some fun mix and match swapping down the line.
Prince Adam is a much bigger departure from the vintage 1984 figure. Like He-Man, he comes with two different heads and three sets of hands. He also comes with a power sword in the style of the version that appeared in the early Alfredo Alcala minicomics as well as the early DC Comics:
Prince Adam first appeared in the 1982 DC story, From Eternia With Death! This version of Adam, however, is most closely based on the character as he appeared in To Tempt The Gods (pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala) as well as He-Man and the Insect People (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala).
Prince Adam’s cloth vest and elastic belt recall the 1984 figure, although of course the colors of his costume are quite different.
The plastic used on this set is the usual high quality material we’ve come to expect from Mattel. It’s actually fairly similar in feel to the material used in the vintage figure (aside from the heads, which in this release are hard plastic rather than soft, hollow polyvinyl. All of the joints work well, with no looseness or issues. The joints around the elbows and hips are, however, a bit inelegant. I have heard that issue will be addressed in future MOTU origins figures.
As the early minicomic source material is the MOTU canon I find most exciting, I was thrilled by this release. I just hope we’ll be able to complete a full cast of characters of early minicomic style variants in the MOTU Origins line.