Golden Books, Interviews, MOTU History

Interview with Jack C. Harris – Golden Book Writer

Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview! Tell us about yourself!

Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, I was a life-long comic book fan and, originally, I studied art at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with the goal of being a comic book artist. However, that path changed when, upon graduation, I was hired by DC Comics in New York to be one of their Assistant Editors. That shifted my focus on to editing and writing. As a full Editor at DC, I edited such titles as Green LanternWorld’s Finest Comics, Legion of Super-HeroesBlack LightningFirestorm and many others. As a writer, I wrote stories for Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin and others. I created the Ray and wrote the graphic novel, Batman: Castle of the Bat.

How did you end up working for Western Publishing (Golden Books) and their projects?

After leaving DC and working for a trade magazine for the licensing industry, I freelanced for DC, Marvel, Archie Comics, Darkhorse and just about every independent comic book company there was.

While working for the licensing industry magazine, we covered publishing. I received a press release regarding Golden Books’ (Western Publishing) plans to issue a series of Masters of the Universe storybooks. The editor was a gentleman I knew from the comics industry. In my capacity as a freelance writer, I contacted him and soon had MOTU assignments.

With Masters of the Universe stories, what did Mattel provide you with in order to form new tales for our heroes?

When crafting these stories, the editor would forward everything I needed for the backgrounds of the characters. These would be in the form of press releases from Mattel, which included a photo of the toy or a picture of a prototype. Sometimes, I would get the toy itself.

How long would writing a story take?

I was free to plot any kind of story I wanted as long as it didn’t go against the main, established storylines and characterizations of the characters. I could usually plot a story in a day and talk it over with the Editor. This was during the days before the Internet, so our communication was over the phone.

Once a plot was approved, it took me about a week to type up a script, writing about two manuscript pages for each printed page. Typically, a 24-page storybook followed a 48-page, typewritten manuscript. These were delivered through the mail or, if I was going to be in the city, I would drop the manuscript off in person.

With character selection, did your Editor (or Mattel) require specific characters with each respective story?

In the very first MOTU story I did, Mattel did request the inclusion of Fisto, who was a new character at the time. They sent me a Fisto toy (but I don’t recall whatever happened to it).

You wrote a hardcover story “New Champions of Eternia”, which has a unique origin story for the Skeletor henchmen Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, and Tri-Klops; as passengers onboard the spaceship that Queen Marlena piloted. What do you remember about this story and reference Mattel provided?

All of the origin stories and back stories of the MOTU characters came, in detail, from Mattel. I might have embellished them in a narrative, but the basics were always there from Mattel, whether in text or in the drawings or prototypes. There may have been incidences where I made something up, but it was too long ago to recall specifics.

Which story was your first and which one is your favorite and/or least favorite?

Mattel requested Fisto’s appearance in the first MOTU book I wrote, The Secret of the Dragon’s Egg. This is also my favorite of the ones I wrote, mostly because of the stunning Norem cover. Some time ago, I tried to track down the original art of this cover, hoping to obtain it for myself.

Super7 Art Print, in association with the Power And Honor Foundation

My least favorite was New Champions of Eternia because the interior art completely misses the mark, from misinterpreting my original manuscript to not maintaining the established “look” of the characters.

What were the challenges?

Compared to writing for the comics, the storybooks were a little easier since they usually focused on one major incident, rather than a complicated series of events. The scripts would include descriptions of all the illustrations for the artist and all the dialogue for the typesetter. References for the characters were attached, usually copies made from the material provided by the Editor which he had obtained from Mattel.

I don’t have copies of any of these old scripts.

Goat Man from Golden Books (Masters of the Universe)

In the story “The Secret of the Dragon’s Egg”, there is a new character called Goat Man. He did not have a toy in the 80s and your book was his only appearance. What can you tell us about him and his creation?

In the instance of “Goat Man,” I had originally included an unnamed monster minion for Beast Man, but the editor added the name to him. He wasn’t based on any toy.

What was the name of your editor while you worked on the MOTU stories?

Mike Tiefenbacher was my editor at Golden; there were a few Assistants I also worked with such as Charlie Kochman, who later became an editor at DC.

There were many talented artists working on the stories. How did they get paired with writers?

The editor assigned the artists, so I never had any input as to who was going to draw my stories. I was lucky, in that I usually got some extremely talented individuals to illustrate my tales. Some of them I had teamed up with previously in comic books, such as Luis Eduardo Barreto and Fred Carillo. What really impressed me were the painted covers, especially the ones by Earl Norem, who also illustrated covers for such magazines as Reader’s Digest and Field and Stream.

Were there any stories left on the “cutting room floor”? Or pitches that were vetoed?

I never pitched a MOTU story. These were always assigned to me. I would get a call from the editor and he would give me a list of characters to use and I would go from there. The only “pitch” I would give was to the plot of the adventure. I never originated the discussion of stories.

Golden Books also did stories with “She-Ra, Princess of Power” who was He-Man’s twin sister. Were you offered to do any stories for She-Ra?

I never did any She-Ra stories.

Who is your favorite MOTU character?

He-Man himself was always my favorite MOTU character, because he had all the classic “super hero” traits, from super-strength down to the Clark Kent-ish meek alter ego.

You have worked as an Editor and a Writer. What pros and cons do you feel come in those positions? Which one do you prefer?

The best part of being a comic book editor was all the great creative people you were able to meet and work with! The downside were the never-ending deadline pressures!

Oh, and being a writer was more fun than being an editor.

Were there any artists you would have liked to have worked with? Did the writers have any say in the matter?

I was paired with many other artists on other books, such as Al Bigley, Mike De Carlo, Dan Adkins, Carmine Infantino, Gene Biggs, and so many others.

Your MOTU stories appear in both softcover versions and hardcover. Did you know the format in which the story would be published, and what the approach was like?

The format for these books was 8″ x 8″ in both soft and hardback editions. I never knew if the soft covers would also be published in hard-cover editions, and it really didn’t matter as the scripts were typed up in the same matter for either.

What other projects did you work on during your time at Golden Books?

Once I had the MOTU books under my belt, other projects followed, on an extremely wide field of characters and subjects, both fiction and non-fiction: Other licensed characters such as Batman, Conan, the Dino-Riders, Garfield, the Ring Raiders, Zelda, the Galaxy Rangers, the Super Mario Brothers. I did a biography of Dwight Eisenhower and non-fiction books on jet planes, firefighters, and boats. It was a long and varied list.

Did you ever watch the animated series by Filmation?

Since I was writing so many licensed characters, I spent many a Saturday morning watching cartoons with my three daughters. This was “research”!

What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, I am mostly retired, but still touch upon the occasion freelance assignment. In October, I have a book coming out from TwoMorrows Publishing entitled Working With Ditko, which chronicles my many comic book collaborations with legendary comic book creator Steve Ditko.

Thank you very much Mr. Harris!

You’re welcome!

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2002 MOTU KMart Art Cards

During the 2002 relaunch of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, there were many promotional variants with the initial release of the figures. Some figures came packaged with a VHS cassette, starting with select Filmation episodes and as the new series by Mike Young Productions aired; episodes from the new cartoon.

One instance with variant releases was the Kmart-exclusive Art Cards (or as they are referred to in the packaging, Trading Cards). The following figures came packaged with their respective card:

  • He-Man
  • Skeletor
  • Man-At-Arms
  • Beast Man
  • Stratos
  • Mer-Man
Image from “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” Guide book by Dan Eardley and Val Staples [Dark Horse 2021].

All the cards have a foil treatment, which sadly doesn’t translate well in the scans. According to the Toys of He-man and the Masters of the Universe guide, the cards were produced by MVCreations, and “it is speculated that a thousand of each existed”. Looking at the cards, the artwork was done by Emiliano Santalucia with colors by Val Staples.

The style on the cards is still a very early version that Santalucia used when illustrating the characters. The easiest example comes in the Skeletor trading card. The pose appears to be based on a page from the pack-in comic that MVCreations produced for the He-Man and Skeletor Target exclusive 2-pack, with some edits on hand poses and the added weapons. That comic was done in the span of just two weeks and it helped the studio to get the ongoing comic deal with Mattel. The “toony” art style here is based on the early Mattel presentation images by Ruben Martinez. (But for the ongoing comic, Santalucia established a less angular, yet more detailed style.)

Comparison image: Kmart Skeletor card and a comic page from Target 2-pack.

A Special thanks to he-man.org member Cilman for these scans of the cards!

He-Man

He-Man’s pose and the background of Castle Grayskull in the distance appear to be inspired by the promotional poster art by Mike Young Productions (which itself was based on the 2001 poster by Ken Kelly). The back of the card features the figure’s accessories Power Sword, Battle Axe and Battle Shield.

Man-At-Arms

Man-At-Arms stands battle ready at his workshop. The back of the card features the figure’s accessories Battle Club, Hand Cannon and for some reason, they include Removable Chest Armor (when many figures had their armor as removable).

Stratos

Stratos appears flying in the sky, possibly near the Mystic Mountains. The back of the card features the figure’s accessories Arm-mounted Wings and Sky Pack.

Skeletor

Skeletor stands in front of his throne inside Snake Mountain. The back of the card features the figure’s accessories, including his Double Blade Sword and his Havoc Staff, described here as Battle Staff.

Beast Man

Beast Man is ready with his whip inside one of the caverns at Snake Mountain. There are some nice little touches on the ground with small bones and a skull. The back of the card features the figure’s accessory, referred to as his Beast Whip.

Mer-Man

Mer-Man is in his element underwater, looking up ready to strike. The back of the card features the figure’s sword and trident accessories.

Hope you enjoyed this little look at the 2002 Masters of the Universe exclusive Kmart Trading Cards!

History, MOTU History, ToyFare

ToyFare #71: CHANGE OR DIE! (July 2003)

Issue #71 of ToyFare revealed many fascinating aspects about the reboot 2002 incarnation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in an article by Keith Allison. From Zodac’s skin color change to Skeletor’s belt design, Teela’s cobra armor, and more!

The page spread illustration is by Ed Benes with colors by Hi-Fi Color. Curiously the artist chose to illustrate Beast Man seemingly without his fur pelt and blue necklace. The creature that Beast Man rides also seems to be a new creature invented by Benes. Stratos exhibits some color choices making it appear as if he has red gloves and a back canister.

Mr. Benes would years later illustrate some covers for DC Comics on “Masters of the Universe” and “DC Universe VS Masters of the Universe” in 2013.

While the article was published in a July 2003 issue, it’s hard to determine when the artwork may have been commissioned. He-Man is sporting for example his signature templar cross on the armor, which was present in the early figure releases by Mattel in 2002 before they updated for the H-symbol (that fans dubbed at the time as the “asterisk” symbol). He-Man’s hair is also modeled after his 80s classic style.

One thing to note is that the figure marked as “Old He-Man” in the article looks to be the 2000 Commemorative version of He-Man (the face sculpt had a squished appearance). ToyFare would reuse the same photo, only mirror-flipped in issue number 134 too.

The article reveals that for the 2002 reboot, Mattel had plans at first to make Stratos black. But opted to change Zodac (now Zodak) instead. The Mattel concept art can be seen in this video “7 Things You Didn’t Know About Zodak”.

History, MOTU History, ToyFare

ToyFare #143: MASTERS OF THE UNTOLD (July 2009)

The articles and interviews in ToyFare magazine were always insightful on the world of Eternia and its characters, as well as its creators.

One of the more… controversial articles came in July 2009 edition with ToyFare issue #143. The Masters of the Universe Classics line had just started in 2008, and the newly invented story for ‘Classics bios’ was at the time the only existing story media for the characters written on the toy card backs. In the article, the people who worked on the 2002-2004 MOTU Comics teased some of their story ideas and plans that never came to be. Fans obviously were eager to learn more about these ideas, but at the time the then-current brand manager at Mattel didn’t want any confusion between the storylines, so it was asked that the comic bible mentioned in the interview not be posted online. In contrast, by the 30th anniversary Mattel’s creative media department was able to create new stories through DC Comics between 2012-2016 that were not associated or hindered anymore by the Classics narrative, oftentimes creating better origins and adventures with the characters.

Below is a close-up scan of the He-Ro design illustrated by Emiliano Santalucia. The armor design uses an insignia associated with both He-Man, She-Ra, and the “Guardians of Grayskull” symbol (based on the vintage Warrior’s Ring). There are also influences from the then-current Snake Armor that He-Man was wearing in the cartoon and comic. He-Ro did sneak an appearance in the comic on three separate occasions.

Below is the Shadow Weaver art by Emiliano Santalucia. In the comic by MVCreations (vol 2 issue 6), she appeared as a silhouetted character in a single panel.