Castle Grayskull prototype – a closer look

The prototype Castle Grayskull was not something that most fans had ever seen until relatively recently. Certainly as kids we were oblivious to its existence. It did, however, make its way into story books, mini comics, games, and cross sell artwork. Many of us wondered why the castle in the early mini comics looked so different from the one in our collections.

In my recent interview with Mark and Rebecca Taylor, Mark said:

“I [sculpted the castle] because Tony [Guerrero] was busy with the figures and the other sculptors kept making it too architectural.  I wanted it to the castle to be organic, coming to life to tell its story.  I made a wood armature and sculpted it in green clay. Ted [Mayer] helped with the plaster mold and vacuum forming, Rebecca did the labels…  The imaginative user applied labels themselves to offset the lack of interior walls.”

The exterior of the prototype Castle Grayskull was similar in many respects to the final toy, but there were many notable differences as well.

Prototype exterior
Prototype exterior
Front-facing view of another copy of the early prototype. Jawbridge closed. Image via Andy Youssi.
Prototype castle, facing the front of both halves. Image via Andy Youssi.
Mass-produced toy exterior

There are several details on the prototype exterior that are missing or altered in the final toy that I’d like to draw your attention to:

Pawn-like design on top of the helmet
Ghoulish, rounded teeth and small jaw bridge
Laser turret made from Micronauts Hornetroid parts
Extended tower
Deeper rock base
No handle over the battlements
Extended tower roof
Deeper recess with hidden door
Play mat (image via The Power and the Honor Foundation)
“Evil” side flag with skull face. Image via Andy Youssi.
“Good” side flag with He-Man axe. Image via Andy Youssi.

Many of these design elements found their way into the Castle as depicted in Golden Books, mini comics, DC Comics, and other sources, as well both versions of the cross sell artwork.

Cross Sell artwork by Alfredo Alcala, based very closely on the original prototype; appeared on the backs of the first four mini comics
Cross Sell artwork by Alfredo Alcala, in black and white
Cross Sell artwork that appeared on the back of MOTU packaging. It is based closely on the prototype castle, but omits the “pawn” and adds a handle on the side

Below: He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. In all of Alcala’s early artwork, Castle exteriors are almost 100% faithful to the prototype design. In a couple of panels, however, the ledge is omitted:

Below: King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Notice that Skeletor opens the jaw bridge through a lock located to the right of the entrance. I’m not sure if this was a feature Mattel intended to add – I don’t see any indication of it in the prototype. In the final toy, the lock was located on the jaw bridge itself.

Below: The Sword of Skeletor, illustrated by Fred Carillo:

Featuring the “pawn” design on top of Grayskull helmet
Teeth are similar to the prototype, but cleaner looking. Like the Alcala depictions, the “lock” is located to the right of the jaw bridge

To Tempt The Gods, pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala:

Castle features “pawn”, ghoulish teeth and extended turret.
Castle features “pawn”, ledge, and ghoulish teeth

The Trap, illustrated by Dan Spiegle:

Somewhat ghoulish teeth, although cleaner looking than the prototype. Like the Alcala depictions, the lock is located to the right of the jaw bridge

Masters of the Universe Pop-Up game:

Ghoulish teeth, “pawn” design on helmet, extended turret; colors match the prototype as well
Ledge is visible from this angle

From the 1984 UK Annual:

Features the Alfredo Alcala cross sell artwork
From the 1983 Golden: Paint ‘N’ Marker Book. Image source:
Artwork by R.L. Allen, showing the ledge and “pawn” from the prototype castle. Unlike all other depictions I’ve seen, the ledge here looks very squared-off an architectural.

The interior of the prototype Castle was also different in many ways from the final toy:

Prototype interior
Toy interior

There are various details on the prototype interior missing or altered in the final toy:

A kingly throne rather than the futuristic dentist’s chair on the final toy
Trap door – more rectangular with a different sticker design
Single rail ladder that hooked into the floor of the highest turret
Manacles with chains and a different dungeon grate design
A more three-dimensional combat trainer; a punching bag; the secret side door entrance, partially open (behind the combat trainer)
Mark Taylor concept art – via The Power and the Honor Foundation

Update: Interestingly the same prototype combat trainer was still a part of the updated Castle Grayskull set that was used in commercials:

Image via the Aquabats instagram account

Fun fact, the blonde kid in the foreground above is MC Bat Commander from the Aquabats!

Computer decals
Circular elevator with skull-themed back; additional weapons rack sticker
Red skull design at the top of the elevator
Bat-winged backpack
Torture rack
Laser turret – rear view

Elements from the interior of the prototype also found their way into mini comics and story books:

Below: He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

Teela on the torture rack

Below: King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. There are many interior shots featuring the prototype throne, trap door, ladder, computer systems and laser turret:

Below: The Sword of Skeletor, illustrated by Fred Carillo, features several scenes depicting the prototype throne:

Below: The Trap, illustrated by Dan Spiegle, also features the prototype throne:

This is of course not exhaustive. I’m sure aspects of the prototype castle made it into other vintage Masters of the Universe media or collectibles.

While Mattel made several changes to the castle before its release in 1982, at least one bootleg manufacturer seemed to take inspiration directly from depictions of the prototype Castle Grayskull:

Image via
Image via

16 thoughts on “Castle Grayskull prototype – a closer look

  1. What a great post! During my childhood I deeply loved the Alcala mini-comics and always found those discrepancies between the toys and his illustrations fascinating. It was, I think, my very first realization of the concept of artistic license. Thanks to your blog, I now know that it was prototype-inspired art, but I still find it fascinating. By the way, too bad we never got that amazing play mat!

  2. Great post and great playset! I wish it came to us that way, as I’m a fun of the more barbaric Eternia, which was depicted in the early minicomics! I think another external difference is the more protruding mouth.

  3. The prototype is fascinating. There are few elements that I don’t like (like the torture rack and that sort of matryoshka hanging near the combat trainer… what is supposed to be? It puzzled me) but the rest is pretty cool, the more fantasy looking throne in particular. I also like a lot the laser cannon: it looks so exquisitely b-movie XD
    The elevator is cool, but maybe the tuny circular shape was not the best to work with the wide shoulders of the MOTU figures.

    By the way Adam I want to thank you for all these articles and photos. Since I recently started the massive (and insane, because I never tried to do something big like that and I have to learn by myself a number of new skills) project of designing and semi-scratch bulding a Castle Grayskull for my vintage figures. Your articles are massively helpful to me, both as reference and source of ideas as well, so thank you a lot 😉

    1. Thanks Alex! I appreciate it 🙂

      I believe the hanging thing you refer to is a punching bag.

      I’m obsessed with the prototype castle myself – mostly to do with the shape of the Castle itself, and a couple of elements like the throne and laser cannon.

      You should share a pic of your custom Castle Grayskull when it’s finished!

      1. I gladly will, but it will be in the far future because I want to proceed nice and slow in designing the thing, researching for the right materials, test them etc.
        The base will be the 200X castle (the cheapest castle version I’m being able to found) and I will build from scratch both the side walls (in inches, each wall will be around 21,6 long), adding the ground pavement and many other things and some features. The 200X is an excellent base for a custom because it can be disassembled and in a very easy way (and the electronics are awesome), however its skull lacks the eerie and misterious look that CG should have.
        Wish me good luck XD

  4. Now that I think about it, I wonder what happened to the prototype, where it may be now. Is it stored somewhere into Mattel’s storage? Is exposed in the their office building or in the home of some ex high rank Mattel employee? Or maybe it does not exist anymore?

    1. My guess is that they threw it out when they moved to a different HQ (happened to a lot of things). It’s possible someone has it though. You never know.

      1. Very sad but I want to believe in an utopic happy ending: someone gave back the prototype to Mark Taylor and now he owns it in secret 😀 😀

  5. I’ve got a project in mind about this, but I’m having trouble contacting the fans and sites I used to know. I will not venture into Facebook or places like that, yet some fan sites don’t even have a contact form or e-mail. Perhaps you can e-mail me with some suggestions?

  6. Green curtains appear in the throne room in the art of Alcalá and at least in some art by another artist. I wonder if they have ever considered adding those curtains at least as a label

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