History

Masters of the Universe Advertising Timeline

In an ongoing quest to understand the chronology of events related to Masters of the Universe, I’ve constructed a timeline of first appearance newspaper ads for all He-Man toys. I think probably newspaper ads get us closest to real commercial release dates for MOTU figures than any other data point.

First, some notes on the process and limitations of this timeline. I used the Newspapers.com database as my source of information. So it is limited to a) what newspapers they have archived, b) the extent to which the text has been made accurately searchable and c) my ability to suss out variant spellings, such as “Castle Grey Skull” and “2 Bad.” Sometimes figures are advertised by photo but not called out by name, which is an additional challenge. So this timeline may change as newspapers are added to their corpus or as I’m able to find additional, earlier ads. Another limitation is that Newspapers.com only archives English-language newspapers. Eventually I’d love to get some European newspaper ad dates for the 1988 wave.

I will mention that Newspapers.com does cost money, so if you are able to kick over a donation, that will help me to be able to do research like this.

A couple of other things – I don’t think the data for 1987 is particularly good. The frequency of MOTU newspaper ads is quite sparse. Advertisers were already winding down their ad spend as the line was dying. So, the 1987 dates may be less accurate in representing something that is close to a probable release date. The advertising early in 1982 is also a bit sparse, as it was a brand new line and I think it took a few months for retailers to realize they had a major hit on their hands. So again, some of the very first figures might have come out weeks before the earliest advertisements I was able to find. I also excluded mention of figure names in a 1982 cash rebate offer – the mention of figures eligible for the offer does not necessarily indicate that all of those figures were available at the time the offer was advertized.

Another challenge of the early ads was that there was a tendency to use stock art without naming characters. Did that represent the availability of all those figures, or were advertisers just using the art they had on hand? For that reason I’ve included a couple of different dates for late first wave figures – first time the artwork was advertised and the first time the name of the toy was advertised. Also, in 1986 there is a case where figures (the first three Snake Men) were advertised ahead of release date, which was noted by the advertiser. I made note of both the “pre-release” and actual sale dates.

For illustrative purposes I will include some sample advertisements, but there are simply too many to include them all. I’ll also eventually add these dates to my earlier Timeline article for more comprehensive view of dates and events related to MOTU.

1982

05/13/1982: First Skeletor newspaper ad
05/13/1982: First Man-At-Arms newspaper ad
05/13/1982: First He-Man newspaper ad
05/13/1982: First Beast Man newspaper ad
06/03/1982: First Battle Ram newspaper ad
06/03/1982: First Battle Cat newspaper ad
06/03/1982: First Castle Grayskull newspaper ad (“Castle Grey Skull”)
06/03/1982: First Stratos newspaper ad (pictured, not named)
06/03/1982: First Zodac newspaper ad (pictured, not named)
06/09/1982: First Teela newspaper ad
06/18/1982: First Stratos newspaper ad (mentioned by name)
07/22/1982: First Wind Raider newspaper ad
08/08/1982: First Mer-Man newspaper ad (mentioned by name)
08/08/1982: First Zodac newspaper ad (mentioned by name)

Newsday, June 3, 1982

1983

Commentary: Mekaneck shows up at the end of the year in 1983, although Mattel designates him among the 1984 figures in their official catalog.

02/20/1983: First Man-E-Faces newspaper ad
04/14/1983: First “Buy 3 Get 1 Free” offer ad (Wun-Dar aka Savage He-Man aka Wonder Bread He-Man)
04/17/1983: First Faker newspaper ad
05/11/1983: First Ram Man newspaper ad
06/30/1983: First Evil-Lyn newspaper ad
06/30/1983: First Tri-Klops newspaper ad
07/15/1983: First Attak Trak newspaper ad
08/04/1983: First Talon Fighter newspaper ad
08/28/1983: First Trap Jaw newspaper ad
09/21/1983: First Screeech newspaper ad (spelled “Screech”)
09/22/1983: First Panthor newspaper ad
09/23/1983: First Zoar newspaper ad
12/14/1983: First Mekaneck newspaper ad

The Commercial Appeal, Aug 12, 1983

1984

01/25/1984: First Road Ripper newspaper ad
03/11/1984: First Battle Armor He-Man newspaper ad
03/11/1984: First Battle Armor Skeletor newspaper ad
03/11/1984: First Roton newspaper ad
03/22/1984: First Prince Adam newspaper ad
03/22/1984: First Orko appearance in stores (costumed actor- unclear if that means toy was available)
04/28/1984: First Buzz-Off newspaper ad
04/28/1984: First Whiplash newspaper ad
05/11/1984: First Dragon Walker newspaper ad
06/03/1984: First Snake Mountain newspaper ad
06/03/1984: First Stridor newspaper ad
08/03/1984: First Fisto newspaper ad
09/09/1984: First Webstor newspaper ad
10/12/1984: Clawful and Buzz-Off mentioned as popular toys in newspaper story
10/24/1984: First Kobra Khan newspaper ad
10/25/1984: First Clawful newspaper ad
10/25/1984: First Orko newspaper ad (actual toy)
11/18/1984: First Jitsu newspaper ad

The Spokesman Review March 22, 1984

1985

01/13/1985: First Land Shark newspaper ad
01/24/1985: First Moss Man newspaper ad
01/24/1985: First Stinkor newspaper ad
02/28/1985: First Roboto newspaper ad
02/28/1985: First Two Bad newspaper ad
03/31/1985: First Bashasaurus newspaper ad
03/31/1985: First Battle Bones newspaper ad
05/30/1985: First Spikor newspaper ad
06/01/1985: First Spydor newspaper ad
06/14/1985: First Night Stalker newspaper ad
08/08/1985: First Dragon Blaster Skeletor newspaper ad (implied)
08/08/1985: First Hordak Newspaper ad (costumed actor appearance)
08/08/1985: First Thunder Punch He-Man newspaper ad
08/20/1985: First Grizzlor newspaper ad
08/20/1985: First Hordak newspaper ad (actual toy)
08/20/1985: First Leech newspaper ad
08/20/1985: First Mantenna newspaper ad
08/25/1985: First Dragon Blaster Skeletor newspaper ad (explicitly shown)
08/30/1985: First Sy-Klone newspaper ad
09/14/1985: First Fright Zone newspaper ad
09/28/1985: First Modulok newspaper ad

Calgary Herald, Sept 28, 1985

1986

A bit of commentary here – there are some surprises in this section. A number of figures Mattel designated as 1987 wave figures in Mattel’s dealer catalog appear at the end of the year in 1986, including King Randor, Clamp Champ, Snake Face, Scare Glow, Ninjor, Mosquitor and Beam Blaster & Artilleray.

01/11/1986: First Laser Bolt Newspaper ad
01/11/1986: First Slime Pit Newspaper ad
02/02/1986: First Rokkon newspaper ad
02/02/1986: First Stonedar newspaper ad
02/12/1986: First Flying Fists He-Man newspaper ad
02/12/1986: First Terror Claws Skeletor newspaper ad
02/21/1986: First King Hiss newspaper ad (figure coming in April)
02/21/1986: First Rattlor newspaper ad (figure coming in April)
02/21/1986: First Tung Lashor newspaper ad (figure coming in April)
04/23/1986: First Dragstor newspaper ad
05/01/1986: First King Hiss newspaper ad (figure listed as available)
05/10/1986: First Rattlor newspaper ad (figure listed as available)
05/10/1986: First Tung Lashor newspaper ad (figure listed as available)
05/11/1986: First Mantisaur newspaper ad
06/03/1986: First Blasterhawk newspaper ad
07/18/1986: First Jet Sled newspaper ad
07/18/1986: First Megalaser newspaper ad
07/18/1986: First Stilt Stalkers newspaper ad
08/24/1986: First Snout Spout newspaper ad
09/10/1986: First Hurricane Hordak newspaper ad
09/28/1986: First Fright Fighter newspaper ad
10/11/1986: First Meteorbs newspaper ad
10/11/1986: First Multi-Bot newspaper ad
10/23/1986: First Monstroid newspaper ad
11/05/1986: First Extendar newspaper ad
11/05/1986: First Rio Blast newspaper ad
11/08/1986: First Horde Trooper newspaper ad
11/23/1986: First Eternia Playset newspaper ad
11/27/1986: First Beam Blaster & Artilleray newspaper ad
11/27/1986: First Mosquitor newspaper ad
11/27/1986: First Ninjor newspaper ad
11/27/1986: First Scare Glow newspaper ad
11/27/1986: First Snake Face newspaper ad
12/09/1986: First Clamp Champ newspaper ad
12/09/1986: First King Randor newspaper ad

Clarion Ledger, July 18, 1986

1987

03/14/1987: First Tyrantisaurus Rex newspaper ad
03/21/1987: First Blast Attak newspaper ad
03/21/1987: First Sorceress newspaper ad
03/21/1987: First Sssqueeze newspaper ad
04/04/1987: First Bionatops newspaper ad
04/04/1987: First Turbodactyl newspaper ad
08/08/1987: First Blade newspaper ad
08/08/1987: First Gwildor newspaper ad
08/08/1987: First Saurod newspaper ad
11/11/1987: First Buzz-Saw Hordak newspaper ad
11/11/1987: First Rotar newspaper ad
11/11/1987: First Twistoid newspaper ad
Not found: Tower Tools, Cliff Climber, Scubattack

The Gazette, August 8, 1987

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this advertising timeline. Again, I don’t think the dates are 100% the same as when the toys actually showed up in shelves, but most dates should be fairly close. I think this timeline also should functional as a reasonably accurate order of release list. If you happen to find a dated advertisement for a figure that is earlier than what I have found, please let me know in the comments!

Return to Table of Contents.

History

He-Man in the News (1982)

I thought it might be interesting to share a few newspaper stories I found covering the brand new Masters of the Universe line in the year of its launch, 1982.

Recently there has been some celebration of He-Man’s birthday, particularly on this year, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Masters of the Universe. The date picked for his birthday is October 12, 1982. This is apparently based on a document found by a former Mattel brand manager indicating that the line had possibly launched on that date. Those who follow my blog know that’s not true – He-Man debuted February 17, 1982 at Toy Fair, and was available in stores no later than May – the earliest newspaper ad I’ve found that shows MOTU figures for sale (on sale, no less) dates from May 13, 1982. A rebate offer found in the first minicomics indicates figures might have been in stores as early as March 1, 1982. May 1982 is a safe earliest date for when the line was definitely available in stores.

So that got me thinking about what else was going on in 1982 with the line, and I decided to do a search for newspaper articles that mention Masters of the Universe published in 1982.

This article will only cover newspaper stories – I understand that there was some trade publication coverage of the line as well, but I don’t have access to much of that material at this time.

March 30, 1982

The earliest article I found comes from The Atlanta Constitution from March 30, 1982. In an article called “His & Her Christmas” (which overall leans heavily on traditional gender divisions between boys’ and girls’ toys), we get a brief snippet toward the end about the new MOTU line:

“A hazard of going too far into the future is getting caught in a time warp and finding yourself back in Medieval times. From that period, Mattel brings us “Masters of the Universe.” Good guys in this series are He-Man, Man-at-Arms and Teela, the warrior goddess. Villains are Skeletor and Beast Man. Figures, vehicles and a setting — Castle Grayskull — complete the series.”

– Gayle White

The above time warp plot line is interesting. It wasn’t the actual canonical story for the series, but something similar to this did appear in the earliest minicomic treatment for the series, written by Don Glut, back when the line was call The Fighting Foe Men. More on that here. In a separate interview, Derek Gable mentioned that time travel was originally going to be a part of the line to allow characters to move to different situations and scenarios.

“Mattel also hopes to introduce a 30-minute cartoon show this fall featuring the eternal battle between Good and Evil as fought by these Mattel characters.”

– Gayle White

The cartoon of course wouldn’t appear until the fall of 1983. Mark Ellis was the marketing director at Mattel, and from my interview with him (which appears in Pixel Dan’s The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe published by Dark Horse) he was charged with getting the toyline into animation. He really didn’t know anything about animation, and had to learn on the fly during his conversations with Hanna Barbara and Filmation. I’m sure Mattel underestimated the time it would take to bring a new cartoon to market.

April 14, 1982

The next article I found comes from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Published April 14, 1982, in an article called “Toy makers fight for kids’ dollars.”

The new small scale G.I. Joe line gets most of the focus, but again, Masters is mentioned toward the end:

“The space theme continues with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line. The Man at Arms, Beast Man and Battle cat (the fighting tiger with saddle and armor) characters are a juxtaposition of space and mythology.”

– Pat Zajac

Almost no detail is given in this one, and the main characters of He-Man and Skeletor are omitted, not to mention missing capitalization and hyphens in the character names.

August 28, 1982

The next article is really just a human interest piece about a child who gets a $1 loan from a bank with the purpose of buying a He-Man figure for a friend (although he then discovered that it wasn’t enough to buy a figure). It appears August 28, 1982 in the Record Searchlight:

October 1, 1982

The next story appears in the October 1, 1982 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald, about hot new toys on the market. The focus is E.T., but it has this to say about Masters of the Universe:

Another of the new additions to the toy market is Masters of the Universe, a space fantasy toy based on a futuristic garrison, Castle Greyskull. All major department stores predict it will be a winner. Accessories will also be available but stocks are limited.

Interesting that it’s characterized as a “futuristic garrison” and a space fantasy toy. That’s of course part of it but it misses the barbarian fantasy aspects of the property.

October 20, 1982

The next article is again focusing on E.T. toys (or their unavailability in time for Christmas), but also mentions He-Man. From The Atlanta Constitution, October 20, 1982:

Mattel’s best sellers for this Christmas have been Pink and Pretty Barbie, a fluffly, ultra-feminine version of the company’s long-established fashion doll, and Masters of the Universe, an action set featuring the brawny He-Man, “strongest man in the universe.”

He-Man is getting tough competition from that defender of the American way, G.I. Joe…

Of interest here is “strongest man in the universe” and not “most powerful man in the universe.” The former title appears in some very early giftset packaging. More on that here.

October 23, 1982

Next up we have The Wichita Eagle Beacon, October 23, 1982:

MOTU gets a brief, one-line mention:

Another item high on shopping lists — “Masters of the Universe” figures, released by Mattel this summer.

We know of course the MOTU was available at least by early May, which I suppose is almost summer.

October 25, 1982

Next up from Newsday, October 25, 1982, we get a very brief line that just states that Masters of the Universe figures are very popular:

November 7, 1982

From Asheville Citizen Times, November 7, 1982 we get another story about Christmas toys that focuses on E.T.:

However, we do get a couple of paragraphs about MOTU, or more specifically Castle Grayskull. The author I think based this bit on just a quick look at the front and back of the box Castle Grayskull came in, as she describes the figures as “tiny plastic people.”

Castle Grayskull is an adventure scene variation on the old-fashioned dollhouse. A Masters of the Universe item, it has tiny plastic people that are bought individually to go wit the castle. Castle Grayskull is a “fortress of mystery and power for He-Man and his foes,” says the box in which it comes.

It includes a “jawbridge” that opens and closes, weapons and a trapdoor over the dungeon. He-Man is billed as the “most powerful man in the universe,” and his proteges include Man-At-Arms, “master of weapons,” and Beast Man, “savage henchman.”

December 1, 1982

Finally, we have The Austin American Statesman, December 1, 1982.

The author describes MOTU as a “ripoff of Star Wars” crossed with Dungeons and Dragons. Not accurate as far as the “ripoff” comment goes, but otherwise a fair description:

Star Wars anything ranks among the top five national sellers, along with Strawberry Shortcake (Kenner), Barbie dolls (Mattel), plus E.T. in any form (a variety of producers) and something called Masters of the Universe (Mattel) which is a ripoff of the Star Wars idea coupled with the mystery of Dungeons and Dragons.

Return to Table of Contents.

History

T. Mark Taylor – In Memoriam

Mark in his office at Mattel

On December 23, 2021, T. Mark Taylor passed away at the age of 80. For any of you who have followed this blog, you’ll know that Mark is my personal hero. I had the privilege of interviewing Mark and his wife Rebecca in 2016, and that interview was republished in The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Mark was incredibly talented in both skill and artistic vision, and fiercely passionate about his work and about maintaining his integrity as an artist and creator. Mark was generous with his time – he always had time and seemingly infinite patience for fans.

Mark was born on June 5, 1941. As a child he had a passion for fantasy and science fiction in both comics and novels. He was influenced by Tarzan and Prince Valiant, as well as the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. He read and drew compulsively.

As a teen he took commissions to paint pinstriping on cars. After high school he attended the Art Center College of Design at Cal State, and became a combat illustrator for the US Navy. In the mid-1970s Mark and his wife Rebecca Salari Taylor were hired as contractors for Mattel, doing packaging artwork for Barbie. Later Mark was hired on as a permanent employee. He was still primarily a packaging designer when he was tasked with running and designing the new Masters of the Universe line, which had been sparked by some personal art he had hanging up in his office – “Torak: Hero of Pre-history.”

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Mark was in charge of Masters of the Universe for its first year, and it was an unexpected, runaway success. Mark designed all of the figures in the first year of the line – He-Man, Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, Beast Man, Teela, Stratos and Zodac. He created the color scheme and accessories for Battle Cat, and designed and sculpted Castle Grayskull. He also designed Ram Man and Man-E-Faces as well as a number of unused characters before leaving Mattel. Mark’s friend and fellow Mattel designer Ted Mayer designed the vehicles early in the line, and Rebecca did decals for the vehicles as well as for Castle Grayskull. Mark also did the packaging design for the larger boxes for the line, although he relied on Rudy Obrero to provide the beautiful painted artwork.

Mark and Rebecca
Ted and Mark

Mark pulled in all of the talented create people around him to help create the MOTU line, often pulling all-nighters at Mattel to get it ready for market. In fact, one Mattel employee, Colin Bailey (who would do design work on He-Man after Mark left), did some sketches of Mark, depicting him exhausted after working on his “dark project.”

Mark would later work on brands as diverse as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hot Wheels, He-Man (1989 relaunch), Street Sharks, Starship Troopers, Micro Machines, Men in Black, King Kong and more. After retiring from the toy business, both Mark and Rebecca taught as senior lecturers with Otis College of Art and Design, in the Toy Design department.

Mark was a visionary who touched all of our lives, directly or indirectly. The world is poorer for his absence. Thank you to Mark for making all of our childhoods more magical and for sparking our imaginations. I know of a number of people who are now great professional artists and designers in their own right, inspired by Mark’s indelible work.

Thank you Mark for creating the world of He-Man which has been so meaningful to me and to so many in the community. Mark’s influence will live on far beyond his lifetime.. My deepest sympathies to his wife, Rebecca Salari Taylor and to his dear friend Ted Mayer and to all others who knew and loved Mark. Rest in peace.

The Original Masters of the Universe Lineup – figures and playset designed by Mark Taylor

Related:

Return to Table of Contents.

Heroic Warriors, History

Heroic Mer-Man, Evil Stratos?

I’ve mentioned this briefly before in the blog, but I thought this topic deserved its own post. It’s well known that early on in the development of the Masters of the Universe line, allegiances of certain characters were in flux. One of the most dramatic examples of that is Zodac, who is at times presented as heroic, neutral and evil in official Masters packaging, comics and cartoons. I go over that in depth in my post about Zodac. The history of Stratos and Mer-Man is actually similar, but the details are a bit murkier.

The very earliest surviving characterizations of Mer-Man peg him as a Heroic Warrior. In an early draft by Don Glut for what would eventually become the first minicomics (using the title “Fighting Foe Men” as the name of the line), Mer-Man is listed among the Heroic Warriors and is given this backstory:

MER-MAN (alternative name: Sea-Man) — The last survivor of an extraterrestrial race of water-dwellers. When his water-world was drawn into its sun by the force of gravity and evaporated, Mer-Man — a scaly humanoid with fishlike gills and fins — escaped to Eternia and took residence in its seas. There this intelligent being took command of the sea’s creatures. He can exist on land, where his strength, accustomed to the pressures of the sea’s depths, is increased — but extreme heat can dehydrate him, weakening and eventually killing him.

Don Glut

The same story also groups Stratos (who was called Wing Man at the time) with the Heroic Warriors:

WING-MAN (alternative name: Air-Man) — One of the last of a race of mountain-dwelling beings who have mastered the air. Wing-Man is a denizen of mountain peaks hidden high above Eternia’s clouds. He utilizes a flying craft equipped with various weapons resembling characters of flying creatures — a deafening bird’s cry siren, a hornet’s sting, etc. But he can fly without use of the craft, thanks to a set of foldable wings — including a set of bird’s wings, bat’s wings, insect’s wing, etc. He has a good sense of humor and is a natural practical joker, which makes him bearly [sic] tolerable to such brooding characters as He-Man.

Don Glut

An early internal Mattel document, as seen in The Power of Grayskull documentary, explicitly affiliates Mer-Man with He-Man, but is non-committal about Stratos.

In a series of early promotional slides intended to generate buzz about the new line (called “Lords of Power” at the time), Mer-Man is grouped with the Heroic Warriors. Skeletor and Beast Man seem to be the only Evil Warriors here.

Even in Mattel’s 1982 dealer catalog, the only figures explicitly called out as evil are Skeletor and Beast Man. Stratos, Mer-Man and Zodac at this point seem to be in a category apart from either the Heroic or Evil Warriors. Perhaps the idea was to leave it ambiguous and let kids decide how to use them.

At around the same time, Mattel put out a kit for manufacturers of licensed products, intending to direct them how to use the Masters of the Universe brand in their products. In here we see Stratos as a villain. Mer-Man is given no specific allegiance.

The minicomics that came with the first figures always characterize Mer-Man as evil. From that point on Mer-Man is solidly in the Evil Warriors camp. However in Stratos’ first appearance in the comics, he is shown with the Evil Warriors. Thereafter he is always grouped with the heroes.

In a 1982 JCPenney catalog, Stratos and Beast Man are listed together as a set, described as “Winged sky baron, and his savage henchman.” JCPenney sold many unique figure two-packs, although I’ve never seen any other evidence of this particular set, or the Man-At-Arms/Zodac set either. You can browse these gift sets here.

Finally, we see in 1983 and beyond an attempt to further solidify the two factions in Masters of the Universe. To that end, Mer-Man is given the title “Evil ocean warlord” rather than his original “Ocean warlord,” and Stratos is called “Heroic winged warrior rather than his original “Winged warrior”:

Return to Table of Contents.