He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (released October 21, 2015) is a comprehensive collection of minicomics from 1982 to the early 90s, plus a taste of the 2002 and modern Masters of the Universe Classics mini comics. It’s a concept that I think a lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans had been wishing for for quite some time.
The collection was edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with advisement from Val Staples. The comics themselves were scanned and collected by Leanne Hannah, Rod Hannah, Jon Kallis, Rachel Crockett, and Val Staples.
Many of these comics had been available for some time digitally from sources like He-Man.org and The Good Old Days, but not always scanned in high resolution, and certainly not always in a format that was easy to read. Collecting minicomics for the most part isn’t generally terribly expensive – that is, until you get to rare issues like The Ultimate Battleground or Energy Zoids. And certainly having the comics collected in one book is a more convenient to consume and digest them. Having a comprehensive collection in production order nudged me to read read comics I might have otherwise skipped. And of course the pages are blown up significantly larger than the original printings, with the exception of The Power of Point Dread.
Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection covers more than just standard release comics. The previously unpublished Return From Terror Island (inked but uncolored) is included along with an introduction by James Eatock. There is also a script for another unpublished comic, Ring of Dreams, with an introduction by Danielle Gelehrter. The general rule for this collection is minicomics that were packed in with toys, or were intended to be packed in with toys.
We also get an introduction to mini comic variants. One of the most fascinating is the early promotional version of He-Man and the Power Sword, which features an early version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as well as references to the toyline’s early working name, “Lords of Power.”
That logo, by the way, has some points in common with the logo used on some French Masters of the Universe minicomics:
The collection is also peppered with with footnotes full of trivia and interesting connections, written by Jukka Issakainen:
Out of curiosity, I asked Jukka how the trivia portion of the book came about. This is what he told me:
Early on, there was no trivia planned. I had touched base with Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon with some questions about minicomic order and variant differences, and later Val Staples who was coordinating the book contacted me back via Skype on these matters. During a couple of conversations he asked if anything popped into my mind that should be included in the book [comics, booklets, specials], but as they had most things already covered, I mentioned that if the book could include some trivia it would be a cool addition.
Scattered in between the many dozens of mini comic stories the collection is filled with quite a number of interviews (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter) with fourteen mini comic artists and writers, vintage and modern. They include:
All of this is icing on the cake for anyone who cares to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power minicomics. If not, then the comics themselves are worth the price of admission and then some
The large bulk of the book is made of up of the original 51 Masters of the Universe minicomics, which were packed in with figures and other toys from 1982 to 1987. Because the comics span six years and were produced by dozens of different artists and writers, there are some quite dramatic tonal shifts throughout the series.
The series begins with the stark jungle-barbarian post-apocalyptic wastelands of the Alfredo Alcala and Don Glut stories, which are the only comics in the series that don’t have speech bubbles. In fact, Mattel called them “adventure books” rather than comics or minicomics.
That distinctive style gives way to Mark Texeira and Gary Cohn’s faster-paced bronze age style adventure tales. I’m a big fan of the artwork and storytelling, but I find some of the color choices a bit perplexing sometimes, with emphasis on orangey-browns and vivid magenta throughout.
Following the Texeira/Cohn comics, Alfredo Alcala returns to illustrate another series of stories (this time with traditional word bubbles). The writer for the next run of Alcala-illustrated comics was most often Michael Halperin, who wrote the original Masters of the Universe Bible. The MOTU Bible contained the “proto-Filmation” canon – that is to say, elements that would influence the development of the Filmation cartoon, but were not identical to the world Filmation created. Some examples – Prince Adam exists, but is a more serious character and has a different costume. King Randor is also depicted as a much older man.
The tone remained somewhat serious throughout the second run of Alcala comics (perhaps with the exception of The Obelisk, written by Karen Sargentich). Some of the post-Alcala comics, illustrated by Larry Houston, were downright brutal:
After a few chaotic and frankly bizarre comics midway through the series (the mini comics for Leech and Mantenna spring to mind), the comics seem to settle into a predictable but solid rhythm and style, particularly when Bruce Timm was at the illustrator desk. The Filmation influence is present through most of the series, but the mini comics are often just a shade darker, with some actual action and violence (but almost never any real consequences).
The Dark Horse collection includes all eleven original Princess of Power minicomics, all of which were new to me. The first of POP comics, The Story of She-Ra, features a brief appearance by Hordak, but otherwise Catra is the main villain, and no other male members of the Evil Horde appear in the series.
These are tightly contained stories that for the most part focus on Princess of Power-branded characters. It’s an interesting alternative universe to the Filmation She-Ra series, which not only featured an almost complete line-up of Evil Horde villains, but regularly featured guest characters from He-Man’s world as well.
The Dark Horse collection also features all four original New Adventures of He-Man mini-comics (the short-lived sci-fi reboot that immediately followed the original line), a selection of two comics from the 2002 series, and three mini-comics from the modern Masters of the Universe Classics series.
The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who was responsible for much of the post-1982 cardback art on the original He-Man figures) is a fun story, because in it Skeletor witnesses first-hand Prince Adam’s transformation into He-Man. Perhaps more could have been done with Skeletor’s reaction to this revelation, but all the built-up subtext almost tells that story for you:
The collection features the one 2002 minicomic that fans were already familiar with, plus another featuring Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletor that was never released. The comics were written by Val Staples and Robert Kirkman, with artwork and colors by Emiliano Santalucia, Enza Fontana, Marko Failla, Neal Adams,Kevin Sharpe, Brian Buccellato, Steve Cobb, and Val Staples.
Finally, we get a taste of three minicomics from the 2009 Masters of the Universe Classics series. All three were written by Scott Neitlich and Tim Seeley (the first in the series was based on the vintage Powers of Grayskull mini comic written by Phil White and penciled by Larry Houston) and illustrated by Wllinton Alves and Michael Atiyeh.
Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection satisfies a need that had gone unmet for a long time among He-Man and She-Ra fans, but it also whets our appetite for more books along these same lines. Personally I’d love to see another collection comprised of full-sized MOTU comics and magazines from the 1980s to present day, not to mention a collection of the classic Golden Books adventures.
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).
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.
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.
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):
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Gabriel de la Torre
The Power and the Honor Foundation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most exciting things to come out for Masters of the Universe in recent years is the Mark Taylor Original B-Sheets Collection, first offered for sale at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con.
The focus of this blog has always been the vintage 1980s MOTU toyline. I’m not breaking with that focus, but because this collection gets at the origins of He-Man, I think it’s very apropos to review it here.
Produced by The Power and the Honor Foundation in collaboration with Super7, the portfolio consists of eleven pieces of original artwork by Mark Taylor. These were the essential designs that culminated in the Masters of the Universe toy line.
Several of these pieces have been available for some time in black and white from such sources as Grayskull Museum and Mattel’s 2009 art book. Some were included in the 2011 Power and Honor Foundation Catalog. Others were made available in the Dark Horse Art of He-Man book (which included a great deal of artwork shared by Foundation). Some were even offered as Easter eggs in the 2012 Glitschsoft game, He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe.
However, most of this artwork has never been seen in full color until now. This is also the first time, to my knowledge, that the original concept artwork for Zodac has been made available to the public.
Before you even get to the artwork, there’s a lot to unpack in the cover. The front features a very subdued silver version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as recreated by Emiliano Santalucia for the BCI DVD releases. The familiar exploding rocks from the vintage card art are punctuated in red around the title of the collection. In the background there is a blown-up, gray-on-black image of the original concept He-Man design. Everything is slightly embossed for a very nice three-dimensional feel.
The back cover features a photo and biographical sketch of Mark Taylor, along with an interesting explanation of the origins of the term “B-sheet”
A note from the back cover – the original full-color Teela drawing was lost at some point. The one included in this collection was carefully recolored from other early source materials to capture the original intended look.
Each piece of artwork also includes the character name inside a banner, and line art version of the Masters of the Universe logo. These serve as a homage to the artwork of another artist who worked on the He-Man line – Errol McCarthy. A few examples of this kind of artwork, from The Power and the Honor Foundation website, are below:
Mark Taylor’s B-sheet designs are printed on thick, high quality card stock. I’ll cover each individual illustration, but I will say that one thing that strikes me about this artwork is the amazing colors. The shading and highlighting on many of these pieces is quite dramatic and vivid, giving them a sense of richness that was only hinted at in the line art we had seen previously. Mark Taylor has a unique and instantly recognizable style. Not every designer puts this much care and artistry into what are really preliminary designs, but I think this shows how invested Mark was in this concept.
Each piece is dated 1981. Some tell you the exact date on which they were created, while others give you only the year. For fun, I’ll go over the artwork in the order they are dated. I’ll make an educated guess about the ones without a specific date.
Battle Cat – 1981
For years we’ve seen a partially-colored version of this concept, which was first hosted at the Grayskull Museum, beginning March of 2008. The Grayskull Museum has also displayed black and white B-sheet illustrations of Skeletor, Teela, Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and others, which have been passed around by fans since that time.
The Grayskull Museum’s version of the Battle Cat B-sheet is described as a color study. I would assume that means that Mark was testing out different colors before committing to any one color scheme. In the color study, there are some pink and purple shades incorporated into Battle Cat’s armor. When Grayskull Museum asked Mark about the date of the image back in 2008, he said he believed it was done in 1979, although that may have been his best guess, as it doesn’t appear to be dated.
The illustration included in the Mark Taylor Collection is the final version, and it features the colors we’re familiar with on the vintage toy. The tiger design is of course taken from the Big Jim tiger (or actually going further back, the Jungle Cat from Mattel’s Tarzan line), but Mark designed a saddle and helmet for the figure to make it work as a new toy for the Masters of the Universe line. The shape of the saddle here is somewhat sleeker and swept backwards than its plastic counterpart, but otherwise the design is very close to what kids were playing with in the early 1980s.
I had used the cat on the Tarzan line. I liked the sculpt but the 5.30″ He-Man figures wouldn’t ride on him and I wanted him to ride on a huge cat. Nobody messes with a guy riding a huge armored cat! … The head armor came from my childhood sketches and had to be engineered for costs and molding ease, or the marketeers would lose it.
Castle Grayskull – 1981
Although Castle Grayskull is not given a specific date here, I would guess that this drawing was created quite early in the process of formulating the Masters of the Universe toyline. I believe that is the case because there are no recognizable MOTU figures in this drawing – they look like fairly standard background sword and sorcery characters. Mark sketched similar-looking warriors in his mock-up for the Wind Raider box art, although of course He-Man is also included here:
Mark called the castle the “Dwell of Souls” (the name Castle Grayskull was created by Don Glut, freelance story writer for the early mini comics). Mark has a complex back-story and mythology for Castle Grayskull and for the characters he created. You can read about some of that in my previous post about the castle.
In the portfolio illustration, we see that the castle is surrounded by water (a “fetid lake”, as Mark describes it). The sides of the castle don’t much resemble the mass-produced playset, but you can see in the castle’s face many elements that were carried into the toy, including the elongated fangs and the asymmetrically-shaped cheekbones. Interestingly, the face of this Castle appears to be hooded, and bears strong resemblance to Skeletor.
Fans may remember this exact illustration from the Art of He-Man book published by Dark Horse published in 2015. It’s nice, however, to have such a large version of it for display. A black and white version also appeared on the Grayskull Museum website years ago.
Skeletor – March 30, 1981
Skeletor, or “De-Man” (a play on the word demon and the name He-Man) as he is labeled here, is the earliest of the B-sheets that bear a specific date. The black and white version of this drawing (as discussed earlier) has been around for some time, but this is the first time most fans have seen a high-quality colored version. I absolutely love the use of color here, particularly the eldritch red lighting on Skeletor’s left side.
The element that most sticks out about this early Skeletor is the fact that he does not have a skull face. He seems to have more of an undead look, not unlike the ThunderCats villain Mumm-Ra (ThunderCats, of course, did not come out until four years later).
Almost everything else about this Skeletor will be familiar to fans of the early MOTU mini comics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Other than the forearms and the face, Alcala’s earliest depictions of Skeletor are very closely based on Mark Taylor’s original design. He has the same bare feet, the same armor design with yellow bat motiff, and the same “commando” loin cloth (which is to say, he had no furry underwear underneath).
The design of Skeletor’s arms in the B-sheet is very interesting. The flesh of his forearms and hands seems to be decaying. There also appears to be some hanging skin towards the character’s elbows (unless I’m misreading the intent there). Looked at in another light, they almost resemble gloves, and indeed were interpreted as glove-like fins in later incarnations, such as the cross sell artwork and the mass-produced toy.
Skeletor’s pose here seems to have influenced the way the character was drawn in the cross sell artwork used on the back of packaging. The pose on the B-sheet design is a bit more dynamic, but otherwise the two versions cut the same profile.
Man-At-Arms – April 1, 1981
This concept Man-At-Arms is positively bristling with intricate wires, hoses, buttons, and miscellaneous alien devices. The colors used here don’t quite match any other depiction of Man-At-Arms that I am aware of. That is to say, most of the colors are similar to those found in the cross sell artwork (as is the pose to a certain extent), but the character here sports orange boots and orange fur around his chest armor.
It’s clear to me that the color of his belt and helmet are supposed to be a metallic silver color. In artwork that can often translate as light blue. And indeed in many other incarnations his helmet and belt became more blue than silver.
Speaking of his belt, you’ll note that Man-At-Arms features a squared-off belt buckle, unlike the circular design of the vintage toy . You can also see that the fur of his loin cloth peaks over the top of the belt. These details are repeated in the He-Man, Stratos and Beast Man B-sheet designs. Man-At-Arms also features a knife tucked into his right boot, which he shares with the concept version of He-Man. These parts were clearly intended to be reused.
His pose here seems to have influenced the artist who drew his cross sell illustration, at least from the waist up:
Mark’s Man-At-Arms concept drawing is one of my very favorites in this collection, which took me a little by surprise.
Beast Man – April 2, 1981
Beast Man, or “Tree Man” as he was originally called, is quite a visually striking figure. His colors are not quite what I had expected. Generally speaking, Alfredo Alcala’s early mini comic artwork echoes quite closely Mark Taylor’s concept designs. But his first Beast Man illustrations depicted a character who is entirely red, with only splash of yellow on his armor to break up his monochromatic design.
Contrary to expectation, this version of Beast Man has a blue loin cloth and blue detail on his armor and around his eyes, very much like the vintage figure. There are other earlier incarnations of an ape-like or bear-like henchman character that appeared in monochromatic red. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t an earlier version of this B-sheet at some point that was colored that way.
In any case, this version has somewhat ambiguously-colored fur. There is quite a bit of highlighting and shading going on that gives his fur a somewhat orange look on balance. But I believe the intent was for him to have a much more reddish-orange color.
You might have noticed that Beast Man carries no whip here. That is also true of Beast Man as he is depicted in the early mini comics as well. Given that the whip was borrowed from a Big Jim action figure, it may have been something of an afterthought.
The pose used in Beast Man’s cross sell illustration (above) is almost identical to Mark Taylor’s concept version.
He-Man – April 6, 1981
The most powerful man in the universe is indeed quite powerful looking in this B-sheet design. This is another case where I was somewhat surprised at the colors when I first saw them. He sports tan and red boots, red and silver gauntlets, and a plain gray shield.
I was already familiar with a later version of this design (dated May 3, 1981) that had a different color scheme altogether. That color scheme will again be familiar to fans of the early Alfredo Alcala mini comics. He-Man has two-tone red and ocher boots (with boot knife), orange gauntlets, and an orange and gray shield. This version also has orange details on the straps of his armor, rather than the red used on the final design. I must confess that the May 3 version is actually my preferred version – I think the colors are perfect here. Perhaps it will make an appearance in part 2 of this portfolio, should one be offered (which is my not so subtle way of lobbying for a sequel).
Probably the detail that will stick out most to He-Man fans is his helmet. This was of course dropped in the final toy, but the presence of this helmet really punctuates the original barbarian concept of the character. In time He-Man came to be depicted as almost Superman-like in his personality and abilities (with a Clark Kent-esque alter ego to boot), but it’s pretty hard to think of him like that with this helmet on. Personally I love the look here and would love to see some version of this design made into a figure or a statue. Really that goes for all of the figure designs in this portfolio.
You might notice that He-Man does not carry a sword. The axe was his original weapon, and the sword was added later. This particular axe also found its way into the early mini comics.
Teela – May 28, 1981
As mentioned previously, the colors for Teela (here called simply “Female Warrior”) were restored using prototypes and early mini comic artwork as references. Once again fans of early Alfredo Alcala mini comics will recognize this incarnation of Teela with her blonde hair, spiky red tiara (which was based on a hair accessory owned by Mark’s wife, Rebecca), two-toned brown and white boots, and exquisitely detailed gold and white costume.
While Teela’s gold and white shield shows up in the Alcala artwork, her spear, as it appears in this illustration, does not. A similar spear does show up in an early prototype of Teela. This prototype of course features the snake armor that was originally intended for Mark Taylor’s Sorceress character.
Teela’s posture in Mark Taylor’s B-sheet is nearly identical to her posture in the cross sell artwork, although again by that time her design had been cross pollinated with the design of the Sorceress. I don’t think any incarnation quite captured Teela’s face as Mark drew her.
Sorceress – June 3, 1981
The artwork in this portfolio does not give an exact date for the Sorceress, but a black and white version that has been circulating for a number of years is dated June 3, 1981.
The Sorceress’ form is in many details identical to Teela’s. She shares the same legs, arms, and basic outfit. As Emiliano Santalucia has explained, the idea was that the Sorceress would reuse Teela’s body. However, the gold detail going up and down the front of Teela’s costume, in addition to her gold collar, was actually intended to be a removable piece. The Sorceress’ design omits that overlay and instead gives her a cobra-themed headdress.
This character is again familiar to fans of the early mini comics. This green Sorceress (commonly referred to as the Green Goddess now) shows up only in the first mini comic – He-Man and the Power Sword. One crucial difference between the comic and the original concept is that the comic depicts Sorceress as having green skin. In Mark Taylor’s original concept, she is wearing some kind of green body suit, not unlike Man-At-Arms’ costume.
Although the Sorceress and Teela were merged into a single toy, the character of the Sorceress did not entirely disappear. She re-emerged as a character called the Goddess in the second series of mini comics, although it’s a rather confusing concept. Teela was also portrayed in other media with this same look:
It’s a shame that this version of the Sorceress was never released in the vintage line – she’s a striking-looking design, and frankly the toyline could have used more female characters. According to Mark, Sorceress was intended to be a kind of double agent and a changeling.
Mer-Man – 1981
Of all of the wonderfully vivid and creative illustrations in this portfolio, Mer-Man is my hands down favorite. In no other media has Mer-Man ever appeared so highly detailed or so rich with color. The closest version we have seen to Mark’s original vision was again in the early mini comics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Even then, Alcala simplified the colors and some of the detail (primarily in the colors of his clothing and face – Alcala omitted the copper accents and simplified the shape of his gloves).
I’m particularly pleased with the range of blues and greens appearing on Mer-Man’s skin. This design is practically begging to be translated into a toy or a statue.
In Mark Taylor’s concept, the shape of Mer-Man’s armor is actually fairly close to what ended up in the vintage toy, albeit without most of the spikes. In Mark’s illustration you can see that Mer-Man would have had some gill-like structures around his neck, which is also indicated in the cross sell artwork:
The cross sell artwork is very much based on Mark Taylor’s original design (including the pose), although the limbs are simplified and his chest armor is significantly widened. His skin color was also made much greener, perhaps to move him further away from Skeletor’s skin tone.
In his original form, Mer-Man would have required 100% new tooling and molds to produce. Over the course of his design process, Mer-Man was simplified to the point where he could entirely reuse the body and limbs used for Skeletor. Seeing Mark Taylor’s original concept now, it’s unfortunate that his vision was never fully realized in toy form.
Stratos – 1981
One of the hallmarks of many of these drawings by Mark Taylor is their mix between highly detailed realism, and the altered dimensionality inherent in the production of a plastic toy. That is apparent throughout the portfolio (for instance, Mer-Man’s gloves), but also in the shape of Stratos’ (originally known as both “Bird Man” and “Wing Man”) feathers. A fully realistic illustration would have rendered the feathers much thinner in profile, but of course Mark was creating this artwork with molded plastic toys in mind as the end product.
The biggest detail about this artwork that sticks out to me are the eyes. We’re used to seeing Stratos’ “eyes” as goggles, but here they do appear to be his eyes. This transforms his look completely, giving him a much more bird-like appearance than was evident in the vintage toy.
Another thing to point out here is Stratos’ backpack. The design around the front is quite different from either the vintage toy or the cross sell artwork, as there are no straps going down his chest. Alfredo Alcala based his early illustrations on this concept Stratos, although he got the skin (or perhaps fur) color wrong. As you can see, Mark added some yellow and tan lighting effects to the center of Stratos’ chest, but I believe the intent all along was for Stratos to be light gray.
Zodac – 1981
This Zodac (or “Sensor” as he was originally called) drawing was no doubt created last of the 11 pieces included in this portfolio. As Emiliano Santalucia pointed out several years ago at Grayskull Con, the design details are based on parts already sculpted for the toyline – specifically Skeletor’s arms and legs and Beast Man’s chest.
This is the only piece in the portfolio that has not been published in any form until now. As such it was the one I was most curious about, and it did not disappoint.
Zodac looks quite alien here. He adopts a straight-legged stance, but otherwise has the familiar Skeletor feet and forearms. The version from the cross sell art seems a bit tame by comparison:
Zodac’s expression here is heroic, if a bit cocky. Mark’s original intention was for Zodac to be an ally of He-Man. Perhaps the name “Sensor” came about because his helmet enhanced his vision and hearing – at least that’s my guess, going from the design cues. Mark has also said that Zodac “was all about flying” – perhaps he would have provided air support for He-Man in the Wind Raider.
As amazing as this artwork might look on your flat screen monitor, trust me when I say that it’s nothing compared to how it looks in person. This portfolio was printed in a limited run for San Diego Comic Con, so not everyone was able to get their hands on it. I hope that Super7 and The Power and the Honor Foundation will eventually make more copies available for fans who couldn’t get it the first time around. If you are even a moderate He-Man fan, you need this artwork in your life.
As I intimated earlier, I’d love to see a sequel to this portfolio. Items on my personal wish list would include the August 8, 1981 version of He-Man, alternate versions of any of the characters included in this portfolio, and artwork for Man-E-Faces, Ram Man, and any number of unproduced characters that Mark might have worked on before he left Mattel.
I hope also that this collection of concept illustrations will lead to the production of 3D versions of these designs, whether that takes the form of new 5.5″ scale action figures, statues, or Masters of the Universe Classics figures. It would be, I believe, a fitting tribute to the man whose creativity and vision launched this beloved toyline.
Thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pushing me to write this review.