Tag Archives: Alfredo Alcala

Custom MOTU Origins feet by Guillermo Grande

I wanted to follow up my recent review of Guillermo Grande‘s amazing custom Castle Grayskull with a quick write-up about his feet. Well, not his feet per se, but the custom feet he’s made for MOTU Origins.

I have slightly mixed feelings on the MOTU Origins line – I love the concept and minicomic-based figures. I mostly like the main vintage toy inspired line, although there are a few things I would change (Battle Armor Skeletor’s frowny face, the retail Beast Man’s face paint and armor color, Mer-Man’s face light paint, Battle Cat’s helmet and chest area, Castle Grayskull’s overall design, etc.) These are things that probably aren’t going to bother any kids who are collecting these toys, but as a (purportedly) grown-up collector, they do stick out to me.

Despite its flaws, I love the potential of the line. I love the idea of having modern toys in the scale and build of the 1980s line that are homages to vintage minicomic and prototype designs. I also love how easy it is to customize these figures.

Although oddly not called out on the packaging, all Origins figures have easily removable heads, arms, hands, boots, and waists. With a bit of added heat (through hot water or a hair dryer) you can also separate the feet at the ankles, the shins at the knees, the legs at the hips, and the forearms at the elbows. This makes it so easy to mix and match different parts.

The 2020 Power-Con exclusive Lords of Power Set is amazing and my favorite thing in the line so far. But as with most limited exclusives, the tooling budget tends to have some limits as well, and some of the parts used in the set were “good enough” reuses from existing parts. The two that stand out the most are the feet on Skeletor/De-Man and Beast Man:

The original Skeletor/De-Man prototype had bare feet, but he had five toes, not three toes (the bare three-toed feet on Skeletor would work great for a cross-sell art inspired variant, however). Poor Beast Man is given “sock” feet that were used on the retail release of Beast Man. The vintage Beast Man prototype based on also had five-toed bare feet. Guillermo Grande has created a foot design that works well for both figures, and can be easily swapped out with the originals with some added heat to temporarily soften the plastic.

Beast Man finally takes off his socks

Both of them are definite improvements, but Beast Man in particular really needs his bare feet – the sock feet really undercut the savage look of the rest of the figure. It’s amazing how such a small change can completely alter the character of a figure.

Those interested in buying these feet, or any of his other customs/commissions, can contact Guillermo through his Instagram page.

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Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!

Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental character guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com

You can also purchase the individual toy guide at Amazon or through Big Bad Toy Store. Thank you!

Custom Castle Grayskull by Guillermo Grande

For a couple of years now I’ve been admiring the minicomic-inspired customs of artist Guillermo Grande. What has caught my eye the most, however, is his recreation of the original Mark Taylor prototype Castle Grayskull (as featuring in the first set of Alfredo Alcala-illustrated minicomics and other material), using a combination of newly sculpted pieces and paint work on an existing vintage Castle Grayskull shell. When he created a second one for sale, I had to jump on it right away.

The original Castle Grayskull prototype (designed and sculpted by Mark Taylor) is shown below for reference. You can also check out my article on the prototype for a more detailed discussion of what sets it apart from the mass-produced castle, which was trimmed and simplified to reduce manufacturing costs and to fit it in a smaller box (which would reduce shipping costs and allow more playsets to fit on shelves at retail).

Image shared by James Eatock, originally via Andy Youssi

Guillermo of course references that prototype in his custom work, but he also references colors and other unique elements from the illustrations of Alfredo Alcala.

On to the custom!

Exterior

Color-wise, the exterior of Guillermo’s castle seems to invoke the more dramatic and moody color scheme of the Alcala comics, with deep blue shadows in the recesses of the exterior and vivid green on all protruding surfaces, as if lit by some eldritch light. This is of course present on the prototype, but it’s more amplified in Alcala’s artwork.

On the front face of the castle, there are quite a few modifications. The most obvious might be the teeth, which are much more ghoulish than the retail castle and have quite a bit of overhang. The teeth ended up being more recessed on the retail version because that was much easier for molding purposes.

Another key feature is the ledge on the side of the tower:

Another obvious change is the so-called pawn-piece on the top of the helmet. The helmet itself also has an enlarged center design.

A really ingenious addition to the castle is a completely reworked jawbridge. The retail castle had an enlarged opening with some extra room at the top half of the entrance. The prototype had a narrower front entrance. It also had a stone textured exterior, while the retail jawbridge had a wood texture on the outside. Guillermo has also modified the jabridge teeth to match the prototype (while extending it a bit to completely cover the entrance when closed):

Image source: Guillermo Grande

There is also a hole to the side of the door for He-Man or Skeletor to insert their sword – a detail taken from the minicomics. I should note that doing this won’t actually open up the jawbridge – that must be done manually.

A more subtle change is the addition of extra material between the eyes and around the nose, to better reflect the prototype design:

Visible from the front is the concept laser cannon. This one was actually kitbashed by Mark Taylor from Micronauts Hornetroid parts – he later designed something from scratch for the production model. You can see also from this view that Guillermo has included simulated stone floor on the platform.

Visible from the front on the taller tower is the “Spirit of the Castle.” This wasn’t from the prototype playset, but it was included at the end of many of the Alfredo Alcala/Don Glut minicomics. The Spirit would appear at the end of the story to deliver a message to the triumphant heroes. The custom “Spirit” glows in the dark.

Something that I’m told will be available in future customs is the prototype flag. Guillermo was kind enough to send me the artwork he did for it, so I could print one out and add that to my castle (note – I made a modification on the colors of the evil side of the flag):

On the exterior of the other half of the castle, there are a few changes as well (other than, of course, the paint). The handle that was added to the retail castle to allow kids to use it as a carrying case has been removed to restore it to the prototype design, and sculpted stone is used to cover up the tops of the battlements.

The tower on the far end has had its roof extended to a sharp point, again to match the source material:

And a really fun feature: a secret door has been created under the side windows, which was again a feature of the prototype, but not included in the retail release:

Secret door behind the prototype combat trainer

Interior

The second floor pieces of the interior have been given a wood-like finish, and the gargoyle piece at the top of the elevator has been cast in a greenish stone finish. The prototype castle had a circular elevator and a skull at the top, although it was never illustrated in the Alcala comics (it does get referenced in Don Glut’s text). On the right side we see a replica of the computer cardboard cutout that came with the retail castle, but below it is a 3-D piece that recalls the prototype castle:

From the prototype

One of my favorite extras here is a green computer and monitor. It wasn’t in the prototype castle, but it was featured in King of Castle Grayskull:

Down below we have a repainted elevator (in red, like the prototype) and a repainted weapons rack. There are also weapons from the retail playset, cast in metal, with wood handles on the spears/poleaxes. Behind you can see that the ground floor is given a stone slab texture.

In the throne room, we have several fun goodies. There is a redesigned throne that is based on the prototype. Included is a red blanket or cloak shown in the Alcala comics. There is also a small green computer, from the Alcala comics. The single rail ladder, featured in both prototype and comics is there as well. Guillermo has also created a 3D version of the space suit cardboard cutout, which was a part of both the prototype and retail castle as a 2D printout:

Rear detail of the laser cannon, also showing stone slab detail on the platform.

A great feature of Guillermo’s custom is that the trap door works just like the vintage castle!

On interior of the front entrance, we have a few more goodies. To the left of the jawbridge, we see the dungeon. The prototype didn’t have walls and a door like this, but it was illustrated in the Alcala comics:

The door to the dungeon opens on a hinge. Inside is a poor unfortunate victim who was left there too long. The dungeon is removable. On the back wall are a set of shackles, which were featured in the prototype:

And that’s the castle! Guillermo has been constantly coming up with new additions and innovations to his designs, so I’m sure his creations will continue to evolve. Some possible extras I might suggest in the future: the prototype combat trainer, jetpack, bop bag and torture rack. The round elevator might be fun too, although that might difficult to engineer. In any case, this is the Castle Grayskull I’ve always wanted and I’m absolutely thrilled to have it in my collection!

Guillermo is accepting commissions – if you’re interested in custom work, you can reach out to him via his Instagram account.

Return to Table of Contents.

Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!

Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental character guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com

You can also purchase the individual toy guide at Amazon or through Big Bad Toy Store. Thank you!

Early Alcala reference material

Frequent readers of this blog know that if there is one aspect of Masters of the Universe that endlessly fascinates me, it’s the early minicomics and the concept toy designs for the brand. As I was reviewing the recent Power-Con “Lords of Power” set, I noticed that Alfredo Alcala, illustrator of the first four minicomics (or really, story books) for the series seemed to be using two different references for He-Man, in his early material. I thought it might be interesting to identify all of the reference material Alcala used, based on similarity to known prototypes and concept art.

Before I get into that, I should note some actual extant reference material that Alcala used still exists, and was shared by his son, Alfred Junior. Mattel sent Alfredo Sr. some actual toys to use as references, which were well-loved by his son. It seems that Alcala used this in later comics (he illustrated various comics for the 1983 and 1984 waves). The Teela head below is actually an early incarnation with sculpted eyelids, not present on the production toy, so that might have been used for his 1982 material (images courtesy of Alfred Alcala Jr.).

I thought I would trace the references he used in the first four minicomics by character. I’m also operating under the assumption that the order of illustration of the comics is He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, and Battle in the Clouds. That assumption is based on the evolving look of the characters and how that matches with the evolution of the character designs at Mattel. I’m also going to include some early line art that the artist did for He-Man and the Power Sword.

He-Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

The earliest Alcala comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, is the only one of the series to feature He-Man with his boot dagger, which shows up in several panels. The dagger shows up only in Mark Taylor’s B-sheet art, and not in any known prototypes, so the reference material at the start must have been Mark’s B-sheet. I imagine someone at Mattel told Alcala to skip the helmet, as they had decided to nix that early on. You can also see the early belt design in several panels (square center buckle, furry shorts spilling over the top). In some panels you do see the revised belt (cleaner top, round center buckle), so that might have been a running change at the 11th hour. The axe and shield are also taken directly from the B-sheet.

Mark Taylor B-Sheet. Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

In the other three comics, every depiction of He-Man seems pretty clearly based on the prototype figure shown in the “Lords of Power” slide series. The defining characteristics are: no boot dagger, no bracer on the left wrist, cleaned up belt design, x-shaped harness around the back (thanks Dušan M. for the reminder) and somewhat paler skin:

Image source: Andy Youssi
Side view, in prototype Wind Raider

Skeletor

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

In all four comics, Skeletor seems to be based on both the original Mark Taylor B-sheet and on the “Lords of Power” prototype. He always has the smooth forearms of the prototype, but he also usually (but not always) has the chest straps of the B-sheet. Sometimes he has the yellow detail of either the chest (which shows up on both references) or just the shin guards (only in the B-sheet). Perhaps there was an additional transitional reference he was working from, or perhaps he simply got notes from Mattel about which arms to use, or (after the first minicomic) dropping the yellow detail on the costume. The skull is of course quite different from the “rotting face” concept. I suspect Mattel told him to replace the concept face with a skull face, and so without a reference Alcala came up with his own unique design there:

Mark Taylor concept art. Image: Super7/Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power of He-Man/Jukka Issakainen

Teela/Sorceress

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Teela and Sorceress change the most from comic to comic, which makes sense, given how many changes these character designs went through behind the scenes. I’m putting them together because at times their costumes and roles converge in the early Alcala comics. Technically Sorceress only appears in the first minicomic.

In He-Man and the Power Sword, Sorceress is the guardian of the two halves of the Power Sword and Teela is a wandering warrior. In King of Castle Grayskull, Teela is the guardian of Castle Grayskull, having been selected by the Castle itself for that role. By Battle in the Clouds, Teela is back to warrior duties but she’s wearing the Sorceress’ snake armor.

Images from He-Man and the Power Sword:

The reference material for both characters above is clearly Mark Taylor’s B-sheets. The one deviation is Sorceress’ face, which Alcala colored green. That may have been an oversight. Also the staff the Sorceress uses has some kind of horn design. It’s unclear why that is.

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

In King of Castle Grayskull, Teela steps into the Sorceress’ role (who is never mentioned in this series again). Her costume is mainly her B-sheet design but with the Sorceress’ staff. Her boots are redder, and the hair ranges from reddish to blondish – perhaps because the hair in the B-sheet is both reddish and blondish, and the boots are somewhat ambiguous. There may have been some other lost reference material used here. Mark Taylor was also known to do several color variations of his B-sheets, so there may have been more variants that didn’t survive.

Interestingly, early line art for the final panel of that comic shows Teela with the spear from Mark Taylor’s B-sheet. In the final version, she holds the snake staff:

In The Vengeance of Skeletor, Teela looks very much like her first comic appearance (blonde hair, brown boots, with Charger), but she carries the Sorceress staff.

Finally, in Battle in the Clouds, Teela for the first time pulls from identifiably different source material – here she is based on the cross sell art that was used on the back of the action figure cards:

Beast Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor

In the first comic, Beast Man is depicted with red fur and a red costume with yellow medallion. In his other appearance (The Vengeance of Skeletor), he has orange fur and a red and blue costume. It’s clear that in both cases, Alcala was using Mark Taylor’s B-sheet (below for reference). But I think there must have been an all red version (with red trunks and a yellow medallion) that has unfortunately not survived.

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

Man-At-Arms

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

We can see a few different references used in Alcala’s early depictions of Man-At-Arms. In the unused panel below, we see a transitional version of Man-At-Arms – something in between Mark Taylor’s first, pre-MOTU concept (labeled “Paladin” below) for the character, and his B-Sheet. Unfortunately we don’t have Mark’s transitional concept, but thankfully Alcala’s interpretation still exists. What sets this version apart is the piece of armor on his right shoulder, and the bladed rifle that he carries.

Unused Alcala panel, from The Power of Grayskull documentary
Early Mark Taylor “Paladin” design
Mark Taylor B-sheet

In He-Man and the Power Sword, the reference seems to almost entirely from the “Lords of Power” prototype. It has the updated belt and the colors of the prototype, as opposed to the orange boots and squared off belt of the B-sheet. In one panel he has the fur cape, which is a holdover from the earlier design and an earlier draft panel (more on that panel later).

Man-At-Arms prototype

In Man-At-Arms’ other appearances, a major reference is the cross sell art, (note the his symmetrical helmet design and monochromic boots). However, his left arm armor still extends to his fist, which was a feature of the prototype.

Mer-Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

In the first three appearances, Mer-Man’s art references could have just as easily been Mark Taylor’s B-sheet or Tony Guerrero’s prototype sculpt – they are essentially the same design. Regardless of source, Alcala usually illustrated Mer-Man with a lighter blue color than what appeared in the source material:

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power of Grayskull/Jukka Issakainen

In Battle in the Clouds, Alcala bases his Mer-Man on the character’s cross-sell artwork, as evidenced by the more greenish skin, simplified belt, bare feet and modified shin guards:

Stratos

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Alcala’s Stratos illustration in the first three comics all seem to be based on Mark Taylor’s B-sheet design for the character. In the B-Sheet, Stratos seems to have gray skin, except for on his chest. Alcala may have interpreted that to mean the design wasn’t fully colored and the character was to have tan skin. Stratos also has a necklace of feathers and a large buckle at a strap near his belt.

In Battle In the Clouds, the reference changed to the updated (but still not finalized) cross sell art design:

Battle Cat

Appearances: King of Castle Grayskull, Battle in the Clouds.

Battle Cat is a surprisingly infrequent guest in the early Alcala illustrations. When he does show up he tends to have stripes on his tail, indicative of Mark Taylor’s concept art. However, it appears that the reference for Battle Cat was actually the prototype figure, which has a slightly different helmet shape than Mark’s art, as well as orange around the edges of its mouth:

Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

Castle Grayskull

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

The striking Castle Grayskull depicted in the early Alcala comics is always based on the prototype castle, rather than on any known concept art. The prototype (sculpted by Mark Taylor) is quite different from Mark’s previous artwork.

Image source: James Eatock/Andy Youssi
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Vehicles

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Alcala included various vehicles in the early comics. The earliest vehicles, included in the early line art draft of He-Man and the Power Sword, were actually Mark Taylor concept vehicles. Eventually Mark brought Ted Mayer in to the project to design the vehicles, so Alcala must have started the draft before that time. The earliest known Ted Mayer concept is an early Battle Ram design from April 7, 1981, so Alcala probably started his draft images before then.

One early vehicle in the draft minicomic was a Mark Taylor chariot design, which is being driven by Man-At-Arms below:

Early Alfredo Alcala comic panel, featuring the prototype vehicle. Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary
Mark Taylor concept vehicle. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

In the final comic, that vehicle was swapped out for Ted Mayer’s concept Battle Chariot, which was also never produced. That vehicle was designed by Ted Mayer on June 5, 1981, so Alcala must have completed his work on He-Man and the Power Sword after that date.

Ted Mayer’s Battle Chariot concept

Another Mark Taylor vehicle, the Battle Catapult, shows up in Alcala’s draft below.

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor

In the final version of the comic, it’s replaced with the Battle Ram and the Battle Chariot:

The Battle Ram itself is (which shows up in Power Sword and Vengeance) was created referencing the prototype Battle Ram toy:

Image source: Ted Mayer

The Wind Raider shows up only in Battle In The Clouds, and is based on one of the prototypes for that vehicle (which, along with Battle Ram, was sculpted by Jim Openshaw). The prototype in question had smaller engine inlet cones and its wings were straight along the trailing edge, rather than ridged.

Further reading:

Mark Taylor Interview
Ted Mayer Interview
He-Man
Skeletor
Teela
Sorceress
Man-At-Arms
Beast Man
Mer-Man
Stratos
Battle Cat
Castle Grayskull
Battle Ram
Wind Raider

Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!

Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental character guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com

You can also purchase the individual toy guide at Amazon or through Big Bad Toy Store. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

If you enjoy this content, feel free to throw in a dollar or two to support the blog. To do so, click the link below:

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Sticker Fun: The Evil-Lympics (1985)

Some time ago Joe Amato (customizer and host of the Fans Of Power Podcast) scanned the MOTU Sticker Fun book, The Evil-Lympics. My good friends Jukka Issakainen and Øyvind Meisfjord shared the scans with me, and with Joe’s kind permission, I’m sharing them with readers of this blog.

This particular book stands out because it was illustrated by the venerable Alfredo Alcala, whose artwork in various MOTU minicomics from 1982-1984 (as well as inks on some of the full-sized MOTU comics published by DC) is beloved by many fans. You can peruse these comics at at Vaults of Grayskull and He-Man.org, as well as in the Dark Horse Minicomic collection (the Dark Horse collection only includes the MOTU minicomics).

The level of detail in these illustrations is somewhat reduced compared to Alcala’s other work. That’s not surprising given that it’s just an inexpensive sticker/coloring book rather than a real comic. But still, his unmistakable style is there, and it’s a real treat to see more Alcala goodness. Some of the monster characters he creates here are reminiscent of his work on The Obelisk and Masks of Power minicomics.

Zodac is portrayed as an Evil Warrior here, which is unsurprising considering the date (for more on the shifting alignment of the character, see my article on the topic). What is surprising is that Man-E-Faces is also portrayed as an Evil Warrior. In previous stories, Man-E-Faces would sometimes fall under Skeletor’s sway in his monster form, but generally-speaking he was almost always aligned with the Heroic Warriors. Also, as Waylon Piercy in the comments notes, Stratos and Ram Man are in there too! I’m wondering if the original idea was to include both Evil and Heroic Warriors in the games, but then the story was revised after the art was finished.

In any case, enjoy!

As several eagle-eyed readers have pointed out, He-Man is holding a unique single-bladed axe in the cover illustration.

For some additional context, I’ve included some eBay auction photos of the original sticker pages as well as the back cover:

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