The end of the year seems to be a traditional time for top 10 and top 25 lists. It seems like an American ritual to tabulate lists of the most popular things we did, said, ate or watched over the course of one trip around the sun.
I’ll post them in ascending order of popularity. Try, if you can, to imagine this list read by David Letterman:
This year I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work a little with some people from the Netflix original series, The Toys That Made Us. Mostly that amounted to me providing them with some background information on the history of He-Man, as well as suggesting a number of people that they ought to seek out and interview. It’s a great show – check it out if you can!
Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I appreciate all the kind support and encouragement from all the readers, and for all those who have contributed to my blog with information, images, and corrections. Here’s hoping for a great 2018. Good journey!
As a kind of sequel to my post about Castle Grayskull in the minicomics, I’d like to turn to Castle Grayskull as it was depicted in the box art. It shows up less frequently than you might expect.
Although Rudy Obrero painted the box art for the first year and a half of the Masters of the Universe toyline, most of the pieces of box art that feature Castle Grayskull were painted by him. That makes sense, as the the time to most heavily cross-promote the playset would be around the time it was released.
Battle Cat (1982)
Rudy Obrero’s first piece for MOTU was actually for the Battle Cat packaging. Castle Grayskull really isn’t the star of this illustration. Most of the detail is saved for Battle Cat and He-Man, while the castle is half-shrouded in mist in the background.
Most of Rudy’s depictions of the Castle generally follow the design of the playset However, this one is kind of a transitional piece, in between the prototype and the final toy design. It has the rounded teeth, full towers (these were shortened on the production playset) and red laser cannon of the prototype, but has lost the prototype’s tower ledge and “pawn” piece on the helmet. The “pawn” was actually present in Rudy’s original charcoal drawing (below). That indicates that some of the changes made to the castle happened while Rudy was still illustrating this piece.
Castle Grayskull (1982)
The landscape around the castle seems to change with each depiction. In Battle Cat, it seems to be sitting in a valley. In the Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, the scenery is much more dynamic. The castle is surrounded by a deep chasm, seemingly filled with lava. We don’t get a good view of the ground directly in front of the castle, but it seems that the jaw bridge is the only thing making it accessible by land.
The castle itself is highly detailed, based on the playset but amped up with bigger teeth and a meaner looking face. It has the finalized laser blaster and flag designs. In my opinion this is probably the single most iconic piece of artwork ever done for the Masters of the Universe line.
Battle Ram (1982)
In Rudy Obrero’s Battle Ram illustration, the castle is is in the distant background. It has the general look of the version of Castle Grayskull that appeared in the Battle Cat illustration. In this instance, the castle is set some distance away from a deep chasm.
He-Man and Wind Raider (1982)
The castle is a bit more finely detailed in Rudy Obrero’s He-Man and Wind Raider illustration. It follows the general look and design of the Castle Grayskull packaging, but now the castle sits on a rocky, smoke-filled battlefield, with no hint of any trenches or chasms.
Wind Raider (1982)
Rudy Obrero’s Wind Raider illustration (below) is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it again seems based on Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, complete with oversized jaw bridge. In this scene one tower has been destroyed by He-Man’s Wind Raider anchor (remember at this point the castle was no one’s home base).
Finally, the Castle this time sits on small, rocky island in the middle of a lake (or so it appears). That’s significant because that’s the setting that designer Mark Taylor originally had in mind for the castle:
“The visible Castle rises above a fetid lake/moat inhabited with assorted exotic and dangerous flora and fauna, the castle extends seven levels/floors into the bedrock of the lake. Each level distorts reality (i.e., time and space) more than the one above. For example: the levels below the weapons storage room (armory) start with all the weapons that exists within one century each way from the present (MOTU time), the floor below that within five centuries years each way and so on.
“The Pit of Souls is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time, that also extends into the time and space continuum (probably a miniature black hole). The powers of the castle are linked to these evil captives. Skeletor and his minions would love them released but also fear their potential. One must be very careful when listening to their counsel because they are extremely clever and totally evil.
The elevator when properly programmed (secret code) drops into these descending levels, of course, with each level potential danger as well as power lurks… This is obviously not the Eternia envisioned by marketing at Mattel, it is my world of He-Man.”
Attak Trak (1983)
For whatever reason, Rudy Obrero’s Attak Trak illustration is a mix of influences. In most respects it looks very much like the playset, but at the top of the helmet it features the prototype “pawn” piece.
Location-wise, this looks like another rocky battle field, like the one in He-Man and Wind Raider or in Battle Cat:
Rudy Obrero’s Zoar illustration has Castle Grayskull on top of a rocky hill. Design wise, it’s a very close match to Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration.
Skeletor and Panthor (1983)
This illustration by William Garland features a Castle Grayskull that very much resembles the way Rudy Obrero depicted it in Battle Cat. Garland, however, seems to prefer to set his battle scenes in the desert, with blowing clouds of dust everywhere.
Point Dread & Talon Fighter (1983)
This William Garland illustration features a mirror image Castle Grayskull – the tallest tower with the window is on the wrong side. It also seems to have the prototype “pawn” piece on top, and feature’s Garland’s usual desert location.
Castle Grayskull is easy to miss on William Garland’s Panthor illustration. It’s off in the distance and it happens to face upward on the box. The design and location of the castle are more or less identical to Skeletor and Panthor.
Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor (1984)
William George didn’t illustrate Castle Grayskull all that frequently, but when he did, he tended to put it on top of a mountain, often with a winding path leading to it. His castle generally follows the look of the playset, albeit with longer teeth.
William George included both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain in his Eternia box art illustration. Interestingly, this version of the castle seems more closely based on the prototype than the playset. The castle seems to be set on a small hill rather than a mountain, but the winding road leading to it is still there.
Flying Fists He-Man & Terror Claws Skeletor (1986)
William George again sets his Castle Grayskull up on a mountain, although there is no path leading up to it this time. The face on the castle is a little compressed looking in this interpretation, with an upper jaw that seems to hang far out over the entrance.
It’s no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the Battle Ram – the 1982 Masters of the Universe vehicle designed by Ted Mayer.
I’m just as obsessed with the early MOTU box art by Rudy Obrero, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to get a nice scan of his original artwork for the Battle Ram. There hasn’t been a really good, single composite scan of the full Battle Ram packaging that I know of, at least that anyone has shared publicly. In scanning the example from my collection, I understand why – it’s challenging to get all of the surfaces to lie completely flat, resulting in some areas that are less crisp than others. Adding to the difficulty is that every example has breaks in the artwork where the box bends upward about two-thirds of the way up. I did my best to digitally fix those breaks, but it was challenging to do in the areas that intersect with painted physical objects.
The result isn’t perfect, but it’s still nice to have the complete, high-resolution picture as painted by Rudy Obrero. If you open the image in a new window you’ll find that you can zoom in quite close on the artwork. Allow some time for the image to load:
One of the best things about getting new He-Man toys as a kid was the box art. The toys were of course amazing and fun, but personally I spent almost as much time staring at the boxes as playing with the toys. I remember being pretty heartbroken when my mother made me throw away my Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram boxes. She saw them as clutter, but for me they were almost stories in and of themselves. You could see whole adventures unfolding in a single painted scene.
Unfortunately, good photographs or scans of the original art are not
available for every piece. If you happen to have a nicer images than I
do (higher resolution, better composition, etc), please do feel free to
share, and I’ll make an update! For pictures of the packaging itself, a
neutral (white or black) background is preferred. High resolution scans
of the artwork, where it appears without logos, would be ideal. Bottom
line – if you have better images than I do, please share them!
One final note: I’m defining box art as the front-facing painted
artwork that appeared on boxed Masters of the Universe toys. The
illustrations on blister card packaging, then, are outside the scope of
Part One: 1982
Name: Battle Cat Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: He-Man sits astride an unhelmeted Battle Cat, with his axe and shield at the ready. Castle Grayskull looms in the background, partially shrouded in mist.
Name: Battle Ram Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: Due to the folded shape of the box, this piece of artwork is in two sections. In the top two thirds of the artwork, He-Man flies the front half of the Battle Ram (Sky Sled) against enemies on similar flying vehicles, while a battle rages below. Several back halves of Battle Rams are launching missiles. Skeletor, Beast Man, Stratos, Man-at-Arms and Teela are seen, along side a warrior with a horned helmet, and Castle Grayskull in the background. The bottom section of the artwork features He-Man navigating rocky terrain in the complete Battle Ram, as several evil Sky Sleds attack him from the air.
Name: Castle Grayskull Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: Skeletor stands ready just inside Castle Grayskull, while He-Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms, Beast Man, Stratos and Zodac prepare to attack. Several Jet Sled-like vehicles fly overhead.
Name: He-Man and Battle Cat Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: In a misty, rocky wasteland, He-Man rides Battle Cat into battle, accompanied by Man-At-Arms. Skeletor and Beast Man ride their own Battle Cats into Battle, accompanied by Mer-Man.
Name: He-Man and Wind Raider Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: In a misty, rocky wasteland, He-Man pilots the Wind Raider against Skeletor, Beast Man, a mysterious warrior in red, and shrouded hordes of barbarian warriors. In the background, laser fire erupts from Castle Grayskull.
Name: Wind Raider Year: 1982 Artist: Rudy Obrero Description: Due to the folded shape of the box, this piece of artwork is in two sections. In the top half or so, He-Man uses the Wind Raider’s anchor to destroy a section of Castle Grayskull, while unknown enemies piloting their own Wind Raiders attack him. In the lower section of the artwork, the Wind Raider has landed, and He-Man and Teela battle against Skeletor, Beast Man, Stratos and hordes of unknown enemies.