History

Copyrights in MOTU (Part One: 1981)


Image source: MOTUC Figures

In previous posts I’ve covered trademarks and patents in Masters of the universe, and organized the material into a cohesive Masters of the Universe Timeline. In this post I’m going to be covering Mattel’s He-Man-related copyrights, sourced from the US Copyright Office, for 1981. Eventually I’ll fold these dates into the MOTU Timeline article as well.

Some of the copyright entries have some interesting details and comments, so I’ll include most of the original text (errors and all), eliminating some redundancies and the registration numbers.  Each entry has multiple dates, but I’ll sort according to “Date of Publication”. I’ll do a separate post for each publication year.

A few notes – the “Date of Publication” for the early toys listed universally as February 15, 1981. The figures were not actually sold that early, or even really close to their final designs. The He-Man project was well underway, however. They may have sometimes just chosen a safe, early date for some of these. I believe that entries that have more unique publication dates are more likely to reflect an actual production or release date. The minicomics in this post all have a publication date of November 28, 1981, which at least sounds plausible as a “printed on” date.

Note also that while the male figures are generally called “figurines”, Teela is referred to as a “doll”, apparently based only the fact that she’s a female figure. In reality, Teela is every bit as much an action figure as He-Man.

1981

February

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Battle ram : no. 81-3990.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Beast Man : [no.] 81-5043.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: He-Man : [no.] 81-5040.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Man-at-arms : no. 81-5041.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Merman : [no.] 81-5046.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Skeletor : [no.] 81-5042.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Stratos : [no.] 81-5047.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-26
Title: Teela : [no.] 5045-81.
Description: Doll.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Wind raider : [no.] 81-5117.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Zodac : no. 81-5044.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-25
Title: Castle Grayskull : [no.] 81-3991.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

November

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-28
Title: Masters of the universe
Name: The Vengeance of Skeletor
Description: 22 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-08
Title: Masters of the Universe : He-Man and the power sword.
Description: 26 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: He-Man and the power sword

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-12-07
Title: King of Castle Grayskull.
Description: 22 p.
Series: Masters of the Universe
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-17
Title: Comics maitres de l’univers : no. 81.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. Only. Appl. states titles on copy: Les Maitres de l’univers; Masters of the universe.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: Les Maitres de l’univers Masters of the universe

Thanks to Miguel A. for inspiring this series!

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Playsets

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull box art, by Rudy Obrero

Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull, released in December of 2013, was quite an achievement in an era when big playsets are becoming rarer and rarer. Larger, more complex and more detailed than the original, Classics Castle Grayskull was offered for a preorder price of $250 – more than three times the inflation-adjusted cost of the original, but still not bad given the size, complexity, and lower number of units produced.

Source Material

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull’s biggest single influence is the original prototype playset sculpted by Mark Taylor in 1981, although the Classics version is somewhat tamer and less decrepit looking.  Some of this influence is no doubt filtered through the cross sell artwork and minicomic depictions by Alfredo Alcala (both based on the prototype).  Other influences include some invented details from Alfredo Alcala’s artwork, the original, vintage Castle Grayskull playset, the original Rudy Obero box art, and a concept Dungeon playset designed by Ted Mayer.

The large weapons rack on the right was sold separately from the castle. The manhole cover on the floor is a custom by BadVermin, and the triangular weapons rack is a custom by Barbarossa
Throne room. The purple banner on the left was invented for this castle – the one on the right based on the vintage castle’s banner.
Concept-inspired computer and jet pack
Dungeon  section of the castle, with manacles and vintage toy inspired sticker
Classics Grayskull came with this orb stand (but not the marble sitting in it). It hides away in the secret orb room, inset behind the helmet of the castle
The Spirit of Grayskull haunts the throne room.
Castle Grayskullman guards the dungeon.
Secret door above the ledge
Into the throne room
Scare Glow, produced several years before MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull. came with a secret key to Castle Grayskull.
Scare Glow’s key fits into a keyhole on the secret side door, providing enough leverage to open the door.
He-Man stands on the open jaw bridge. The jaw bridge opens by inserting the power sword into the small opening to the right – a nod to the vintage minicomics.
The evil warriors sneak around the back.
Clawful climbs the scaling ladder

Here’s a more detailed breakout of the influences that went into creating the Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull:

Material taken from the vintage prototype or vintage concept art includes:

  • Ledge on the left tower
  • “Pawn” piece on top of the helmet
  • Taller helmet and battlements
  • Eye shape
  • Removable handle in the side allows for concept Castle’s side battlements
  • Throne design
  • Computer design
  • Skull motif at top of elevator
  • Hidden side door
  • Battle Tester
  • Jetpack
  • Manacles
Original 1981 prototype Castle Grayskull, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Original 1981 prototype Castle Grayskull, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Another copy of the vintage prototype. Photo courtesy of Andy Youssi.
Mark Taylor’s concept for the “Battle Tester”. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Material taken from the vintage playset:

  • Elevator design
  • Flag design
  • Ladder and laser blaster design
  • Banner, trap door and dungeon grate decals
  • Drawbridge design, front and back
  • Handle on the side piece (removable)
Image source: Transformerland

Vintage box art material:

  • Nose shape
  • Elongated fangs
  • Enlarged lower teeth
Vintage Castle Grayskull box art by Rudy Obrero

Minicomics material:

  • Third floor
  • Dungeon walls (window and skull designs from Ted Mayer’s dungeon playset)
  • Secret slot to gain entrance to Castle located to the side of the jaw bridge
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
Ted Mayer’s dungeon playset. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

There are several unique touches to the playset as well, including an additional secret door off the side of the throne room, a secret orb room in the back side of the helmet, and extended floor with plug for Wind Raider stand, and an “evil” throne room banner to match the original “good” one.

The original design for the Classics Castle Grayskull (artwork by Nate Baertsch, who is a frequent collaborator with the Four Horsemen) was to include a number of other goodies as well, including a clear “Spirit of Grayskull” display (from Alfredo Alcala’s artwork), a removable dungeon, a triangular weapons rack, a mechanism to open the secret door on the castle’s left tower, a sculpted dungeon grate, and a few other goodies. These seem to have been removed from the final product due to cost.

Image source: The Art of He-Man

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Artwork

Castle Grayskull in Box Art

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.

Notice the barbarian warrior on top of the turret.

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.


Image via the Rudy Obrero Box Art Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

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:

Zoar (1983)

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.

Panthor (1983)

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.

Eternia (1986)

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.

Image courtesy of Deimos

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.

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Artwork

Castle Grayskull in Minicomics

This time around I’m going to take a closer look at Castle Grayskull as it appears in the minicomics. I won’t post a picture of every single appearance of the castle, just a representative sample from every issue it appears in. My focus will be on the exterior, especially the front.

There seem to be two primary influences on the way the castle was depicted in the minicomics – Mark Taylor’s original prototype of the Castle, and the version Mark Texeira drew in the second series of minicomics in 1983.

Alfredo Alcala, who illustrated minicomics from 1982-1984, always patterned his drawings of the castle after the original prototype. Even when his character depictions evolved past early prototypes and started resembling their mass-produced counterparts, his Castle Grayskull never changed:

Mark Texeira did the pencils for the DC-produced second wave of minicomics. His version of the Castle has squared-off walls, a tall jaw bridge, and a skull that seems rather small in comparison to the rest of the castle. Ted Mayer described an abandoned attempt at sculpting Castle Grayskull by Mattel engineers that actually reminds me of the way Texeira’s castle looks. According to Ted:

Mark did the original sketch. That was then be sent to the sculpting department. When we saw their rendition, it was awful. It was a square castle, just like you would find in the English countryside! We made a fuss and it was sent back for revision. The second go round was almost as bad. As I remember, it was square with turrets on the corners, very symmetrical.

Somehow Mark persuaded the powers in charge to let him sculpt it. The sculpting department was pissed! Mark set up a board in his office and with a bunch of Chevaler sculpting clay, set about modeling it. I took turns helping him, even my nine-year-old son had a go. When that was finished it went back to sculpting for molding and engineering.

It makes me wonder if Mattel might have sent one of these discarded attempts to DC to use as a model. I don’t know for sure, but it’s an interesting thought. Note however that some versions of Texeira’s illustration seem just a bit closer to the actual playset than others.

From 1984 onward, the Texeira look seems to pop up quite frequently. Larry Houston seems to use that as a basis for his illustrations:

It continues to pop up in the 1985 wave of comics as well. One notable exception is Bruce Tim’s illustration in The Power of the Evil Horde. His seems like a mix of many different influences, from Filmation to Texeira to the actual playset.

Castle Grayskull sees its final minicomic incarnations with the 1986 series of minicomics. Here the depiction of the castle begins to mutate. While the Texeira influence still pops up here and there, we also begin to see an interesting interpretation from Jim Mitchell, starting with Escape From the Slime Pit. His castle has an almost mummified-looking face, without any of the sharp teeth of previous incarnations. In a way it comes around full circle to the Alcala depiction.

Bruce Tim gives us our final look at the castle in The Ultimate Battlegound, which follows the same look as his illustration for The Evil Horde.

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