My introduction to Fisto came in first grade, when a classmate pulled out several of his newest He-Man figures to show the rest of us. The three figures I remember him showing us were Tri-Klops, Jitsu and Fisto.
I already owned Tri-Klops from way back in Kindergarten, but I hadn’t seen these two new figures with their spring-loaded right arms that terminated in either a giant metallic fist or chopping hand. The entire group was suitably impressed, and we each took turns testing out their action features.
In the commercial above, Fisto is pitted against Clawful, another character from 1984 with an enlarged right “hand”. I don’t know if that’s because the Jitsu action figure wasn’t quite ready yet, or if they thought that Clawful would sell more. Jitsu seems like a more obvious nemesis for Fisto.
Fisto was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey (see: my interview with Martin Arriola). Although no concept art for Fisto has been either found or at least made public, there is an image of his prototype.
The image below, which can be found on both He-Man.org and Masters Unbound, shows a prototype built around the basic He-Man buck. The sculpt for his metal fist and armor is a bit rough, with noticeable divots and irregularities. He seems to have larger eyebrows compared to the final toy. This version also has the standard He-Man arms. The final version of Fisto would have enlarged deltoids to accommodate the width needed for the spring-loaded arm mechanism. He would also be given a closed left hand to allow him to better hold his sword. In this case, the sword is an unmodified copy of Tri-Klops’ sword, but the final toy’s sword would be cast in purple.
The cross sell artwork created for Fisto, at first glance, appears to be identical to the finished toy. But upon further examination, this one still has the standard He-Man arms, complete with open left hand. This time his sword is the correct purple color:
Compare that to the final toy, which has the changes discussed previously:
The sword, I think, is an odd choice, given the figure’s action feature. I would think a blunt weapon, like a mace or a hammer, would be better suited to Fisto’s fighting style.
Like many MOTU figures, Fisto was had some variations depending on country of origin or date of manufacture. Malaysian figures have a larger, more hollow head, with much darker purple boots, belt and armor. Various Hong Kong figures have medium or light purple armor, belt and boots. Some have brown hair, and others have auburn or bright red hair:
There were also a couple of versions that came with a purple Jitsu sword.
For the single carded figure, the artwork on the back was done by the venerable Errol McCarthy, which shows Fisto giving Skeletor a knock-out punch:
Some more great Fisto-related artwork from McCarthy:
Fisto was sold in a JCPenny two-pack with Buzz-Off. The box had minimal artwork – the black and white line art that Mattel shipped out to retailers for use in ad copy.
Fisto was also sold in a gift set with Stridor, with great piece of artwork that seems to have been illustrated by William Garland, based on its style.
Fisto is often associated with Stridor, just as Jitsu is associated with Night Stalker. It’s a rather unique relationship. In general He-Man seems to be given the heroic vehicles and steeds and Skeletor is given their evil counterparts. But Fisto seems to have been deemed a strong enough character to merit his own steed. That’s certainly the case in one of my favorite mini comics – The Clash of Arms.
In the story, Fisto, riding on Stridor, is ambushed by Clawful, Tri-Klops, Webstor, and Jitsu. He is captured and forced to fight for his life in Skeletor’s arena. He’s successful in beating off Clawful and Jitsu in turn, but Whiplash nearly spells the end for Fisto before He-Man comes in and breaks up the fight.
Another notable Fisto story in the mini comics is Masks of Power. In this tale, Fisto and He-Man are obliged to team up with Mer-Man and Skeletor to stop two little demons who have stolen powerful masks and threaten to take the power sword.
In Skeletor’s Dragon, Fisto doesn’t play a major role, but there is a fun sequence where the heroes are testing their strength. Fisto bests Man-At-Arms at the “tower of power”, but of course when He-Man takes his turn, he sends the mechanism into orbit:
Fisto plays some substantial roles in several of the Golden Books stories. In Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, Fisto, again paired with Stridor, leads the search for the coveted Dragon’s egg, and battles against Beast Man and invented villain Goat Man:
In The Magic Mirror, Fisto is replaced by a mirror image duplicate (Skeletor in a magical disguise). Skeletor is discovered when He-Man notices that “Fisto’s” steel fist is on his left hand rather than his right.
In Demons of the Deep, Fisto, He-Man and Ram Man discover an underwater duplicate of Castle Grayskull inhabited by Skeletor, who controls some nasty robot sea monsters.
In the Filmation He-Man cartoon, Fisto’s design is, as usual, simplified for animation. The most noticeable change in design here is that he is given an enlarged fist even compared to the one on the Mattel toy.
Fisto is also given an origin story. In “Fisto’s Forest”, we learn that Fisto, like Man-E-Faces, started out as a villain. He’s a loner who lives in the woods and makes trouble for anyone he comes across. Eventually (and somewhat abruptly) he sees the error in his ways and joins forces with He-Man.
Personally, I remember Fisto best from the episode, “To Save Skeletor.” In the story, Fisto and his compatriots must save the evil warriors (Trap Jaw, in the frame below) from the Lovecraftian demon Sh’Gora.
In my mind, Fisto is one of the few heroic warriors who I could see as a leading character in his own spin-off series (I’d say the same Teela and perhaps Zodac). Like most characters released after 1982, he’s a bit gimmicky, but not to the point where he becomes overly cartoonish. I could see a series of comics where Fisto and Stridor explore the savage wastes of Eternia, challenging evil warlords, winning the hearts of bar maids, and causing lesser men to quake at the sight of his mighty red beard.
Buzz-Off is one of those figures that I never owned as a kid and had limited exposure to in general. I remember seeing him only once in the wild – when visiting some distant relatives for the first time. I remember their son showing me his He-Man collection, which included Mekaneck and Buzz-Off (the first time I had seen either figure in person).
My exposure to him as a character otherwise was mostly punctuated by his appearance in the Filmation cartoon episode, “Disappearing Dragons”, and his inclusion in a couple of my favorite mini comics.
Buzz-Off first appears in the December 1, 1982 Masters of the Universe Bible, under the name Bugoff. I believe that many of the characters listed in the Bible were just very early “back of the napkin” ideas without much development. In this case, Bugoff was based on a beetle rather than a bee, although Buzz-Off retained the high-tech wings in the description below:
BUGOFF* – part man, part beetle, but with high-tech wings, flies swiftly and fast. His sword and lance are his stingers. Bugoff’s beetle-like armor protects him from many dangers including some of the laser weapons of Skeletor and his crew.
*These names are not set yet and may change
In July of 1982, Colin Bailey finished an illustration of a character called Wasp Man, who has many design touches in common with the final Buzz-Off action figure. He has the wings pinned to his back, the yellow and brown striped chest, the helmet with the enlarged insect eyes, the clawed hands, and the enlarged monster toes.
There are a few differences from the final figures as well. Wasp Man has spiny protrusions on the sides of his lower legs, and it looks like his clawed hands were supposed to be gloves. His thighs lack the bony protrusions of the final toy. He has white fur around his shoulders and head, and his wings are white and almost moth-like. But the most obvious difference is the head – it’s a reuse of He-Man’s head. From the working name Wasp Man it doesn’t sound like he was supposed to be a kind of He-Man variant, so the idea of reusing the head from the main protagonist in this way is rather bizarre. Then again, it’s possible that part of the original He-Man head was used as a basis for Mekaneck, so it’s not unheard of.
In this early mock-up of the figure (below), we see a hand-painted mashup of parts, with He-Man’s head (with brown hair instead of blond) and limbs borrowed from Zodac. The striped chest on this piece almost seems to resemble a rib cage. You can see some very thin insect wings on his back, and of course a large helmet with a somewhat creepy-looking insectoid face.
Given the parts used here, as compared to the concept drawing, it’s likely that Buzz-Off’s limbs had not yet been sculpted, and the designers went with the closest analogs they had on hand.
Interestingly, there was a version of He-Man released with brown hair – often called Savage He-Man (or erroneously “Wonder Bread He-Man”), he seems to have been been given out as part of a promotion, but otherwise very little is known about him. He may not have anything to do with Buzz-Off, but I thought it was an interesting little connection.
Roger Sweet designed a character called Mandible Man, who seems to fit the description of Bugoff from the MOTU Bible. Mandible Man even shares the limbs and torso that Buzz-Off had (also used selectively on Clawful and Whiplash). Colin Bailey’s design for Wasp Man don’t seem to exactly match those final sculpted parts, although it certainly looks like an early pass at them. Mandible Man appears to have been made with the exact final sculpted Buzz-Off/Whiplash parts in mind. Putting on our historian’s hat, that should tell us this design came after these parts were sculpted, and Wasp Man came before.
The final version of Buzz-Off is mostly derived from the original Colin Bailey artwork. Wisely they decided to give him a unique insect head, which has none of the creepiness of the prototype model’s mask. The final, hand-painted prototype appears in the promotional image below:
The hand-painted prototype also appears in a 1984 Mattel German catalog. In this imeage you can see that the model appears to have been cast in pink and painted over by hand.
This cross sell artwork used to promote the toy is quite faithful to the design of the final prototype. The final prototype itself is identical to the final toy, except for the eye color, which was changed to blue/green for the mass-produced toy.
His clawed arms have the same spiky protrusions as the concept art, although now they look like a part of his anatomy. Similar structures were added to his thighs. His helmet was removable, but so loosely fitting that it was easily knocked off. For a weapon he was given a brown version of the axe from Castle Grayskull’s weapons rack, albeit with an extra loop to allow him to hold it. Even so, it didn’t work terribly well – had his claws been rotated 90 degrees, he could have held the weapon much more naturally.
One my my favorite things about Buzz-Off is the design of his chest. The brown area is covered in little bumps, while the yellow bands that go around this chest are mostly smooth, with a few alternating ridges. That makes him wonderfully tactile in hand.
His wings are quite remarkable as well. Cast in translucent yellow, they have little mechanical parts throughout the structure. There are lots of details to discover in this toy.
Although Buzz-Off’s limbs are technically new pieces, it is apparent that they were made by modifying the original arms and legs used on He-Man. The musculature, in the areas where there are no added ridges or bumps, is identical.
The action illustration on the back of Buzz-Off’s card was done by Errol McCarthy. There are actually two different versions of the illustration on the printed cardbacks. Both of them are different from an earlier take that Errol drew that was not used. I’ll show them in what I believe is the order of design. You can see that Buzz-Off starts off with feet that are quite bird-like in the line art version below:
Cards marked “NEW!” on the front (representing the early release cards) often feature the illustration below on the back, which is similar to the illustration above, but with feet that are a bit closer to the shape of the toy:
The more common version of the cardback illustration has feet that are closer still to the look of the toy, with thicker toes and clearer delineation between claws and feet. The image is also flipped in mirror image from the original.
McCarthy also illustrated Buzz-Off (along with many other characters) for licensed He-Man T-shirts. This one has feet reminiscent of Skeletor’s:
Buzz-Off was also sold in a gift set with Moss Man and Mekaneck, and in a JC Penny two-pack with Fisto.
Buzz-Off makes a couple of appearances in the MOTU box art, in the illustrations for Battle Bones and The Fright Zone. Both were painted by William George:
Buzz-Off also shows up in a few posters by Earl Norem and William George:
Buzz-Off shows up fairly frequently in the mini comics. My favorite appearances are in He-Man and the Insect People and The Obelisk, due in large part to the artwork by Alfredo Alcala.
In Insect People, He-Man, Teela, Buzz-Off and Mekaneck discover a race of insect-like people living under ground. Apparently, however, they are unrelated to Buzz-Off and no mention is made of any kind of connection between the two (mini comic images via the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection).
In The Obelisk, Buzz-Off plays a much more active role in the story, first as spy, and then as a warrior who manages to send Skeletor running:
Buzz-Off is also a major character in Grizzlor: The Legend Comes Alive! Buzz-Off scares his compatriots (Man-At-Arms, Fisto, and Teela) with a spooky campfire story about a legendary monster called Grizzlor, who turns out to be very real.
Buzz-Off is a frequent collaborator with Mekaneck, not only in the mini comics but also in the Filmation He-Man cartoon series. Both of them are supposed to be spies, although in a fight I think Buzz-Off’s claws and axe (or stinger lance, which he used in the cartoon) would come in a lot more handy than Mekaneck’s periscoping neck and ornate club.
In the cartoon, Buzz-Off is part of an entire race of bee people. This is one of the few times an animalistic character is said to be part of a larger race of sentient beings in the cartoon series.
Several years back, The Power and the Honor Foundation shared this early model sheet for Buzz-Off (edit: Dušan Mitrović informs me that this was for Bug-Off), which is based off of Colin Bailey’s original concept drawings. Often Filmation would go with concept designs rather than final toy designs given the lead time required to produce an episode. In this, case, however, they ended up going with a simplified version of the final toy design.
Buzz-Off is also a recurring character in the Golden Books series of He-Man books, although perhaps his strongest appearance is in The Rock Warriors:
Buzz-Off seems to have been fairly popular, given the relative frequency of his appearances in the cartoon and mini comics. He was even offered as a Halloween costume by Ben Cooper back in 1985:
Conceptually, Buzz-Off is not so different from characters like Mer-Man or Beast Man. Like them, he is a kind of human/animal hybrid. The bee motif does make him seem less serious, but he remains a personal favorite of mine.
Martin Arriola was a designer on the original Masters of the Universe toyline. He went on to work on the 1989 New Adventures of He-Man reboot, the 2009 adult collector Masters of the Universe Classics toyline, and many other lines for Mattel. He graciously agreed to sit down and talk to me about his work.
Battle Ram: Thanks for agreeing to this interview! So, how did you get into the toy design business?
Martin Arriola: My dad was a carpenter, I always watched him work. He was good at what he did. I was always drawing – I was terrible at math, and I didn’t like hard work, so I wanted to see if I could make it in the field of commercial art.
Everyone keeps telling you it’s very competitive. But if you never try you never know. I went to trade school for two years. I went to UCLA, then I started attending Art Center College of Design. I started at Art Center at night, and one of my instructors told me to come full time.
I went from there in 1980 and freelanced for a couple of years. Then I got a call from head hunters. One was from Mattel, offering a job that paid $33,000, which was decent money in the ’80s. Another was a call for startup newspaper. These guys saw some of my illustrations (I graduated as an illustration major). They wanted to hire me as director, for same amount of money Mattel was offering. They were based in Washington DC, and Mattel was in California. In the end I wanted to stay in California, so I went with Mattel. It turned out that paper was USA Today. I stayed at Mattel for 32 years.
BR: What did you start working on when you were hired at Mattel?
MA: I started on Hot Wheels stuff. They didn’t have toy major designs back then. Seventy percent of their designers came from the Art Center. I didn’t know a label sheet from an overspray, but I could draw. There were no computers at the time, no Photoshop. Mark Taylor was great at markers. I was a marker freak – that’s what got me the job.
Ted Mayer was still there when I was there. I was hired to replace Mark Taylor, at least that’s what I had heard. That was back in 1982.
I remember rendering a bunch of vehicles. I did a bunch of renderings for Hot Wheels. I learned everything there at Mattel.
When I first got there the designers were over-worked, but it was also lax, it was so much more fun. Mark Taylor had just left to go to Playmates… I almost quit under Roger Sweet. I came close to quitting. The credit stealing was awful.
Anyway, there was a big paradigm shift. I know Ted and Taylor were part of visual design. I started as an art director in Visual Design. Shel Plat asked if I wanted to work on products or packaging. I thought products would be more fun. A lot more goes into it, although you have to deal with engineers.
BR: When was this?
MA: I think I started in 1983 on He-Man. One of the first things I worked on was the figure with the rotating drum, Battle Armor He-Man. We did same thing with Skeletor, same feature.
I may have done Screeech and Zoar. I don’t know what came first. I started out picking the colors. Zoar was the Big Jim Eagle, and Battle Cat was also from Big Jim. He-Man’s Battle Cat was already done. I worked on the other cat, Panthor. I picked the colors. There was a lot of refresh back then.
BR: Who were you working with?
MA: Colin Bailey was one. He could draw anything, this guy was awesome. I said to myself, I gotta draw like him. I watched him do Fisto, Buzz-Off. He did the original Stridor. I think I picked colors on Night Stalker. I got more familiar with the line, and I started doing a lot more as far as art directing and sculpting.
BR: Was it a challenge get a good design through engineering?
MA: It’s totally different now. Everything goes to Hong Kong. Design now has a big role, as opposed to what it used to be. In 1982, designers never went to Hong Kong. Engineering was the big division then. They traveled everywhere. It wasn’t vendors, it was captive plants. We did tooling inside, and there were all these divisions in Mattel that no longer exist. Design got bigger and bigger and more powerful.
Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.
BR: Oh, like what?
MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.
I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.
I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.
BR: That’s insane!
MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.
So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.
There was a lot of trial and error stuff like that. We had to change because prelim would promise that this was going to be the feature, and get it for this much. They would always say it was cheaper than it was going to be. They would say it can’t do this and can’t do that. We were always having to make sure it was safe, affordable and that it would actually work.
BR: Do you know who designed Clawful?
MA: Colin Bailey did Clawful, he was one of the first designers to work on the vintage He-Man line. By then Taylor had already left to do Ninja Turtles with Playmates.
BR: What were the figures you primarily worked on?
MA: Just about all of them, to be honest with you. I did all the Secret Wars figures as well. I actually became a manager of the (He-Man) line, but they didn’t give me the title. I managed the line from Screeech and the drum rotating guy, until the line got dropped. They over shipped the line to make the numbers, and that’s what killed it.
I hired Dave Wolfram and had some temps working for me too. Basically from Screeech until the end. The dinosaurs, I worked on those as well. I hired a couple of guys. I had to approve everything. I’m not taking credit for that, that’s not what I do. From then until New Adventures. I worked on all that stuff too.
It was not like it is now, I retired on my own time, the politics got so bad. I worked on Disney-Pixar cars stuff. I made a billion dollars for that company.
BR: Do you know who designed Stinkor and Moss Man?
MA: Those were refreshes like Scare Glow and Ninjor. I also worked on Land Shark and Laser Bolt, that was kind of a challenge. I worked on Stinkor, Moss Man, and Ninjor. Clamp Champ, too. If you look at those, its all existing parts. We tried to save as much money as we could. Whenever we could refresh, we’d do a refresh.
BR: Right, like Faker. Did you work on that figure?
MA: I did label sheets for Faker’s chest, it looked like a reel-to-reel tape deck. On [Sy-Klone], I came up with lenticular lens. We reused the idea for Secret Wars. Sometimes you get lucky.
BR: What about Snake Mountain?
MA: Snake Mountain, I wish I had one now. Eddy [Mosqueda] sculpted it*. Eddy was really really fast. The guy who sculpted [Eternia] was really, really slow.
On the boys’ side, [engineering] was all done inside, and you had to go through politics. Now everything goes to vendor. You had to get saddled with people who were not so talented. Like Bionatops. This guy, Hal Faulkner had a bitchin sculpt, but the engineer started smoothing out the mold and getting rid of musculature. Smoothing it all out. My manager said he was fixing it, but it looked like a piggy bank. He also worked on middle tower for Eternia. There was only so much you could do.
Now it’s different. You do a front three-quarters sketch, send it to Hong Kong, and you see a digital output.
BR: Do you know anything about a brown-haired He-Man variant? People seem to think that you could get it in a mail-away offer. What many people recall is that you would send in three proofs of purchase and you would get a free figure in the mail, but no one seems to know much about it or why it was made in the first place. It looked like this:
MA: The brown haired variant was either just done or in the works when I got there, but I think you’re right. Has it been referred to as The Wonder Bread mail-in offer? Again, I just got there and was just trying to keep my head above water, keeping up with great talents like Colin Bailey who drew like an angel with so much ease.
BR: Do you know who designed Jitsu?
MA: I watched Colin draw control art turn views of Jitsu as reference for sculpting.
BR: Besides Rudy Obrero and Bill George, there was another person who painted some of the box art. We don’t know his name, but he did the box art for Point Dread & Talon Fighter, Panthor, Skeletor/Panthor Gift Set, Teela/Zoar Gift Set, Night Stalker, and a few others. Any clues there? Here’s an example of his/her art:
MA: Unfortunately I can’t remember that guy’s name, but his stuff was pretty decent as a fill-in when Bill [George] was overbooked. His art was better than the guy who did the dino art, Warren Hile, who I went to Art Center with. He now makes furniture in Pasadena. I looked up his art in the SDCC He-Man book that I designed, which sold out in a day, but no names are listed. I’ll find out because now it’s bugging me, thanks to you.
BR: What about Tony Guerrero? Do you remember him?
MA: Tony Sculpted THE He-Man. He had a twin brother, Ben. He was on the engineering side and Tony was a sculptor. One of guards once asked Tony for a property pass and offended him. He said, “Do you know who I am, I sculpted He-Man!”
Tony didn’t do a lot of the later stuff. I don’t know if he got let go. I can’t tell you how many purgings I survived there. They didn’t care how good you were, or what you contributed. It was how much money you made. They would bring a new guy in that they could pay less and force you out.
Tony and Colin left shortly after I got there. Colin was there for a couple of years.
Bill George did the best art. He was at Power Con, the very first one. Bill’s paintings were the best. He did the best He-Man ever.
BR: By 1986, there seemed to be a lot more stylistic diversity in the line. Can you talk about that?
MA: Extendar was designed by John Hollis, he was a temp who reported to me. He did Extendar, and he also did Rattlor and Turbodactyl. Each one has own style. Pat Dunn worked on Mosquitor. They way they turned out depended on they designer’s style and the action feature and play feature. The hardest one I worked on was Sorceress. Her wings popped out on back pack. Roger Sweet promised all those things. It’s hard to pack a mechanism on a thin-looking body. There was no other way I could do it except to put hump on her back.
We did Turbosaurus [later, Gigantisaur] that never got made. Too impractical? Of course. Roger Sweet had a sketch done by Ed Watts. It showed He-Man on this dinosaur. He sold it with all these features at a price that was low. I said, do you know how big this is going to be?
I went to Dave Wolfram, and I said, “We gotta breadboard this stuff.” Sure enough, that dinosaur was probably three feet. I told marketing, if you want this to reflect what Sweet sold you in the B-sheet, this is how big it’s going to be. We hand painted it. One thing that Sweet sold to marketing is that it would swallow a He-Man figure. But you know how splayed out the he-man figures were. It would have been as big as Eternia.
Ed Watts was the best and he actually did some preliminary designing and B-sheets on many of the vintage Masters toys, including Land Shark, the dinos, and Skeletor’s Dragon Fly [Fright Fighter], just to name a few. He actually had talent and thus recognized others who had talent, and was not insecure or jealous of others, so that’s why we got along. He was my manager when I designed/developed all the Bug’s Life line. Unfortunately he died of brain cancer way too young.
BR: What else did you work on in your time at Mattel?
MA: Everything that failed, I didn’t do, like that 2002 series… I was already off the line at that time. I worked on Harry Potter. I remember it was the Four Horsemen that were sculpting it. They were going old school, with clay molds and final waxes. Those guys are awesome. We were going to do Spawn at that time, and then anime stuff came up. I think I was working on Killer Tomatoes and Hook when we left the old building. Anyway, the Four Horsemen went in and did a really great sculpt of He-Man and Skeletor, almost two feet high. But at that time anime was coming in. So when they approached the Four Horsemen they had them sculpt them anime style as well. On that version, He-Man’s neck is coming out of his chest. Mattel did a focus test (which I hate), and the kids picked the anime style.
Then I got put back on He-Man, and started working with the Horsemen on [Masters of the Universe Classics], with no features. So there was this weird roundabout way I came back and worked on He-Man with the Horsemen, which they then gave to Terry Higuchi, because I was pulled to work on Remi from Ratatouille. Terri did a great job.
BR: What figure or other toy are you most proud of in your time at Mattel?
MA: I did so many entire lines there in 32 years. It would seem like bragging if I listed them all, which were approximately 15 to 20. Several never made it to retail. In hindsight I guess my favorites were the vintage MOTU line; resurrecting the then-dead Disney-Pixar Cars Line and generating a billion dollars for the five years I had it before my jealous VP stole it from me; and the Disney-Pixar Ratatouille line, which I designed/developed single-handily with my Hong Kong counterparts.
I’m especially proud that all those toys I designed/brought to retail made kids happy and filled their lives with joy & imaginative play. I’m happily retired now, focusing on painting full time. You can check out my original art on my website, www.martinarriola.com.
To hear more from Martin, check out these Power Con panels:
Several pieces of cross sell art used in this article are courtesy of Axel Giménez.
*Note: Eric L. recently contacted Eddy Mosqueda, and confirmed that Eddy did not actually sculpt Snake Mountain.
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My first introduction to Evil-Lyn was through the 1983 Filmation cartoon. When I finally saw the toy (which belonged to another kid), I was a little taken aback at how bright yellow her skin was in comparison to the character on the show. I remember thinking about it for a minute and deciding that they probably made her colors brighter to appeal to kids. I think 6-year-old me was probably right on that count.
Evil-Lyn probably has roots in Mark Taylor’s Sorceress concept, although the connections are somewhat tenuous. Mark Taylor intended the Sorceress (also known as the Goddess, and eventually fused with the Teela concept) to be a double agent and a changeling, playing both sides. The Sorceress wore a head piece under her snake armor that formed a V-shape on her forehead, a design repeated with Evil-Lyn.
And of course from the neck down, Evil-Lyn is a repaint of Mark Taylor’s Teela:
Having said that, Evil-Lyn was designed by Mattel artist Colin Bailey, who also designed Trap Jaw and Buzz-Off.
There are a few things to unpack here. Notice the very short wand in the above concept illustration. The version that came with the toy was more of a short staff than a wand. The size was no doubt increased in order to reduce the likelihood of it becoming a choking hazard.
The artist mentions that Evil Lyn’s face should resemble Sophia Loren, or at least mimic her expression. Some of that did end up in the final toy’s face:
The original working name for Evil-Lyn was “Sultra”. It might be worth noting that the Sultra drawing is dated October 5, 1982. Mattel never filed a trademark claim on Sultra, but they did file one for the name Evil-Lyn on Jan 21, 1983.
The toy was packaged on the standard card, with a very nice illustration by Errol McCarthy on the back. Evil-Lyn’s wand was molded in glow-in-the-dark plastic. Strangely, there is no mention of this feature on the packaging, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Note that in the above Errol McCarthy illustration, Evil-Lyn carries the short wand from the original concept art. In the black and white versions of the same illustration (below), you can see that Errol tried out a couple of looks for He-Man: one with a shorter neck, and one with a longer neck. The shorter neck version appears in the final colored illustration.
Errol also illustrated the character for one of Mattel’s licensing kits:
The cross sell art is pretty faithful to the final toy:
In both the Kid Stuff audio book and the Golden Books story, The Sunbird Legacy, Evil-Lyn has the power to transform into Screeech, the barbarian bird:
Although Evil Lyn appears in the 1983 Mattel Dealer Catalog, she doesn’t show up in mini comics until the 1984 lineup.
As I mentioned earlier, my first introduction to Evil-Lyn was through the Filmation cartoon. In the series, Evil-Lyn always reminded me a lot of Ursa from the 1980 film, Superman II (we watched this many times on the old video disc player).
In the Filmation Series guide, Evil-Lyn is very reminiscent of Colin Bailey’s concept artwork, including the short wand. I would guess that the colors in this depiction are what Colin originally had in mind, but the colors were altered at some point during the development of the toy.
The final design that Filmation went with was somewhat simplified. Evil-Lyn lost the skull on her helmet, and the decoration on her costume was simplified. Her wand looked like a cross between the concept and toy versions. She also gained a cape, which seems to suit her:
As James Eatock noted in his “50 Things About…Evil-Lyn” video, Evil-Lyn did sport a skull motif on her helmet in some early animation cells in the series, but it was painted over in black and wasn’t visible.
In the 1982 Masters of the Universe Bible, written by Michael Halperin, Evil-Lyn’s real name was Evelyn Powers. She was a scientist from earth and part of Marlena’s crew that crash-landed on Eternia and Infinita. Evelyn was transformed in to Evil-Lyn via the evil magic coursing through Infinita, domain of Skeletor.
Evil-Lyn was a central character in the 1987 live-action Masters of the Universe movie. Early concept art for Evil-Lyn’s (played by Meg Foster) costume was very close to the toy design, but the final costume was much more ornate:
Evil-Lyn was depicted in posters, coloring books and box art by artists such as R.L. Allen, William George, Esteban Maroto, and many others. She remains a quintessential 80s villain and a fan favorite to this day.