MOTU History

Masters of the Taylorverse

by Jukka Issakainen with Adam McCombs

DISCLAIMER: This article is a collection of information from various interviews (both text and audio), documentaries and panel appearances of Mark Taylor. Many of his statements have been somewhat or entirely paraphrased for brevity and format, but the content and ideas come from Mark’s own ideas and public statements. The sources for these statements are given at the end of this article.

[Mark Taylor – Power of Grayskull the Definitive He-Man Documentary]

For many years, fans of Masters of the Universe would look up to their minicomics, VHS-tapes or books to delight in the stories of He-Man, Skeletor and vast array of colorful characters.

Early on there were many inconsistencies between various stories, from the minicomics to DC Comics stories to the Filmation Animated Series. All of these variations can be considered in many cases different canons (much to the delight of fans when they had the ability to pick and choose their favorite elements, or frustration in some cases where folks hoped to have only a single, core version). Because of so many of these varying depictions of the characters and the world, Dark Horse even made a very thorough book, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World Compendium (2017) entailing these respective canons, and a follow-up HeMan and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World CompendiumSupplemental Guide (2021).

But there is one more version that hasn’t gotten all that much attention. The ideas and narrative by the late great Mark Taylor.

Mark Taylor in his office at Mattel

“Taylorverse”… “Taylorvision”… call it what you want. When working at Mattel on He-Man, Mark Taylor created a unique version for the characters and the world that later went on to have drastically different incarnations through comics, books and animation. 

Before his death in December of 2021, Mark mentioned working on his autobiography He-Man & I: an Odyssey by T. Mark Taylor.

No official release-date was announced, and it’s unclear how how close it was to being finished or if it will ever be released.

Cover art by Ken Coleman.

According to a panel during Power-Con (2018) by Mark Taylor, it was to divulge more information about who is He-Man’s father and much, much more. We don’t know if that will ever see publication, sadly. What we have tried to do in absence of that is to collect of the information we have gleaned from Mark’s various interviews over the years. We have divided this information up by subject, starting with Castle Grayskull.


Castle Grayskull

Castle Grayskull was not built as such, but grown mystically by unknown beings many eons before humans existed. Originally Castle Grayskull was a giant that sunk into the ground. It is the head of the giant that is partially visible and some parts on the head that were his “armor.”  It’s always possible that this giant could come back to life someday!

Some ancient civilization realized that the skull was a place of power, so they built the castle around it.

Just being near the Castle can sap life force. Entering the Castle has the potential to enhance your power, but it is also draining to the soul. For that reason, those who would wish to exploit the Castle’s power should not take up long-term residency there. Distance helps for relief and recuperation. Extended habitation causes personality changes and can be very dangerous to those around the affected individual.

There is nothing typical about Castle Grayskull. At first glance its interior and exterior look vaguely like a medieval castle, but this fortress bridges time and space. Castle Grayskull as a surface entity can only house approximately 50 people, but always on a temporary basis. There is a  large courtyard where the various mounts and vehicles of visitors are stowed.

The façade is 19 feet high and the dome is 45 feet high. The Jaw Bridge is 17 feet high by seven feet wide, the windows three feet by seven, and the tower is 42 feet high. The towers are defensive positions, and the watch towers and the turrets are for mounting anti-air attack weapons. The dome generates mystical power and the Jaw Bridge is activated by voice (opening the gate requires a specific command as well as the Power Sword).

Castle Grayskull is the thing that all of the characters fight over. Because of its location it would have to be invaded by boat. It’s a symbol of power, and it was similar to the Oracle of Delphi – you could get all kinds of power and knowledge from within. A lot of the stickers and paper elements inside were really symbols of the kinds of power you could get from Castle Grayskull. One of the eternal symbols of mysticism in human history been the skull.

GRAYSKULL’S SURROUNDING FETID LAKE/MOAT

Mark Taylor’s art-print titled “Stygian Moat” from Power-Con.

Castle Grayskull is located in the center of a moat that is toxic to most living creatures. There are living inhabitants of the moat, which are both strange and dangerous.

The Castle itself has seven floors beneath the level of the moat. As you descend each level, reality, time and space become more and more distorted.

GRAYSKULL’S FLOORS/LEVELS

Inside Grayskull is a Space Suit and other weapons and armory. These were left by a technologically-advanced race who came to the land in flying saucers. These beings had mysteriously left long, long ago. So Grayskull was a dead place with nobody living inside it or “guardian” for it either. There was always the possibility that these beings could return someday.

A secret code is required to get the elevator inside the castle to take you down to the levels under the castle. Each successive level brings more power and also more danger.

There are physical and magical traps hidden throughout the castle. The trap door leads to the first level basement. It also conceals clues to the secret password for the elevator.

Grayskull extends into the space/time continuum in the lake bedrock. The levels below the weapons storage room start with all the weapons that exist within one century each way from the present, the floor below that within five centuries each way, and so on.

[Mark thought that Castle Grayskull could eventually be expanded by adding playsets associated with other figures, such as a water playset for Mer-Man and an air or mountain playset for Stratos.]

PIT OF SOULS / WELL OF SOULS / DWELL OF SOULS

The Pit of Souls [also variously referred to as the Well of Souls or Dwell of Souls] is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time that also extends into the time and space continuum – possibly by means of a miniature black hole. The powers of the castle are linked to these evil prisoners.

Getting the monsters trapped in the Dwell of Souls required luring monsters into the pit with sacrificial human victims. The monsters would then be trapped in the pit. The king [He-Man’s father] who oversaw this effort could use those trapped monsters as leverage against all other Kings in the land, threatening to release them if he didn’t get his way.


HE-MAN

He comes from a mysterious conception and is rumored to be half human and half immortal.  (2006 interview)

The King who lived inside Grayskull had a harem and one woman there bore him He-Man. (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)

One of He-Man’s father’s wives wanted to kill He-Man when he was a baby, along with He-Man’s mother. His mother enlisted the help of the king’s Man-At-Arms in order to save the child. Man-At-Arms agreed to take the infant away through the atomic wasteland. There He-Man grew in strength and learned battle techniques from his mentor. Afterwards he picks up Battle Cat and his adventures start.

He-Man grew up in Atlantis, which no longer exists, it was destroyed by a terrible quake and tidal wave. He-Man was nine-years old and being trained as a Prince when the disaster struck. He was one of the very few to survive. (2006 interview)

He-Man is the ideal hero in all respects – he isn’t just someone with incredible strength, standing at 6’3” and weighing 230lbs. He has a sense of nobility and restraint, and also has a  quiet sense of humor. He possesses special senses which helps him greatly – otherwise Skeletor would’ve eliminated him. He-Man also is resilient to pain, poison, etc.

The cross symbol on He-Man is what his friends recognize him by [Mark also mentioned he was inspired in creating that symbol for He-Man by the look of the Knights Templar]. He-Man is a good person, noble and has the very highest moral character and he tries to set an example for all people. He knows a lot about magic, but he never uses it. He-Man knows there is always a price that must be paid when using magic.

He-Man avoids wearing too much armor. He’s almost like a berserker. He wants to win by relying on his own strength and fighting skill, rather than relying on armor.

He-Man isn’t destined to become the King of Grayskull [as the later stories like Glut-minicomics suggested].

Draft line art by Alfredo Alcala from “King of Castle Grayskull.”

HE-MAN’S MOTHER

He-Man’s mother was very beautiful and a phenomenal athlete. She is part of the King’s harem alongside Skeletor’s mother. He-Man’s mother doesn’t know any magic, so when Skeletor’s mother wanted to kill her and her child, she made a deal with Man-At-Arms to take her baby and run away. She was killed during the fight with Skeletor’s mother.


SKELETOR

PRE-WELL OF SOULS

Skeletor used to be a handsome, normal looking human, just like He-Man. He plotted to take over the Castle from the king, but he was thrown in the the Well of Souls. In the Well the creatures and animals ripped all the skin off his face and make him aware of magic the hard way.

AFTER EMERGING FROM WELL OF SOULS

Once Skeletor got out of the Well of Souls, he was a deformed super-human, standing at 6’4” and weighing 290lbs. He had heightened senses, much like He-Man, but he also had an extra sense: he can detect the weakness in an opponent that he can use to his advantage.

In this new form, he had three toes and ridges protruding from his forearms. He has a skull for a face and glowing eyes. The eyes glow when he is angry (which is most of the time). As he emerged from the Well, he made a hood for himself to cover his glowing eyes and distinctive silhouette. This was made from the eyelid of a dragon that tried to kill him when he got out of the Well. His armor is tougher than steel, made from an armadillo monster that tried to defy him.

His intellect is unmeasurable, off the charts. But he is also the ultimate bipolar, going from quiet malevolence to towering rage, a rage that hinders his true intellect. Skeletor’s voice sounds like he is speaking from the bottom of a well. Skeletor never sleeps.

His plans always focus on the Castle. Destruction and inflicting pain are his joy, with self-titled “Lord of Destruction” as his moniker.

Skeletor used magic but He-Man never did. Skeletor could animate anything and go anywhere.  In my mind that was one of the main differences between the main characters and their followers.

SKELETOR’S MOTHER

Skeletor’s mother is a sorceress who knows about magic and sorcery. She is a member of the King’s harem alongside He-Man’s mother. It was she, who used her magical abilities to furnish the cap on top of the Well of Souls for the King, so that all the monsters couldn’t get out, unless the King wanted them to. When Skeletor’s mother fought He-Man’s mother, she killed her.

Years after Skeletor had been thrown into the Well of Souls, the tribe was completely eliminated by a malevolent witch poisoner (Skeletor’s mother) who then helped him escape from the “Well” but when she saw what it had done to him she went insane and drank her own poison. (2006 interview)

“And him [Skeletor] and his mother decide to kill the king. They fail. The king captures them. And the king kills the mother and throws the boy into the Well of Souls.” (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)


MAN-AT-ARMS

Man-At-Arms was the king’s champion at Grayskull. He was a very honorable man and was tired of the corruption he witnessed.

Man-At-Arms is the master of weapons. His father already was someone who would bring home technology and weapons that he found. When he was older, Man-At-Arms did the same thing. Man-At-Arms isn’t as tough as He-Man, which is why he uses his armor and weaponry. He is a match for Beast Man in combat situations, having a high degree of intelligence/sophistication, but no special strength.

He took He-Man away as a child at his mother’s request, in order to stop a plot by Skeletor’s mother to kill He-Man. He ran with the baby through the Wasteland where He-Man grew incredibly strong. Man-At-Arms taught him all the battle techniques, both old and new.

[Man-At-Arms is based on the Spanish Conquistadors. With Star Wars being a popular thing, elements of high-tech were added onto Man-At-Arms’ armor.]

“I based it on the Spanish Conquistadors. I always wondered how those suckers had the nerve to do the things they did. They had to be ballsy beyond belief! Mattel’s marketing team was really on me to incorporate lots of technology, since Star Wars was still so popular. So I told them I could put high-tech gear on Man-At-Arms. I’d just read Piers Anthony’s classic science-fiction novel Sos the Rope, about a character who goes into a wasteland where a superior civilization had once lived. And he digs down and brings out their technology, which gives him a huge advantage over everyone else! So Man-At-Arms does that too.”


“…heroes can’t use magic! It weakens them, in a way. Villains, on the other hand, can use magic whenever they want a shortcut. It’s the Faust story, basically.”


[10 Things We Learned from Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man – The Robot’s Voice]


BEAST MAN

Beast Man was supposed to be the largest character by mass at least. Beast Man in Taylor’s conception didn’t have the power to control or talk to animals. He was more of a pit fighter and berserker. His back story was that he had been used as a fighter for entertainment in a gladiator ring. His armor was something he acquired to prevent fighters from jumping on top of him. His whip was taken from a captor who was trying to whip him. Beast Man was a berserker who couldn’t wait to fight anyone or anything.

Beast Man isn’t pure human – his DNA was altered/mutated by whatever happened to the world in the distant past, and it moved his chromosomes over a couple of steps. Beast Man is low on intelligence and high on strength. He’s evenly matched with Man-At-Arms, who is low on strength and high on intelligence.

TEELA

Female warrior (Teela) B-sheet artwork by Mark Taylor – May 28th, 1981

He-Man and his allies don’t generally use magic. The only one that does use magic to some extent is Teela. Because of that, He-Man would never accept her as a true ally. She was always on the outside.

Despite that, He-Man was romantically interested in Teela, but he couldn’t show it – any weakness at this critical moment in history would give the evil forces an opportunity to use her against him. He-Man also doesn’t fully trust Teela because she dabbles in magic, and He-Man having history that his mother was killed by a sorceress type woman.

Teela didn’t give her allegiance blindly. She could hold Skeletor off for a while with magic, although she wasn’t as powerful as him. She could communicate with animals. She wasn’t evil, but she was in it for her own purposes. Her origins were mysterious, and she didn’t come into the world in a natural way.


SORCERESS

[later known as Goddess thanks to DC Comics]

Sorceress B-sheet artwork by Mark Taylor – June 8th, 1981

Originally the Sorceress was going to be a changeling according to Taylor.

She was intended to be like a spy and play both sides with some magic but the “professionals” felt that was too complex.

Mark has also said that, though initially “bad”, he had the idea that Sorceress could at times team up with either Skeletor or He-Man.


ZODAC

aka Sensor

Zodac was originally good, as noted in Mark Taylor’s b-sheet art and text:

Sensor: Man of the the future scientifically heightened senses, knowledge & weapons. Acts in support role to He-Man and as a foil to Tee-La’s mystic nature.

“Zodac was all about flying. He was the air wing. I was influenced by Flash Gordon and the flying Vikings.” -Mark Taylor

Zodac has a lot of mystery. He’s not a bounty hunter as stated in some marketing materials. He doesn’t side with either He-Man or Skeletor completely. He wants to get into Castle Grayskull for his own reasons. He believes that the castle is a weapon that could tip the balance either way, and he wants to be able to control that weapon. He’s more familiar with mysterious technology and would understand how to use it. He’s not completely human – he may be a descendant of the people who constructed Castle Grayskull around the giant’s skull. At times he betrays He-Man and Skeletor.


MER-MAN

Mer-Man was a prince in his respective kingdom. He was supposed to be evil [note: early Mattel documents indicated that Mer-Man was grouped with the heroes at one point – it’s possible that someone other than Mark made that designation]. Mer-Man had a rivalry with Stratos. Rather than Mer-Man shooting freezing water from his sword (in the Don Glut minicomics), Mer-Man would have had some kind of jellyfish sting associated with his sword.

Mer-Man could stay on land indefinitely, but he was at his best underwater, and could best even He-Man in that environment. Mer-Man was also very stealthy. In Taylor’s vision Mer-Man was Skeletor’s first recruit. Mer-Man also had the power to control sea animals.

Mer-Man would have had his own underwater playset, and there would have been more opportunity for underwater adventures. The playset/castle, like Castle Grayskull, would have grown over time with additional add-ons.

[According to Mark, both Stratos and Mer-Man were always the last two that kids picked to play with from the original lineup of toys that were tested.]

“Mer-Man tested the lowest. Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had.  Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).”


STRATOS

aka Wing Man aka Bird Man aka Avatar*

Stratos was a prince in his respective kingdom.

[*Avatar is name that Stratos is referred in the 2006 audio-interview. Concept-artworks show working names like “Wing Man” and “Bird Man” only.]

Stratos would have been a prince of a mountainous kingdom, and would have had his own castle that would have been a playset. [Although Stratos was listed as evil in one or two of the early Mattel documents, in Mark’s mind Stratos was always heroic.]

Stratos had the ability to shoot a beam from his wrist. His primary power was flight, which was really defensive in a fight. The beam allowed him to hold off Skeletor for a while.

Stratos comes from a race of mountain-dwelling people who had evolved with specialized equipment and abilities for flight and for surviving very cold temperatures. Mark didn’t see this civilization as being highly technologically advanced, except for the fact that they had developed flight. Stratos had excellent vision, like an eagle or a hawk.


WIND RAIDER

In the beginning the Wind Raider would have been something that Stratos found and used, but it became associated with Man-At-Arms because production on Stratos was delayed.

[The Wind Raider was actually intended to work as both a boat and an aircraft. Although the final vehicle design was done by Ted Mayer, Mark Taylor did some early drawings that described some of the vehicle’s features. For instance, when on the water, the wings would rotate up and act as “photo sails”. The anchor is described as a “power ram/grapnel.” The dragon design bears strong resemblance to a Viking ship’s figurehead.

BATTLE RAM

He-Man found the Battle Ram parked in a cave. He had to try to find out how to work it, and he had assistance in that from Man-At-Arms. It’s a powerful device and it helps differentiate him from a medieval knight.

The front portion of the Battle Ram can hover over the ground, perhaps a foot and a half high. It can only travel for short distances. In order to go long distances, it must be ported with the rear half of the vehicle. It wasn’t necessarily a hovercraft – the source of its ability to hover was mysterious and inexplicable. It could be used as a battering ram as well. [in Mark’s canon, the Battle Ram doesn’t have the ability to teleport, unlike what was represented in minicomics].


MAN-E-FACES & RAM MAN

Battle Ram Blog: Did you have an origin story in mind when you designed Man-E-Faces? How about Ram Man?

Mark Taylor: Yes, but no one was interested, they wanted to ship it out immediately to animators and movie producers, you know “professionals”.  I designed him to have a different and interesting feature besides a twist waist. All the answers to my original story are in clues in Castle Grayskull, where they should be like a puzzle.



We hope everyone enjoyed this piece. It was a lot of fun digging through many audio-files, interviews and video panels to discover the earliest story aspects from Mark Taylor himself.

We are grateful for the various interviewers who took the time to reach out to Mark and Rebecca over the years. We are especially grateful to Mark and Rebecca for always being willing to talk to fans about He-Man. Mark was a true visionary who will continue to be missed by all of his many fans. Happy 40th anniversary He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

Mark Taylor and Jukka Issakainen – German Grayskull-Con 2013


SOURCES:
Mark Taylor’s written answers (Nov 14th, 2007) to Matt Joswiak’s questions, located at: http://s7.zetaboards.com/The_Dubious_Zone/topic/424452/2/ [accessed via WaybackMachine]
“The Power of Grayskull – The Definitive He-Man Documentary” [2018] + Kickstarter backer extra interviews [2018]
Audio interviews with Mark Taylor by ‘Akikage’ aka Matt Joswiak [2006]
10 Things We Learned From Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man [Topless Robot]
“The Toys That Made Us – episode 03” [2017 Netflix]
Dejan Dimitrovski – Guest post [Battleram Blog] “Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull – Introduction”
Battleram Blog – “Mark & Rebecca Taylor on the origins of He-Man
Battleram Blog – “Wind Raider: Assault Lander”
Battleram Blog – “Sorceress: Heroic Guardian of Castle Grayskull”

Return to Table of Contents.

History

T. Mark Taylor – In Memoriam

Mark in his office at Mattel

On December 23, 2021, T. Mark Taylor passed away at the age of 80. For any of you who have followed this blog, you’ll know that Mark is my personal hero. I had the privilege of interviewing Mark and his wife Rebecca in 2016, and that interview was republished in The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Mark was incredibly talented in both skill and artistic vision, and fiercely passionate about his work and about maintaining his integrity as an artist and creator. Mark was generous with his time – he always had time and seemingly infinite patience for fans.

Mark was born on June 5, 1941. As a child he had a passion for fantasy and science fiction in both comics and novels. He was influenced by Tarzan and Prince Valiant, as well as the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. He read and drew compulsively.

As a teen he took commissions to paint pinstriping on cars. After high school he attended the Art Center College of Design at Cal State, and became a combat illustrator for the US Navy. In the mid-1970s Mark and his wife Rebecca Salari Taylor were hired as contractors for Mattel, doing packaging artwork for Barbie. Later Mark was hired on as a permanent employee. He was still primarily a packaging designer when he was tasked with running and designing the new Masters of the Universe line, which had been sparked by some personal art he had hanging up in his office – “Torak: Hero of Pre-history.”

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Mark was in charge of Masters of the Universe for its first year, and it was an unexpected, runaway success. Mark designed all of the figures in the first year of the line – He-Man, Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, Beast Man, Teela, Stratos and Zodac. He created the color scheme and accessories for Battle Cat, and designed and sculpted Castle Grayskull. He also designed Ram Man and Man-E-Faces as well as a number of unused characters before leaving Mattel. Mark’s friend and fellow Mattel designer Ted Mayer designed the vehicles early in the line, and Rebecca did decals for the vehicles as well as for Castle Grayskull. Mark also did the packaging design for the larger boxes for the line, although he relied on Rudy Obrero to provide the beautiful painted artwork.

Mark and Rebecca
Ted and Mark

Mark pulled in all of the talented create people around him to help create the MOTU line, often pulling all-nighters at Mattel to get it ready for market. In fact, one Mattel employee, Colin Bailey (who would do design work on He-Man after Mark left), did some sketches of Mark, depicting him exhausted after working on his “dark project.”

Mark would later work on brands as diverse as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hot Wheels, He-Man (1989 relaunch), Street Sharks, Starship Troopers, Micro Machines, Men in Black, King Kong and more. After retiring from the toy business, both Mark and Rebecca taught as senior lecturers with Otis College of Art and Design, in the Toy Design department.

Mark was a visionary who touched all of our lives, directly or indirectly. The world is poorer for his absence. Thank you to Mark for making all of our childhoods more magical and for sparking our imaginations. I know of a number of people who are now great professional artists and designers in their own right, inspired by Mark’s indelible work.

Thank you Mark for creating the world of He-Man which has been so meaningful to me and to so many in the community. Mark’s influence will live on far beyond his lifetime.. My deepest sympathies to his wife, Rebecca Salari Taylor and to his dear friend Ted Mayer and to all others who knew and loved Mark. Rest in peace.

The Original Masters of the Universe Lineup – figures and playset designed by Mark Taylor

Related:

Return to Table of Contents.

MOTU Origins, Reviews

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.

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!

Reviews

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.

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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!