Heroic Warriors

Guest Post: Mark Taylor’s Vision for Zodac

Guest post by Dejan Dimitrovski

Zodac B Sheet from the Mark Taylor Portfolio, published by Super7/The Power and the
Honor Foundation


Initially, in 1982, Mattel planned eight figures for Wave 1 of the Masters of the Universe toy line. Envisioned by Mark Taylor, they were supposed to be He-Man, Skeletor, Teela, Sorceress (early snake-themed version), Beast Man, Mer-Man, Stratos, and Man-At Arms.

Mockup of what the 8 back cards might have looked like if the Sorceress hadn’t been dropped from the first wave, and if the figures hadn’t been cost reduced. Put together by Adam McCombs using Mark Taylor’s concept art.

But when Teela and the Sorceress were blended into one figure, it left seven figures instead of eight. Thus, Zodac was developed as the last character of the original eight figures, and released in second half of 1982.

1982 8-back cardback

In this text I will try to review and summarize all the information that was already revealed on the original Zodac character, as well as add some information revealed to me by Rebecca and Mark Taylor.

The original Zodac B-Sheet by Mark Taylor, dating from 1981, shows that this character was at first named differently “Sensor”. He was renamed a few times more before getting his final name “Zodac”. Possibly, the name Zodac is derived from the word ZODIAC – a term used in both astronomy and astrology, referring to the area of the sky that corresponds to the Sun’s apparent annual path around Earth in the course of a year. The association of this character with stars and cosmos (and the fact that Zodac is made a Cosmic Enforcer sailing through space), would go in favor of this name speculation.

The figure design reuses body parts formerly seen in other figures but introduces few new parts as well – a decision of Mattel to save money. It borrowed Skeletor‘s arms and claw-like feet and Beast Man‘s furry chest, while the new parts included his head, armor, and blaster. As a result, Zodac seems to be a being not entirely human, rather a member of a hybrid-like race. In an audio interview (conducted by Matt Jozwiak, sometime around 2006.) Mark Taylor says: “I don’t think he is completely human… He may even be a throwback to these people, to however it was that originally occupied Castle Grayskull. He knows a lot of stuff that nobody else knows about the history of Castle Grayskull.”

In the same interview, Mark says he never saw him as a bounty hunter, as he was labeled in the 1981 Mattel licensing kit, where his black and white illustration was presented with the following text: “ZODAC figure. The cosmic enforcer. The bounty hunter of our exciting universe”. Mark makes a comment on how that would be an idea too close to Lucas, referring to Boba Fett the popular character from Star Wars franchise.

There is a lot of controversy on whether Zodac was originally imagined to be either a good or an evil character. On Grayskull Con 2014 – “Power & Honor Foundation” Panel by Emiliano Santalucia, Mark’s original Zodac B Sheet art was shown under which was a label indicating that Zodac is an ally of He-Man, which would lead to the conclusion that Zodac was intended to be a heroic warrior.

But, in the above mentioned audio interview, Mark describes Zodac as an almost independent character, not inclined to follow either He-Man or Skeletor. He further adds that he and Man-at-Arms kind of understand each other pretty well, as both are warriors who are fascinated by technology. Zodac had his own reasons into getting into Castle Grayskull and they have to do with technology found in there. He knew that in Castle Grayskull is a great, wonderful weapon that he has been trained how to use, and if he could pull it out, he would gain great power and advantages in battle.

However, in 2017 Mark and Rebecca Taylor provided us with a back-story, revealing more information intended for this character:

Zodac was imagined as an evil counterpart of Man-at-Arms – a negative knight so to speak. He was to fight on Skeletor’s side and go to war against Man-At-Arms and He-Man. As, they fought “all day and all night”, Zodac learned to respect Man-At-Arms so much as a warrior, that he betrayed Skeletor and switched sides – from Skeletor’s Legions of Evil to He-Man and Man-At-Arms’s side. Skeletor was furious with Zodac and he came after him. Zodac then, along with his new allies, fought Skeletor to a stand still. And thus, he then became a trusted ally of He-Man.

At some point, Zodac was to go to Castle Grayskull and recognize the spacesuit from an ancient battle field, and he becomes determined to duplicate that suit. Apparently, Mark also had the idea that a variant of Zodac could be made, associated with the spacesuit: “The next time we see Zodac in a box, we see parts of the spacesuit that snap on to him that give him different abilities.”

It seems that the technology in Castle Grayskull that Zodac was seeking, mentioned in the audio interview, was to be the spacesuit which would give him different powers and abilities. So in conclusion, Zodac would have been He-Man’s ally, as labeled beneath his B Sheet, but he first had to walk the path from Skeletor to He-Man, from evil to good.

Perhaps this Zodac back-story info could give us some hints on why he was shown as an evil warrior in the toy marketing, including the card back art by Errol McCarthy where we see Zodac shooting at He-Man and Man-at-Arms. As with the initial Sorceress, a similar motif was conceived here, that of switching sides and teaming up with either He-Man or Skeletor.

But later, in the upcoming media, he was made a neutral character in the end, picking either He-Man’s or Skeletor’s side as he tried to maintain the balance of good and evil on Eternia. Of course, in the various ’80s media and marketing there were exceptions to this, as he was sometimes depicted as completely heroic and at other times as Skeletor’s lackey, (this will be reviewed in more detail in the upcoming articles on Zodac).

I wish to express my gratitude to Rebecca Salari Taylor and Mark Taylor for being willing to reveal and share the information on the original Zodac character with us. Also, I would like to express my thanks to my friends Jukka Issakainen and Adam McCombs in providing help and information on writing this post.

Further reading:

Masters of the Taylorverse

Zodac: Cosmic Enforcer


Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Adam A.
  • Allison T.
  • Ben M.
  • Clare L.
  • Eric H.
  • João S.
  • Jon E.
  • Max I.
  • Mike G.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Øyvind M.
  • Pablo G.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Thank you!

Mark Taylor

The Design Language of Mark Taylor

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Two years ago on December 23, 2021, we lost Mark Taylor, the creator of He-Man, Skeletor, Castle Grayskull and other icons of Masters of the Universe. For a while now I’ve been thinking about writing this article, and I think the two year anniversary of his passing is a good time to do it, as a tribute to his memory.

While Masters of the Universe had many creators, no one was so instrumental to its foundation and roots as Mark Taylor. Although many of his designs would be softened and simplified by the limitations of toy manufacturing in the 1980s, his unique vision usually survived the process intact. Mark had an indelible, unmistakable style. As you look through his artwork, you do start to notice some repeating themes and patterns. For a while now I’ve thought of this as Mark’s “design language.” Much of it is influenced by classic fantasy, golden age comic books, and Frank Frazetta art, but of course expressed with Mark’s own unique artistic flair. I thought I would share some of these themes here.

Scimitar with Animal Handle

Mark used this sword design in at least two of his illustrations. Interestingly, a similar sword appears in an illustration of Skeletor by Earl Norem.

Pre-Skeletor villain illustration, dating the the 1970s.
“Demo-Man”
Note: this artwork is by Earl Norem for the Sunbird Legacy Golden Book. Interestingly Skeletor’s sword is very similar to the one held by Mark Taylor’s pre-Skeletor “Evil Incarnate” drawing, dating to the 1970s.

Double Horns

While Mark makes frequent use of horns on many different illustrations, the characteristic “double horn” appears on Battle Cat’s helmet, Beast Man’s armor and the unproduced Rhinoman or “Custar” helmet:

Battle Cat concept art
Beast Man concept art
Image via Doug Feague. Rhino Man or “Custar” concept art

Axes

Mark had a fondness for double-bladed axes. While his various axe designs differed in some details, they all had a similar look to the blade and the handle.

Pre-MOTU hero illustration
Very early He-Man illustration. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Early He-Man illustration. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
He-Man B-Sheet illustration
“Vikor” illustration

“Viking” Helmets

The so-called “Viking” helmet shows up in several illustration. Actual historical Vikings of course did not have horns on their helmets, but they’ve been depicted that way in popular culture since the 19th century.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation. From Mark’s “Torak” drawing, 1979.
Pre-MOTU hero illustration.
“Vikor”
“Demo-Man”
He-Man B-sheet. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Early Ram Man concept. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Ornamental Bird Heads & Wings

Mark would frequently employ bird wings and bird heads as ornamentation on his designs.

Battle Catapult illustration. Mark did this video before handing off vehicle design to Ted Mayer, who replaced this design with the Battle Ram. Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor.
Pre-MOTU hero illustration. Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor
Pre-MOTU hero illustration
Skeletor or “De-Man” B-sheet.
Torak illustration, 1979. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
“Vikor”
Pre-MOTU character that would be re-designed and made into Man-At-Arms

Ram Heads & Skull Staffs

There are two ram’s head motifs below, and two skull staff motifs as well in Mark’s drawings of He-Man and Skeletor.

Mark’s depiction of He-Man in the chariot may be the oldest surviving visual depiction of He-Man that was done by anyone officially for Mattel. Clearly this was made as a toy design, and is not just a private drawing. But, while He-Man has his harness and his axe, he doesn’t yet have the familiar cross design on his chest. For that reason this reads as a more primitive iteration of He-Man, probably predating all of the other official drawings and prototypes for the character. Note that Mark’s 1979 Torak drawing was done by Mark on his own time, and so wasn’t officially done for Mattel. However it was used as a basis for the creation of He-Man, and would predate this drawing of He-Man on the chariot by about a year. I would posit that Mark probably created the drawing above for the Preliminary Design group as they were preparing their pitch for the He-Man line, probably in the fall of 1980. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Skeletor B-Sheet
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Interestingly, the above staff also appears in He-Man and the Power Sword (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala), indicating that it may have appeared in some additional concept art associated with the Sorceress and/or Skeletor:

Head Encircled by Horns

All Beast Man concepts had costume designs that encircled his head with sharp horns. That theme is repeated in Mark’s Mer-Man B-sheet, although in the final toy Mer-Man would lose all but two of those spikes.

First Beast Man concept art, rejected because he was too Wookie-like
Second Beast Man concept. Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor
Beast Man B-sheet
Mer-Man B-sheet

Rotting face

In Mark’s early depictions of skull-faced places or characters, the faces are usually partially decomposed.

Very early Castle Grayskull. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
“Demo-Man”
Skeletor B-Sheet

Ornate Skulls

Mark would occasionally give his characters Skull ornamentation on their costumes, as shown in Mark’s pre-MOTU hero and in Ram Man, below.

Roman Baltea

Mark’s pre-MOTU warrior below, his pre-MOTU Skeleton villain, and Skeletor B-sheet all incorporate elements inspired by Roman baltea.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Ornate Wrist Bracers

On Torak, early pre-B-sheet He-Man and on early Beast Man concept art, a distinctive, variations on an ornate wrist bracer design are used.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.
Beast Man concept

“Wrap” Boots

This style of boot is pretty prevalent in Frazetta’s illustration and other fantasy artwork. Mark used it early in a few drawings, and it eventually became the standard boot for many Masters of the Universe characters.

Pre-MOTU hero illustration
“Vikor”
He-Man B-sheet. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Belt Styles

Mark envisioned a reusable belt style that consisted of many round decorations and a square belt buckle, with the fur from the loin cloth spilling over the top of the belt. This design was changed a bit once it was sculpted, with a large center oval design and a cleaned up top of the belt with no fur spilling over.

Connected Ornamental Circles

One piece of ornamentation that shows up several times is a row of interconnected flat circles around a character’s waist, neck, or arms. We see that below in Teela, Sorceress/Goddess, and “The Enforcer.” I should note that all of the design elements of the costumes for both Teela and Sorceress are striking, although most of them don’t get repeated elsewhere in Mark’s work, at least to my knowledge.

Image at far right via Doug Feague

Shin Guards

The early Skeletor or “De-Man” design is well known for his bare feet and shin guards. The shape of those shin guards harkens back to the skeleton warrior from Mark’s Torak design, although in that case they were part of a pair of boots.

“Compass”

Interestingly two very similar round “compass” (for lack of a better term) shapes appear both on Beast Man’s chest and on an unnamed warrior created by Mark.

Spiked Mace

A similar mace weapon appears with two unproduced Mark Taylor characters.

Left image: Rebecca Salari Taylor. Right image: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Bolts

One of the most common features on Mark’s male figure designs are a series of regular “bolts” on costumes and shields.

Cylinders

Update: Artist and customizer Walter de Marco added another observation – repeating cylindrical shapes in Mark’s Man-At-Arms and Battle Cat designs:

Grayskull Shield

The shield on Mark’s pre-MOTU Eternal Hero drawing shows up as the shield included with the Castle Grayskull weapons rack.

Mark’s illustration for the Castle Grayskull weapons rack. Image source: Jukka Issakainen

Bare feet

And finally the question of whether or not characters are wearing anything on their feet. Early on in the process, it appears that those characters intended to be evil are usually depicted barefoot. Heroes wear boots. Recall that early on, Stratos was characterized as a villain and Mer-Man as a hero, at least in some Mattel documents. By the time the cross sell art was made, Stratos was aligned with the heroic warriors and Mer-Man was a villain – and in those depictions Stratos seemed to be wearing some kind of footwear and Mer-Man was depicted barefoot.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the design language of Mark Taylor. This of course isn’t totally exhaustive, but it touches on many of the major themes.

Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Allison T.
  • Ben M.
  • Eric H.
  • Jon E.
  • Max I.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Øyvind M.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Alternatively, you can do your toy shopping through my Entertainment Earth affiliate link, below. Thank you!

Evil Warriors

No, “Demo-Man” was not an early Skeletor concept

Back in 2009, in the early days of MOTU Classics, a controversial bio was included on the back of Skeletor’s packaging. The bio leaned more or less on the origin story for Skeletor made popular in the Mike Young Productions He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, where Keldor is mortally wounded in a failed acid attack against Randor. His face is badly burned, and his life is saved by Hordak. In the process he becomes Skeletor. But in the Classics bio, a new detail was added. Keldor was merged with an initially-unnamed extra-dimensional being as part of his process of healing and becoming Skeletor. The name of the being was initially withheld until Mattel had the rights to the name Demo-Man. Fans reacted negatively, reasoning that Skeletor shouldn’t need to be combined with some other being to become the evil Skeletor.

Image source: Poe Ghostal

Once the rights to Demo-Man were secured, this updated bio was used, adding “the extra-dimensional being Demo-Man from Despondos.”

Two years later, when the Demo-Man figure was released, his bio gave some additional details to the merger with Keldor, although no real information about Demo-Man himself was provided. Part of the purpose of this exercise was to explain away early minicomic canon that contradicted later canon. Skeletor’s attempt to bring “his people” to Eternia is retconned as temporary insanity brought on by his having merged with Demo-Man. In the bio story, Hordak would have used this delusion as an opportunity to have Skeletor bring him to Eternia. Of course as any historian will tell you, when you try to harmonize two contradictory stories, you just end up creating a third contradictory story. MOTU has many, many contradictory canons, which keep multiplying over the years as the property is continually rebooted. I think that’s why many fans seem to have their own personal preferred canons, often incorporating novel ideas of their own. The story has never been tightly controlled.

Image source: The Fwoosh
From He-Man and the Power Sword, written by Don Glut and Illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

So why was Demo-Man put into Skeletor’s bio in the first place? Well, the ethos in the days of MOTU Classics was to try to retcon certain concepts and variant characters as new characters. A good example of this is “Oo-Larr,” a representation of the first appearance of He-Man in the original He-Man and the Power Sword minicomic. In Classics canon, he was retconned as a different character from He-Man, because this version of He-Man was a Tarzan-like warrior with no Prince Adam alter ego, and his backstory is unique and contradicted later stories.

First appearance of He-Man. Illustration by Alfredo Alcala. Later retconned as “Oo-Larr.”

Other examples include Vikor and Vykron, who were early concepts that were retconned into their own separate characters. I’ve never really understood the reasoning for this. At the time the explanation was that it would “justify” making figures of these designs if they were separate characters. However, the Classics line was chock-full of He-Man variants, so it’s hard to see why this justification was ever needed. In the end it was probably just the preference of the brand manager at the time, who was trying to create his own overarching story for the brand, encompassing all eras of MOTU. Retconning early contradictory ideas made the bios easier to write.

Anyway, in the early days of the Classics line, some Mark Taylor concept art was circulating among fans, depicting a green, bearded orc-like character with a rotting skull face. It was undated and unlabeled. There is no obvious connection to Skeletor, other than the decaying face. At the same time the brand manager had found a list of potential names for characters in Mattel’s archives. One early name for Skeletor, per his recollection, was Demo-Man (although the name De-Man or D Man is what appears on Skeletor B-sheets). But again, this name did not appear anywhere on the green character’s artwork.

Concept villain by Mark Taylor
Skeletor concept art, at the time called “D Man,” by Mark Taylor

This was the explanation given at the time by the brand manager (user name: Toyguru) on the He-Man.org forums:

So, the assumption was made that the green bearded character was an early Skeletor concept called Demo-Man, and that’s what was written into the bios, as a way of paying homage to it. It’s been a prevailing assumption ever since.

However, since 2016, we’ve known definitively that this character was not an early Skeletor concept. How do we know this? I went to the source himself:

Battle Ram Blog: There is a character you designed who fans refer to now as Demo-Man. Do you see him as an early incarnation of Skeletor or Beast Man?

Mark Taylor: No, he was a separate concept that I was too busy to exploit, I was working until the sun came up and the Mattel building was empty. I was pretty much running on fumes.  I would have loved to take him further but like so many concepts corporate profit came first.

I’ve included this information of course in the original interview, and in my old article about Skeletor. The interview with Mark also appeared in the Dark Horse Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. So why point this out again in another article? For one, because the misconception about this character still exists in the fan community. But the other reason is, I love the design of Demo-Man, and this is a chance to talk about him a little.

Now, I should point out that although the character wasn’t initially named by Mark, he was given a name when he was released several years ago in a portfolio of sketches. The name Mark chose for him was “The Merciless.” He also recolored it with a darker color palette.

Image courtesy of Doug Feague

Because Demo-Man is the name fans know the character as, that’s the name I’ll continue to use in this article, but I just wanted to point out Mark’s name for him.

Demo-Man has only been released in MOTU once so far, in 2011 in the MOTU Classics line. The prototype figure was shown off at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. The figure was a painstaking recreation of Mark Taylor’s drawing, up to and including the helmeted skull at the character’s feet and the tuft of hair sticking out from the character’s back. Below are images of the prototype that was displayed at San Diego Comic-Con (images are from ToyArk and Toy News International):

Because of Demo-Man’s association with Skeletor in the Classics bios, he also came with an extra Skeletor head, based on the character’s depiction by Alfredo Alcala. This head became the default head for many fans. I’ll just note that when modern designers want to make Skeletor look more scary, they’ll often give him “angry” eyes, an expression that really isn’t possible on a skull (skulls don’t have eyebrow muscles). The Alcala Skeletor head is noted as probably the creepiest and most impressive head for the figure ever made, and he has large, round eye sockets and oversized, crooked teeth. You don’t need to go the Spirit Halloween route to make a truly wicked-looking Skeletor.

Production Demo-Man, and Skeletor with “Alcala” head. Demo-Man does have “angry” eyes, but note that his face is only partially rotted away.
Original head (left) vs “Alcala” head (right)

The production Demo-Man figure (below) was a bit different from the prototype in a few different ways.

The copper accents were removed from both the flail weapon and the rivets on the skull’s helmet. Copper was also used as a rust analogue on all silver areas of the prototype, but it’s cut down a bit on the production figure, and doesn’t appear at all on the skull’s helmet. The spikes on the figure’s gauntlets and flail have been dulled down for safety. The overall skin color of Demo-Man is brighter as well – he is cast in a very bright yellowish color with plenty of green overspray. The bonus Alcala Skeletor head’s face also features these colors. The paint work on Demo-Man’s face isn’t quite as sharp as the prototype version, but of course that’s to be expected. No factory could match a finely hand-painted prototype.

Earlier I mentioned that lots of MOTU fans have their own head canon. I actually have one of my own regarding Skeletor and Demo-Man. I don’t follow the Classics idea of Demo-Man being an entity existing inside Skeletor. However, that story did inspire another take I thought of while looking at the two figures together.

In my little head canon, Eternia is a place full of incorporeal demons. Everyone knows that you have to quickly cremate your dead or protect them with a spell, otherwise a roaming demon will find it, take possession of the body, and walk around in it, causing mayhem. Skeletor arose this way, when a young warrior fell in battle, and his comrades could not recover the body because of the weight of his armor and the group of enemies pursuing them. The young fallen warrior laid there dead on the battlefield for a time, his face eaten by scavengers. Eventually a powerful, ancient demon found him and took possession of him, and he became known as Skeletor. Demo-Man was a solitary wandering orc who met with a similar fate on the side of a mountain. Part of the point of this story is to explain the skull faces on these characters and also make them contemporaries of each other who could actually work together. This would put Demo-Man as one of Skeletor’s evil warriors, albeit at a higher level than his usual non-demonic flunkies.

Now, just because Demo-Man isn’t a Skeletor concept, doesn’t mean you can’t accept the Classics canon about his role in Skeletor’s origins. The fictional MOTU storylines are an altogether different subject from the history of the development of these toys. At the end of the day, you can think of him however you like, or discount him altogether. It’s up to you. But hopefully this article has been an informative and entertaining look at Demo-Man.

Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Ben M.
  • Matthias K.
  • Max I.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Alternatively, you can do your toy shopping through my Entertainment Earth affiliate link, below. Thank you!

Demo-Man Quick Facts

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”