Reviews

T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1

At the 2018 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but thankfully fans who couldn’t attend were able to purchase copies directly from the Taylors afterwards.

The set is kind of a sequel to the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. A few pieces from that collection appear in Sketches 1, but mostly this is a new set of artwork. Unlike the first set, much of the artwork in this new collection actually predates work on the He-Man line. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary.

Cover

The cover, which Mark was kind enough to sign, features one of the early Beast Man concepts. Rebecca shared the full artwork several months back. For more information on the evolution of Beast Man, check out this article.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The Eternal Hero

This piece, titled “The Eternal Hero”, doesn’t seem to be a direct ancestor of any particular figure. However, his armor has touches of what would become Skeletor’s armor. His axe and boot designs were reused for He-Man. The shield ended up with the Castle Grayskull weapons. This most likely originated from the 1970s, long before the He-Man line.

Evil Incarnate

Rebecca actually shared with me some of the history behind this image:

It was done before Mark went to Mattel. I found it in a sketchbook. He has a few versions of skeletons as warriors and royalty. It is based off of a story he wrote once when he was a kid in college… about a skeleton king called “The King of Styx” … circa 1971. I found a new stash of sketchbooks when they repaired our garage.

Evil Incarnate or The King of Styx isn’t Skeletor, but you can see that Mark reused several design attributes (most notably the face and cross bones) when he was coming up with what would become Skeletor:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Paladin

Paladin was actually first intended by Mark Taylor for the never-produced Rob-N & the Space Hoods toyline. When that line failed to be green-lit, the character (eventually named Man-At-Arms) was reused for Masters of the Universe. This is one of my personal favorites from this collection. You can see how the design continued to evolve in the B-sheet below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection

The Merman

This piece was included in the 2016 B-Sheet collection, although this one has more of a green color, as opposed to the blue of the other version. Personally I think green suits Mer-Man better. This is perhaps my all-time favorite piece of artwork by Mark Taylor. You can see the blue version released in the previous collection below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Stygian Moat

The moat was actually intended to be a mat that would come shipped with Castle Grayskull. Unfortunately it proved to be too expensive and it was dropped from the playset. Those who are fans of the creepy creatures in the Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker will appreciate this artwork the most.

The War Cat

The above artwork was also included in the 2016 B-sheet collection, but fans who missed out on that can enjoy this exquisite representation of Battle Cat.

The Segway

Although it’s not immediately obvious, Segway represents an early take on the Man-E-Faces concept. Rebecca has actually shared a number of early designs. This particular version represents an evil character.

Castle Stickers

The Castle Grayskull stickers and cardboard pieces, exactly as they appeared in the vintage playset, are reproduced here. These were done by Rebecca, based on some notes by Mark.

Warrior Teela

Teela was also included in the 2016 B-sheets collection. She remains one of Mark’s most elegant and striking figure designs.

Ursis Prime

Ursis prime is the earliest known Beast Man design. In the beginning the character was based on a bear, although Mattel rejected it because they were afraid it was too similar looking to Chewbacca. The next stage of the design is the savage-looking red Beast Man featured on the cover of this collection. You can read more about the evolution of Beast Man here.

The Castle Grayskull

We got our first peek at this design in the Netflix Toys that Made Us episode on Masters of the Universe. This is a more evolved design compared to what was included in Mark’s previous B-Sheet collection. This is another personal favorite of mine from this collection. Mark sculpted his Castle Grayskull prototype based on this version, although he cut out most of the the near-east influences. Mark’s earlier design is below, for comparison:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection.

The Rhinomen

This design was first shown in the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog. The design is somewhat related to Ram Man, especially in the helmet design. Although this toy was never made, it would have had a ramming feature, as shown below:

Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1

Back Page

Finally, on the back page we get a picture of Mark and a nice note to fans, punctuating a superb and heart-felt collection.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Mark for making this available to the fans!

You can also watch Mark and Rebecca talking to fans about the origins of He-Man at the 2018 Power-Con in the video below, moderated by MOTU super-scholar Danielle Gelehrter:

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Playsets

Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull: Introduction (Guest Post)

Upper left: earliest concept art by Mark Taylor (before Mattel employment); lower left: black and white, and color version of the revised concept art by Mark Taylor (during Mattel employment in 1979); upper and lower right: the sculpted prototype by Mark Taylor)

Written by Dejan Dimitrovski

Envisioned and created by Mark Taylor Castle Grayskull is, both literally and metaphorically, the foundation stone of the world of the Masters of the Universe. Like an archetypal image, it has grown from a child’s toy to become an iconic symbol in both pop culture and in superhero mythology of our modern time.

Beginning, creation and original story idea

The concept of Castle Grayskull began with a fantasy drawing by Mark Taylor made even before he was employed in Mattel (sometime about 1975 – the picture on the upper left). Later, working as a toy designer in 1979., he did a revised castle illustration (the lower left picture). It went through many changes and revisions, again and again, until finally Mark sculpted the prototype castle (with a little help of Ted Mayer) based on the latest revised design (two images on the right show the prototype design). All through the design process, Mark insisted on the ancient, eldritch outlook of the Castle, invoking an atmosphere and image of a place that withholds secrets from beyond time and space, and setting it apart from yet another mythical magical castle.

“I wanted it to be organic, it has to look like it weights, like it’s heavy, has a lot of weight to it… like it’s starting to melt”, describes Mark Taylor during a panel on Grayskull Con in 2013.

The Castle was made before any of the toy figures and all through the eighties (and in some world countries the nineties), it undoubtedly became one of the most iconic, most popular and well known play-sets for children across the world. Starting from the original story concept, Castle Grayskull was the connection/conflict point of the hero He-Man and the villain Skeletor; and this concept was stretched to all the later incarnations of MOTU – the castle is always the ultimate fortress that Skeletor wants to conquer and claim its mystic powers. Another concept, started by Mark, that will remain a constant element common to all MOTU canons and story versions, is the concept that the ultimate Power is within Grayskull.

Inspiration sources and symbolism

Besides the idea of a traditional scary medieval castle, Mark mentions several other sources of inspiration for Castle Grayskull, among which are the works of Mark Twain, the 1933 “King Kong” movie (specifically the Skull Island), as well as other places that are skull-associated or shaped. Evidently, most of these inspiration sources seem to rely on the symbol of the skull. This symbol is as ancient and old as humanity itself, and it is a very complex one. Though the most common symbolic use of the skull is as a representation of death and mortality, to some ancient societies it is believed to have had the opposite association – objects like crystal skulls represent “life”, the honoring of humanity in the flesh and the embodiment of consciousness. Thus, it can be viewed as a symbol of extreme polarities of life and death.

Conclusion

Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull is a masterpiece that has outgrown the concept of a child’s toy; it served and still serves many purposes on many different levels.
At the time of the genesis of MOTU line, it was a big turning point for the brand. The Castle, together with wave one toys, not only set the specific mysterious feel of the MOTU setting, but was also crucial in the successful launching of the brand, as it became one of the most famous, most recognized play-sets for children across the globe.

From the perspective of Mark Taylor’s world of MOTU, it is one of the main elements that started the whole story. The Castle was where all the power lay for He-Man and Skeletor. Whoever controlled Castle Grayskull, had access to the Well of Souls and basically controlled all of the power.

Finally, in the terms of our modern mythology analysis, I believe it is a complex symbol that represents the battle for dominance of the forces of life (as well as hope and courage, represented by He-Man) and the forces of death (including fear and dread – incarnated as Skeletor) in an ever-present, ongoing struggle. This battle of life and death, survival and demise, creation and destruction, is set in our collective subconscious – a universal experience known to all of us; and it is always shrouded in mystery because it is always challenging and ever-changing, demanding our constant adaptation and creativity. This is how the myth of Castle Grayskull speaks to both the grown up and the child in us, allowing us to relate to the existential battle of the hero and the villain, a battle we have fought and will fight till the end of days.

* * *

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

Sources:

1. Grayskull Con. (Aug 6, 2013). “Grayskull Con 2013 – Panel Rebecca and Mark Taylor”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kERzI45uluk

2. Mark Taylor audio interview (including transcripts) conducted by conducted by Matt Jozwiak (around 2006.)

3. McCombs, A. (2015). Battle Ram: A He-Man blog. [Blog] Castle Grayskull – Fortress of mystery and power (1982); Available at: https://battleram.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/castle-grayskull-fortress-of-mystery-and-power-1982/

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History

Happy He-Man Day!

Back in 1987, Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles, declared April 28 to be Masters of the Universe Day, in celebration of the live MOTU Power Tour performance that was running at the time.

It continues to be commemorated by fans to to this day, but I would propose an additional day to celebrate the most powerful toyline in the universe: March 1.

From December 1981 to January 1982, Mattel filed trademarks for their completed Masters of the Universe toyline, in preparation for the big product launch. The line (largely designed by Mark Taylor, vehicles by Ted Mayer) was first shown to the public on February 17, 1982, at New York Toy Fair. I believe it was first made available in retail stores on March 1 of 1982. That’s based on a piece of evidence taken from the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword.

Included near the back of the minicomic was a cash rebate offer. Parents who purchased two of the eight MOTU figures available that year could get a rebate of $1.25.

There was a purchase date restriction on the offer. Purchases had to be made between March 1, 1982 and January 31, 1983.

I believe the earlier date represents the earliest date that these toys would have been available in stores – shortly after they were unveiled at New York Toy Fair.  That would mean that March 1, 1982 was the day that children all over the country (and later, the world) were first introduced to the world of He-Man.

Since Masters of the Universe Day is already taken, I’d suggest we commemorate March 1 as He-Man Day.

Incidentally, in the animated He-Man episode, The Energy Beast, King Randor tries to create a He-Man Day, but He-Man is too modest at the time to accept it. I’d say after 36 years defending Eternia and Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor, he’s more than earned it.

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Playsets

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull box art, by Rudy Obrero

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

Source Material

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

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

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

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

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

Material taken from the vintage playset:

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

Vintage box art material:

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

Minicomics material:

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

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

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

Image source: The Art of He-Man

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