This time around I’m going to take a closer look at Castle Grayskull as it appears in the minicomics. I won’t post a picture of every single appearance of the castle, just a representative sample from every issue it appears in. My focus will be on the exterior, especially the front.
There seem to be two primary influences on the way the castle was depicted in the minicomics – Mark Taylor’s original prototype of the Castle, and the version Mark Texeira drew in the second series of minicomics in 1983.
Alfredo Alcala, who illustrated minicomics from 1982-1984, always patterned his drawings of the castle after the original prototype. Even when his character depictions evolved past early prototypes and started resembling their mass-produced counterparts, his Castle Grayskull never changed:
Mark Texeira did the pencils for the DC-produced second wave of minicomics. His version of the Castle has squared-off walls, a tall jaw bridge, and a skull that seems rather small in comparison to the rest of the castle. Ted Mayer described an abandoned attempt at sculpting Castle Grayskull by Mattel engineers that actually reminds me of the way Texeira’s castle looks. According to Ted:
Mark did the original sketch. That was then be sent to the sculpting department. When we saw their rendition, it was awful. It was a square castle, just like you would find in the English countryside! We made a fuss and it was sent back for revision. The second go round was almost as bad. As I remember, it was square with turrets on the corners, very symmetrical.
Somehow Mark persuaded the powers in charge to let him sculpt it. The sculpting department was pissed! Mark set up a board in his office and with a bunch of Chevaler sculpting clay, set about modeling it. I took turns helping him, even my nine-year-old son had a go. When that was finished it went back to sculpting for molding and engineering.
It makes me wonder if Mattel might have sent one of these discarded attempts to DC to use as a model. I don’t know for sure, but it’s an interesting thought. Note however that some versions of Texeira’s illustration seem just a bit closer to the actual playset than others.
From 1984 onward, the Texeira look seems to pop up quite frequently. Larry Houston seems to use that as a basis for his illustrations:
It continues to pop up in the 1985 wave of comics as well. One notable exception is Bruce Tim’s illustration in The Power of the Evil Horde. His seems like a mix of many different influences, from Filmation to Texeira to the actual playset.
Castle Grayskull sees its final minicomic incarnations with the 1986 series of minicomics. Here the depiction of the castle begins to mutate. While the Texeira influence still pops up here and there, we also begin to see an interesting interpretation from Jim Mitchell, starting with Escape From the Slime Pit. His castle has an almost mummified-looking face, without any of the sharp teeth of previous incarnations. In a way it comes around full circle to the Alcala depiction.
Bruce Tim gives us our final look at the castle in The Ultimate Battlegound, which follows the same look as his illustration for The Evil Horde.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (released October 21, 2015) is a comprehensive collection of minicomics from 1982 to the early 90s, plus a taste of the 2002 and modern Masters of the Universe Classics mini comics. It’s a concept that I think a lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans had been wishing for for quite some time.
The collection was edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with advisement from Val Staples. The comics themselves were scanned and collected by Leanne Hannah, Rod Hannah, Jon Kallis, Rachel Crockett, and Val Staples.
Many of these comics had been available for some time digitally from sources like He-Man.org and The Good Old Days, but not always scanned in high resolution, and certainly not always in a format that was easy to read. Collecting minicomics for the most part isn’t generally terribly expensive – that is, until you get to rare issues like The Ultimate Battleground or Energy Zoids. And certainly having the comics collected in one book is a more convenient to consume and digest them. Having a comprehensive collection in production order nudged me to read read comics I might have otherwise skipped. And of course the pages are blown up significantly larger than the original printings, with the exception of The Power of Point Dread.
Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection covers more than just standard release comics. The previously unpublished Return From Terror Island (inked but uncolored) is included along with an introduction by James Eatock. There is also a script for another unpublished comic, Ring of Dreams, with an introduction by Danielle Gelehrter. The general rule for this collection is minicomics that were packed in with toys, or were intended to be packed in with toys.
We also get an introduction to mini comic variants. One of the most fascinating is the early promotional version of He-Man and the Power Sword, which features an early version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as well as references to the toyline’s early working name, “Lords of Power.”
That logo, by the way, has some points in common with the logo used on some French Masters of the Universe minicomics:
The collection is also peppered with with footnotes full of trivia and interesting connections, written by Jukka Issakainen:
Out of curiosity, I asked Jukka how the trivia portion of the book came about. This is what he told me:
Early on, there was no trivia planned. I had touched base with Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon with some questions about minicomic order and variant differences, and later Val Staples who was coordinating the book contacted me back via Skype on these matters. During a couple of conversations he asked if anything popped into my mind that should be included in the book [comics, booklets, specials], but as they had most things already covered, I mentioned that if the book could include some trivia it would be a cool addition.
Scattered in between the many dozens of mini comic stories the collection is filled with quite a number of interviews (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter) with fourteen mini comic artists and writers, vintage and modern. They include:
All of this is icing on the cake for anyone who cares to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power minicomics. If not, then the comics themselves are worth the price of admission and then some
The large bulk of the book is made of up of the original 51 Masters of the Universe minicomics, which were packed in with figures and other toys from 1982 to 1987. Because the comics span six years and were produced by dozens of different artists and writers, there are some quite dramatic tonal shifts throughout the series.
The series begins with the stark jungle-barbarian post-apocalyptic wastelands of the Alfredo Alcala and Don Glut stories, which are the only comics in the series that don’t have speech bubbles. In fact, Mattel called them “adventure books” rather than comics or minicomics.
That distinctive style gives way to Mark Texeira and Gary Cohn’s faster-paced bronze age style adventure tales. I’m a big fan of the artwork and storytelling, but I find some of the color choices a bit perplexing sometimes, with emphasis on orangey-browns and vivid magenta throughout.
Following the Texeira/Cohn comics, Alfredo Alcala returns to illustrate another series of stories (this time with traditional word bubbles). The writer for the next run of Alcala-illustrated comics was most often Michael Halperin, who wrote the original Masters of the Universe Bible. The MOTU Bible contained the “proto-Filmation” canon – that is to say, elements that would influence the development of the Filmation cartoon, but were not identical to the world Filmation created. Some examples – Prince Adam exists, but is a more serious character and has a different costume. King Randor is also depicted as a much older man.
The tone remained somewhat serious throughout the second run of Alcala comics (perhaps with the exception of The Obelisk, written by Karen Sargentich). Some of the post-Alcala comics, illustrated by Larry Houston, were downright brutal:
After a few chaotic and frankly bizarre comics midway through the series (the mini comics for Leech and Mantenna spring to mind), the comics seem to settle into a predictable but solid rhythm and style, particularly when Bruce Timm was at the illustrator desk. The Filmation influence is present through most of the series, but the mini comics are often just a shade darker, with some actual action and violence (but almost never any real consequences).
The Dark Horse collection includes all eleven original Princess of Power minicomics, all of which were new to me. The first of POP comics, The Story of She-Ra, features a brief appearance by Hordak, but otherwise Catra is the main villain, and no other male members of the Evil Horde appear in the series.
These are tightly contained stories that for the most part focus on Princess of Power-branded characters. It’s an interesting alternative universe to the Filmation She-Ra series, which not only featured an almost complete line-up of Evil Horde villains, but regularly featured guest characters from He-Man’s world as well.
The Dark Horse collection also features all four original New Adventures of He-Man mini-comics (the short-lived sci-fi reboot that immediately followed the original line), a selection of two comics from the 2002 series, and three mini-comics from the modern Masters of the Universe Classics series.
The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who was responsible for much of the post-1982 cardback art on the original He-Man figures) is a fun story, because in it Skeletor witnesses first-hand Prince Adam’s transformation into He-Man. Perhaps more could have been done with Skeletor’s reaction to this revelation, but all the built-up subtext almost tells that story for you:
The collection features the one 2002 minicomic that fans were already familiar with, plus another featuring Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletor that was never released. The comics were written by Val Staples and Robert Kirkman, with artwork and colors by Emiliano Santalucia, Enza Fontana, Marko Failla, Neal Adams,Kevin Sharpe, Brian Buccellato, Steve Cobb, and Val Staples.
Finally, we get a taste of three minicomics from the 2009 Masters of the Universe Classics series. All three were written by Scott Neitlich and Tim Seeley (the first in the series was based on the vintage Powers of Grayskull mini comic written by Phil White and penciled by Larry Houston) and illustrated by Wllinton Alves and Michael Atiyeh.
Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection satisfies a need that had gone unmet for a long time among He-Man and She-Ra fans, but it also whets our appetite for more books along these same lines. Personally I’d love to see another collection comprised of full-sized MOTU comics and magazines from the 1980s to present day, not to mention a collection of the classic Golden Books adventures.