Masters of the Universe Classics Mer-Man, released in April of 2009 and again as a blue variant in November of 2010, is still, for me, the best figure ever released in the Classics toyline. Part of that is certainly the painstakingly accurate reproduction of Mer-Man as he appeared in the vintage cross sell artwork, but part of it also is the shading and detail on the figure itself.
The main source material for the Classics Mer-Man (green version) is explicitly the vintage cross sell artwork. It’s nearly a perfect reproduction of that depiction, and a passion project for Eric Treadaway of the Four Horsemen. The details reproduced from the artwork include:
Color and shape of the gloves
Four-fingered hands, with open left hand
Bare feet with smooth, yellow shin guards
Yellow loin cloth
Yellow detail on face
Upward pointed fins on the head
Sculpted gills around the neck
Wide chest armor with enlarged spikes
More detailed sword (the Classics version is more detailed still than the source material)
The figure was augmented beyond the source material with some colored gems on the armor and some additional shading throughout the figure. There are some nods to the vintage figure as well. The most obvious one of course, is the second head, sculpted after the vintage figure, but also the green belt, which was featured on early releases of the 1982 toy.
It should be noted that in some respects the Classics vintage style head is somewhat less detailed compared to the original vintage head. The vintage head has fins that terminate in individual protuberances, while the fins on the Classics head are rounded at the ends, and more closely resemble ears.
There is one nod to the 2002 Mer-Man figure as well – the trident accessory. Of course the 2002 figure is also influenced by the vintage cross sell art, particular in the head sculpt:
The blue version of Mer-Man that came packed with Aquaman is supposed to resemble Mer-Man as he appeared in the earliest minicomics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. That version was based on early concept art by Mark Taylor and an early prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero.
The color scheme is similar to the minicomic version (blue skin, blue and yellow sword, full yellow boots), but it borrows wholesale the sculpt of the original green release of Mer-Man. It doesn’t have the unique boots, gloves, belt and other details of the minicomic/concept version, so it actually winds up looking like earlier versions of the cross sell artwork, which featured a blue-skinned Mer-Man:
This Mer-Man also has the green belt of the vintage toy. Note also that early concept art gave Mer-Man copper/gold/ accents on parts of his costume, which didn’t end up in the minicomic artwork.
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (published by Dark Horse, April 28, 2015) is a celebration of He-Man from his earliest known concept drawings in 1979 to his latest 2015 evolution in modern comics and toys (images below courtesy of Jukka Issakainen).
The focus of the book is primarily on artwork, although there is some time spent on toys. In many ways the Dark Horse book seems to take some cues from Mattel’s 2009 book, The Art of Masters of the Universe (a San Diego Comic Con exclusive). The 2009 book took a broad approach to the subject, starting with early concept artwork and moving on to cross sell artwork, box art, mini comics, the New Adventures of He-Man line, the 2002 He-Man line, the ongoing Masters of the Universe Classics adult collector line, and finishing up with some modern concept art for a potential rebooted line. The Dark Horse book follows the same general outline, but radically expands it with more than five times as much content.
The Art of He-Man was written by Tim and Steve Seeley and edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with contributions by Emiliano Santalucia, Joshua Van Pelt, James Eatock, Danielle Gelehrter, Val Staples, and others. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, from current and former insiders at Mattel to external collectors and experts, The Art of He-Man is able to delve deeper into the subject than the 2009 Mattel SDCC book, and expands the territory into areas like the 1983 Filmation cartoon and the 1987 live-action film.
By comparison, The Power and the Honor Foundation’s 2011 Catalog Volume One went into far greater depth on the subject of toy design, but stayed away from topics like packaging design, mini comics, and Filmation. Some of the artwork from both The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog and the 2009 Mattel book made it into The Art of He-Man, but by no means all of it.
Early on, The Art of He-Man was slated to be much shorter, capping out at 168 pages by the beginning of chapter 10 (thanks to Jukka Issakainen for the image and the reminder):
After I believe some extensive contributions from The Power and the Honor Foundation and others, the page count was radically increased to about 320 pages total:
The Art of He-Man starts things off with some tantalizing internal memos, most of them directly or indirectly related to the creation of He-Man. One notable exception is the December 24, 1981 memo from Mark Ellis looking into the creation of a generic male action figure line for use in licensed properties. The He-Man line had already been largely created by then, and the memo seems to favor a smaller scale line of figures.
If you’re familiar with my blog, it might not surprise you that the first chapter of The Art of He-Man is my favorite, as it covers early concept designs by Mark Taylor, Ted Mayer and Colin Bailey, as well as the first He-Man prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero. We also get to see a number of other concept drawings by Roger Sweet, Ed Watts, Mark Jones, James McElroy, David Wolfram and others. Quite a lot of the artwork in the sample below was contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation:
About 40 pages in, the book switches gears to packaging artwork, including figure and vehicle cross sell artwork, some of it blown up gloriously large. It’s here where I get a little frustrated at the limitations of printed media, as many of these images are heavily cropped.
At about 50 pages in, the book changes focus to concept artwork for unproduced toys like He-Ro, Turbosaurus, Rotary Man, Rhino Man, Torton, and others. Some of my favorites here are the Ed Watts concepts, which were also contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. Watts created some really imaginative vehicle and vehicle/creature designs in full color illustrations with background scenery included.
About 60 pages in the book begins to explore some of the painted packaging artwork that appeared on product boxes and cardbacks. We’re treated to a gorgeous, two-page spread of Rudy Obrero’s iconic Castle Grayskull illustration. We also see a great deal of artwork by prolific MOTU artists Errol McCarthy and William George. There is also the packaging illustration for Tyrantosaurus Rex artwork by Warren Hile, who painted several packaging illustrations near the tail end of the line.
At around the 70 page mark, the book changes focus to the vintage mini comics. I would say that this section had been rendered mostly redundant by the Dark Horse He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection (more on that in a separate article), but this section does feature some lovely blown up pages, as well as an interview with writer Steven Grant and illustrator Larry Houston.
Speaking of interviews, The Art of He-Man is peppered with them. Interviewed subjects include:
Gabriel de la Torre
The Power and the Honor Foundation
At the 85-page mark, the book switches focus to the subject of the Filmation He-Man series. It includes some lovely drawings from the early Filmation animated toy commercial, and development artwork and story boards for the actual series. One of my favorites is a page showing numerous early designs for Hordak. There is also included a replica animation cel and three printed backgrounds, so you can get a tangible lesson in the magic of traditional hand-drawn animation.
At 120 pages in, we turn to the subject of artwork from magazines, story books and posters. That means we’re treated to a number of large size images of artwork by the late, great Earl Norem, not to mention the fantastic William George.
Some 150 pages into the book, there is a smattering of miscellaneous subject matter, from the vintage DC comics, newspaper comic strips, Golden Books, coloring books, as well as some style guide and licensing artwork by Errol McCarthy.
At 175 pages, the book takes a very in-depth look at the 1987 Masters of the Universe motion picture, a topic not covered in the 2009 Mattel art book. This section is thick with interviews, draft scripts, and concept artwork by William Stout, Claudio Mazzoli and Ralph McQuarrie.
The subject turns to the New Adventures of He-Man some 200 pages into the book. We get to take a peek at early attempts to relaunch He-Man as a G.I. Joe-like military hero, before designers eventually moved toward a science fiction look for the most powerful man in the universe.
At 219 pages we finally move on to the 21st century, with a look at the 2002 reboot of Masters of the Universe. I remember at the time I did encounter the Commemorative reissues of the vintage toys (I bought one of the five-packs immediately when I saw it at Toys ‘R’ Us), but I somehow missed the entire 2002 relaunch.
We get some great concept drawings from the Four Horsemen, including depictions of many new characters who never made it into the toyline or the cartoon series. This section also covers the Mike Young Productions cartoon, with some lovely background art, as well as an extensive look at artwork from the MVCreations comic book series. I do like the Four Horsemen’s original concept He-Man, but I’m not as fond of the anime look and oversized weapons that are peppered throughout the 2002 line. On the other hand, I absolutely adore the line’s vision for characters like Stinkor, Leech, Mer-Man and Webstor. I also find the stories in the 2002 cartoon series more compelling than the original Filmation series, although I prefer the look of the original cartoon.
At about 250 pages in, we turn to the 2009 adult collector series, Masters of the Universe Classics. We to see some of the artwork that Rudy Obrero produced for the toyline (including his maps of Eternia and Etheria), as well as prototypes from Four Horsemen Studios. There are also maps, concept art, packaging artwork by Nate Baertsch and Axel Giménez. Tucked away in this section is also the original 1981 Wind Raider box art, which was used as a basis for the Masters of the Universe Classics version of the toy.
The last 20 pages or so are a hodgepodge of subjects, from mobile games to social media, modern DC MOTU comics and far-out, exploratory artwork.
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is practically mandatory reading for any serious He-Man fan, but I there’s I think it’s broad enough to appeal even to non-collectors who merely remember He-Man with fondness.
Several sections of the book have since been expanded into separate Dark Horse books, or else are in the works:
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection
He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – The Newspaper Comic Strips (Available February 14, 2017)
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – A Character Guide and World Compendium (May 16, 2017)
I hope that at some point we’ll see the subjects of vintage toy concept artwork and packaging artwork get the same treatment. The two topics could easily fill a couple of large volumes, and would be, in my opinion, required reading.
In my continuing quest to understand the history of the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline, I’ve put together the following timeline. It’s generally focused on toy design, drawing dates from concept artwork, internal Mattel documents, patent filings, trademark filings, and even the Masters of the Universe Bible. My goal here is to give readers a sense of how the He-Man toyline developed and evolved. I’ve also included a few dates gleaned from the CPI (Conan Properties International) vs Mattel court cases. I believe this will help put to bed the idea that He-Man started out as a Conan figure. While He-Man was certainly influenced by Conan as depicted by Frank Frazetta, the He-Man project predates Mattel’s work on the Conan property by some time.
I drew on a number of different sources in compiling this information. Those sources include:
This is by no means an exhaustive timeline. I included only those pieces of information that were dated in some way. That includes information from court cases that was assigned an approximate date, like an early 1981 date for Tony Guerrero’s He-Man prototype. That also means that undated material like Mark Taylor’s Demo Man concept or Roger Sweet’s Mekaneck concept are not included in the timeline. I could of course infer dates for this kind of material, but I wanted to avoid guessing and stick to known facts.
I also have stayed away from dates tied to media not directly related to toy production. There are many specific dates available for individual episodes of the Filmation He-Man cartoon, for instance, but that is really outside of the parameters of this particular project.
I have only included a few images of concept designs here – some of them appear in earlier posts in this blog, and almost all of them appear in the sources I drew from. Unfortunately it would not be practical to try to include all of them in this post.
Finally, I’ve included some names that were listed in the Masters of the Universe Bible. The Bible itself is dated December 1, 1982, which gives us an early (if not exact) date for at least the conceptual existence of characters like Orko (or Gorpo, as he was first named) and Jitsu (or Chopper).
1979 – “The King of Styx” concept, by Mark Taylor
1979 – Torak (He-Man) & early Skeletor concept, by Mark Taylor 1979 – First Castle Grayskull sketch, by Mark Taylor Aug 15, 1979 – Category Management Teams memo
May 22, 1980 – Fantasy Make Believe idea disclosure form, Roger Sweet June 11, 1980 – Male Action Figure attributes list September 8, 1980 – Figure Attributes list September 21, 1980 – Space/Monster/Fantasy Figures budgeted hours form, Roger Sweet November 3, 1980 – Megaton Man project request form, Roger Sweet Late November, 1980 – Work started on “He-Man trio”, Roger Sweet with Mark Taylor Mid-December 1980 – He-Man trio presented at Mattel Product Conference December 30, 1980 – He-Man Characters & Accessories idea disclosure form, Roger Sweet
Early 1981 – He-Man prototype, by Tony Guerrero 1981 – Bird Man (Stratos) concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Mer-Man concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Castle Grayskull concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Battle Cat concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Sensor (Zodac) concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Heroic Figure Battle Tester (Castle Grayskull combat trainer) concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Heroic Figure (He-Man) concept, by Mark Taylor 1981 – Heroic Figure (He-Man) battles plant monster concept, by Mark Taylor January 6, 1981 – He-Man Vehicles and Accessories idea disclosure form (modular vehicles), Roger Sweet January 23, 1981 – Drawing by Colin Bailey depicting Mark Taylor working on He-Man project, titled “Death of Mark Taylor From Night Visitation” March 30, 1981 – De-Man (Skeletor) concept, by Mark Taylor April 1, 1981 – Man-At-Arms concept, by Mark Taylor April 2 1981 – Tree Man (Beast Man) concept, by Mark Taylor April 6 1981 – He-Man (tan boots) concept, by Mark Taylor April 7 1981 – Battle Ram (tank treads version) concept, by Ted Mayer April 24, 1981 – Memorandum urging negotiation for Conan license May 3, 1981 – He-Man (red/yellow boots) concept, by Mark Taylor May 5, 1981 – CPI draft licensing agreement sent May 28 1981 – Female Warrior (Teela) concept, by Mark Taylor May 28, 1981 – Battle Ram control drawing, by Ted Mayer June 3 1981 – Sorceress concept, by Mark Taylor June 5 1981 – Battle Chariot concept, by Ted Mayer July 1981 – He-Man designed by this month, per CPI vs Mattel lawsuit July 14, 1981 – Memorandum discussing Mattel’s presentation of He-Man to Toys ‘R’ Us July 23, 1981 – September 21, 1981 – Tony Guerrero worked on Conan toys July 31, 1981– CPI and Mattel entered license agreement to manufacture toys based on Conan movie August 10, 1981 – Attak Trak mechanism patent filed (non-Mattel) September 16, 1981 – Mer-Man sword design concept, by Mark Taylor September 30, 1981 – “Proprietary Line Concepts” document (Megaton Man, Kid Gallant, Robin & The Space Hoods, Monster Fantasy/He-Man) November 28, 1981 – King of Castle Grayskull published per copyright records November 28, 1981 – He-Man and the Power Sword published per copyright records November 28, 1981 – The Vengeance of Skeletor published per copyright records December 21, 1981 – Castle Grayskull trap door mechanism patent filed December 14, 1981 – He-Man trademarked December 14, 1981 – Teela trademarked December 14, 1981 – Man-At-Arms trademarked December 14, 1981 – Stratos trademarked December 14, 1981 – Wind Raider trademarked December 14, 1981 – Battle Ram trademarked December 14, 1981 – Beast Man trademarked December 14, 1981 – Mer-Man trademarked December 14, 1981 – Zodac trademarked December 14, 1981 – Masters of the Universe trademarked December 21, 1981 – Battle Cat trademarked December 21, 1981 – Castle Grayskull Trap Door patent filed
1982 – Ram Man concept, by Mark Taylor 1982 – Gargo/Gargoyle dragon concept, by Mark Taylor 1982 – Man-E-Faces concept, by Mark Taylor January 1982 – Mattel requested termination of Conan license agreement January 15, 1982 – Castle Grayskull trademarked January 15, 1982 – Skeletor trademarked February 17, 1982 – Mattel introduces new “Masters of the Universe” toy line at Toy Fair March 1, 1982 – Possible debut of the He-Man toyline, based on rebate offer date in first mini comic March 4, 1982 – Attak Trak control drawing, by Ted Mayer March 23, 1982 – Attak Trak concept, by Ted Mayer April 14, 1982 – CPI and Mattel entered into a termination agreement May 21, 1982 – Trap Jaw concept, by Colin Bailey July 1982 – Wasp Man (Buzz-Off) concept, by Colin Bailey July 1982 – Lizard Man (Whiplash) concept, by Colin Bailey September 27, 1982 – Attak Trak trademarked September 27, 1982 – Man-E-Faces trademarked September 27, 1982 – Point Dread & The Talon Fighter trademarked September 27, 1982 – Ram Man trademarked September 27, 1982 – Trap Jaw trademarked September 27, 1982 – Zoar trademarked October 5, 1982 – Sultra (Evil-Lyn) concept, by Colin Bailey December 1, 1982 – Marlena Glenn (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – King Randor (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Tri-Klops (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Snake Mountain (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Panthor (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Prince Adam (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Sorceress (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Cringer (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Gorpo (Orko) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Delora (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Ram Man (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Spy Man (Mekaneck) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Bugoff (Buzz-Off) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Tri Trak vehicle (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Roton (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Faker (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Black Widow (Webstor) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Fang Man (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Chopper (Jitsu) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Tornado Traveler vehicle (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – War Sled (evil Battle Ram) (MOTU Bible) December 1, 1982 – Grinder vehicle (MOTU Bible) December 07, 1982 – King of Castle Grayskull copyright registered December 08, 1982 – He-Man and the Power Sword copyright registered December 28, 1982 – The Vengeance of Skeletor copyright registered December 10, 1982 – Tri-Klops trademarked
1983 – Dragon Walker concept, by Ed Watts 1983 – Snake Mountain packaging sketch, by William George 1983 – Dragon Walker with Land Shark packaging sketch, by William George January 21, 1983 – Evil-Lyn trademarked January 21, 1983 – Heroic Warriors trademarked January 21, 1983 – Evil Warriors trademarked February 16, 1983 – Panthor trademarked February 16, 1983 – Screeech trademarked May 23, 1983 – Prince Adam trademarked May 25, 1983 – Faker trademarked May 25, 1983 – Point Dread trademarked May 25, 1983 – Talon Fighter trademarked August 15, 1983 – Snake Mountain trademarked August 22, 1983 – Battle For Eternia trademarked August 22, 1983 – Buzz-Off trademarked August 22, 1983 – Clawful trademarked August 22, 1983 – Fisto trademarked August 22, 1983 – Jitsu trademarked August 22, 1983 – Mekaneck trademarked August 22, 1983 – Road Ripper trademarked August 22, 1983 – Roton trademarked August 22, 1983 – Stridor trademarked August 22, 1983 – Whiplash trademarked September 5, 1983 – Filmation He-Man cartoon debuts September 17, 1983 – Gyro (early Roton) concept, by Ed Watts September 19, 1983 – Spider Attack Vehicle (early Spydor) concept, by Ed Watts September 19, 1983 – Ball Buster (early Bashasaurus) concept, by Ed Watts September 22, 1983 – Zap ‘N’ Go Vehicle concept, by Ted Mayer September 26, 1983 – Dungeon concept, by Ted Mayer September 29, 1983 – Vehicle Launcher (very early Road Ripper) concept, by Ted Mayer November 18, 1983 – Masters Playset (two towers) concept, by Ted Mayer December 5, 1983 – Villain Playset (early Fright Zone) concept, by Ed Watts December 5, 1983 – Webstor trademarked December 8, 1983 – Flying Fists He-Man/Battle Armor He-Man concept, by Ted Mayer December 8, 1983 – Dragon concept, by Ed Watts December 8, 1983 – Dragon concept, without helmet, by Ed Watts December 29, 1983 – Mekaneck patent filed December 29, 1983 – Battle Armor He-Man patent filed
1984 – Mantisaur concept variations, for “New Ventures” 1984 – Jaws I, Jaws III, various unproduced vehicles concept, for “New Ventures” 1984 – Battle Armor Skeletor & Panthor packaging sketch, by William George 1984 – Dragon Blaster Skeletor packaging sketch, by William George January 10, 1984 – Dragon Walker patent filed January 27, 1984 – Battle Armor trademarked January 27, 1984 – Kobra Khan trademarked January 27, 1984 – The Fright Zone trademarked February 9, 1984 – Torton concept, by Ed Watts March 29, 1984 – Hordak concept, by Ted Mayer June 1, 1984 – Horned helmet warrior woman concept, by Ted Mayer June 6, 1984 – Modular Man (Multi-Bot) concept, by Ted Mayer June 7, 1984 – Horde Octopus Woman (Octavia) concept, by Ted Mayer June 13, 1984 – TM action figure concept, by Ted Mayer June 15, 1984 – Snout Spout (black and white) concept, by Ted Mayer June 18, 1984 – Walking skull vehicle concept, by Jim Keifer June 19, 1984 – Early Megator concept, by Ted Mayer July 6, 1984 – Chest cannon He-Man concept, by Ted Mayer July 6, 1984 – Multi-Bot concept, by Ted Mayer July 7, 1984 – Chest monster Skeletor concept, by Ted Mayer July 7, 1984 – Transparent Man (Roboto) concept, by Ted Mayer July 7, 1984 – Jester figure (Acrobad) concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Rotary Man (early Hurricane Hordak) concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Horde Mummy concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Vulture figure concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Stilt Stalkers concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Jet Sled (close to final) concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Helicopter accessory concept, by Ted Mayer July 8, 1984 – Claw climbing accessory concept, by Ted Mayer July 9, 1984 – Handsome concept, by Ted Mayer July 9, 1984 – Basher concept, by Ted Mayer July 10, 1984 – Megalaser concept, by Ted Mayer July 10, 1984 – Octavia (colored) concept, by Ted Mayer July 12, 1984 – Big Foot concept, by Ted Mayer July 12, 1984 – Snowman concept, by Ted Mayer July 12, 1984 – Tung Lashor concept, by Ted Mayer July 13, 1984 – Green witch concept, by Ted Mayer July 13, 1984 – Archer woman concept, by Ted Mayer July 13, 1984 – Snout Spout concept, by Ted Mayer July 13, 1984 – Masters Gigor concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Mantor (Mantisaur) concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Attak Pose Panthor concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Cyclo Marauder concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – War Wing parachute concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Monster Walker (snake mountain face), by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Fright Fighter concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Dart (Laser Bolt) concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Dungeon concept, by Ed Watts July 13, 1984 – Battle For Eternia game concept, by Ed Watts July 15, 1984 – Tyroar concept, by Ed Watts July 15, 1984 – Turbosaurus (early Gigantosaur) concept, by Ed Watts July 16, 1984 – Disc Blaster concept, by Ed Watts July 16, 1984 – Weapons Factory concept, by Jim Keifer July 22, 1984 – Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor packaging sketch, by William George September 10, 1984 – Grizzlor trademarked September 10, 1984 – Hordak trademarked September 10, 1984 – The Horde trademarked September 10, 1984 – Land Shark trademarked September 10, 1984 – Leech trademarked September 10, 1984 – Mantenna trademarked September 10, 1984 – Spikor trademarked September 10, 1984 – Spydor trademarked September 10, 1984 – Stinkor trademarked September 10, 1984 – Thunder Punch trademarked September 10, 1984 – Two Bad trademarked September 15, 1984 – Canyon Hopper concept, by Ed Watts September 18, 1984 – Motorized waking monster armor concept, by Ed Watts September 24, 1984 – Dragon Fly (Fright Fighter) concept, by Ed Watts September 29, 1984 – Transforming figure concept, by Ed Watts October 3, 1984 – Firepower Man (Rio Blast) concept, by Ed Watts November 13, 1984 – Land Shark patent filed November 23, 1984 – Bashasaurus trademarked November 23, 1984 – Night Stalker trademarked November 23, 1984 – The Evil Horde trademarked December 1, 1984 – Engine Man (Dragstor) concept, by Ed Watts December 11, 1984 – Conan Properties, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc. lawsuit December 14, 1984 – Battle Bones patent filed December 14, 1984 – Sy-Klone patent filed December 17, 1984 – Mantenna patent filed December 19, 1984 – Dragon Blaster trademarked December 19, 1984 – Modulok trademarked December 19, 1984 – Moss Man trademarked December 24, 1984 – Two Bad patent filed December 28, 1984 – Battle Bones trademarked
1985 – “The Slime Pit” finished painting, by William George 1985 – Hurricane Hordak pencils, by William George 1985 – Flying Fists He-Man pencils, by William George January 3, 1985 – Roboto patent filed January 3, 1985 – Thunder Punch He-Man patent filed January 4, 1985 – Bashasaurus patent filed February 5, 1985 – Wolf head Eternia concept, by Ted Mayer February 26, 1985 – Early Blast Attak concept, by Mark Jones March 29, 1985 – Seaman (Scubattack) concept, by Alan Tyler April 5, 1985 – Fright Zone puppet tooling method patent filed April 18, 1985 – Heroic Giant (Tytus) concept, by Alan Tyler June 14, 1985 – Laser Bolt trademarked June 14, 1985 – Terror Claws trademarked June 15, 1985 – Gyrattacker concept, by Ted Mayer June 17, 1985 – Flying Fists trademarked June 17, 1985 – Rattlor trademarked June 17, 1985 – Rokkon trademarked June 17, 1985 – Stonedar trademarked June 17, 1985 – Sy-Klone trademarked June 17, 1985 – Tung Lashor trademarked June 24, 1985 – Slime Pit trademarked July 8, 1985 – Spydor patent filed July 25, 1985 – Slasher/Punjab concept, by Roger Sweet September 4, 1985 – Triceratops (Bionotops) concept, by Mark Jones September 4, 1985 – Turbodactyl concept, by Mark Jones September 9, 1984 – Horde Slurb concept, by Mark Jones September 13, 1985 – Dragon Lord concept, by Alan Tyler September 13, 1985 – Sorcerer concept, by Alan Tyler September 13, 1985 – Steel Kill concept, by Alan Tyler September 13, 1985 – Laser Bolt patent filed September 16, 1985 – Secrets of Grayskull “New Notes” document (Grayskull Tower, King Hiss, etc.) September 22, 1985 – Early Jet Sled concept, by Ted Mayer September 25, 1985 – Horde Trooper patent filed September 27, 1985 – King Hiss patent filed September 27, 1985 – Megalaser patent filed October 4, 1985 – Fright Zone patent filed October 11, 1985 – Hurricane Hordak patent filed October 17, 1985 – Secrets of Grayskull Preliminary Story Background Eternia, King Hiss, etc.) November 4, 1985 – Medusa-Man (Snake Face) concept, by David Wolfram November 12, 1985 – Horde Trooper trademarked November 12, 1985 – Mantisaur trademarked November 12, 1985 – Multi-Bot trademarked November 12, 1985 – Snake Men trademarked November 12, 1985 – Snout Spout trademarked November 21, 1985 – Tyrantisaurus concept, by David Wolfram November 26, 1985 – Crack-Pot (Blast Attak) concept, by Richard Lepik December 6, 1985 – Streak concept, by Alan Tyler December 12, 1985 – Blasterhawk trademarked December 16, 1985 – Evil Giant (Megator) concept, by Alan Tyler
January 9, 1986 – Extendar trademarked January 9, 1986 – Rio Blast trademarked January 14, 1986 – Rokkon/Stonedar patent filed March 15, 1986 – Comet Warriors trademarked March 21, 1986 – Battle For Eternia (game) trademarked March 21, 1986 – Fright Fighter trademarked March 24, 1986 – Stilt Stalker trademarked May 14, 1986 – The “Multiples” (heroic) concept, by James McElroy June 9, 1986 – Tower Tools/Cliff Climber/Scubattack mechanism patent filed June 14, 1986 – Sticky Minions concept, by James McElroy June 14, 1986 – Spider People Centipede concept, by James McElroy June 15, 1986 – The Multiples (evil) concept, by James McElroy June 16, 1986 – Recording Sound Playset concept, by James McElroy June 18, 1986 – Spider People Tarantula concept, by James McElroy June 20, 1986 – The Lockers concept, by James McElroy June 20, 1986 – Skeletor Dragon Disguise concept, By James McElroy June 20, 1986 – The Slime Monster concept, by James McElroy June 20, 1986 – Gwildor concept, by Alan Tyler (based on movie designs) June 29, 1986 – The Optimagic concept, by James McElroy June 30, 1986 – The Voice concept, by James McElroy June 23, 1986 – Rotar/Twistoid patent filed June 23, 1986 – Eternia trademarked June 23, 1986 – Grayskull (figure) trademarked (cancelled) June 23, 1986 – Jet Sled trademarked June 23, 1986 – Monstroid trademarked June 23, 1986 – Buzz-Saw trademarked June 23, 1986 – Mosquitor trademarked June 23, 1986 – Sorceress trademarked June 23, 1986 – Meteorbs trademarked June 23, 1986 – Cometroid trademarked June 23, 1986 – Ty-Grrr trademarked June 23, 1986 – Astro Lion trademarked June 23, 1986 – Comet Cat trademarked June 23, 1986 – Tuskor trademarked June 23, 1986 – Dinosorb trademarked June 23, 1986 – Crocobite trademarked June 23, 1986 – Rhinorb trademarked June 23, 1986 – Orbear trademarked June 23, 1986 – Gore-Illa trademarked July 9, 1986 – Giant Foot Print Trap concept, by James McElroy July 9, 1986 – Net Trap concept, by James McElroy July 13, 1986 – Gyrattacker patent filed September 16, 1986 – Blast Attak patent filed September 22, 1986 – Bionotops trademarked September 22, 1986 – Gigantisaur trademarked September 22, 1986 – Powers of Grayskull trademarked September 22, 1986 – Tyrantisaurus Rex trademarked October 1986 – He-Man military pitch, by Stephen Lee October 6, 1986 – Eldor trademarked October 6, 1986 – Rotar trademarked October 6, 1986 – Turbodactyl trademarked October 6, 1986 – Twistoid trademarked October 6, 1986 – Tytus trademarked October 7, 1986 – Blast-Attak trademarked October 7, 1986 – Gwildor trademarked October 14, 1986 – Cliff Climber trademarked October 14, 1986 – Scubattack trademarked November 17, 1986 – H.E./M.A.N. concept, by James McElroy
1987 – Megator concept, based on Mark Taylor’s Demo-Man, colored by Mark Jones April 27, 1987 – Saurod trademarked April 27, 1987 – Megator trademarked May 18, 1987 – Laser Power He-Man drawing, by David Wolfram May 18, 1987 – Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor (early Laser-Light Skeletor) concept, by David Wolfram June 22, 1987 – Regular Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor (early Laser-Light Skeletor) concept, by David Wolfram
Thanks to Shawn for pointing me towards the CPI vs Mattel material.
He-Man was released with the first wave of action figures in the 1982 Masters of the Universe line. But for a simple, relatively unadorned action figure, He-Man has a complex and storied history. His origins are the subject of much controversy, and frequently discussed lately in the wake of the recent Toy Masters documentary and the Dark Horse Art of He-Man book. I can’t definitively settle those controversies, but I will attempt to present the key facts as I understand them in the development of the most powerful man in the universe.
Design & Development
The earliest known artwork related to He-Man is a 1979 drawing by Mattel artist Mark Taylor. When Taylor was hired at Mattel, he initially did packaging design for the Barbie line. In his free time he would sketch the kinds of fantasy heroes he had been interested in since he was a child. He was influenced by Tarzan and Prince Valiant comic books, as well as the artwork of Frank Frazetta and the various artists featured in Heavy Metal magazine.
In this 1979 sketch (above), Torak certainly looks the part of He-Man. The facial features, determined expression and blond hair are all very familiar. The leather strap around his chest almost looks like half of what would eventually be He-Man’s distinctive chest harness. There is even a villain in the background who resembles Skeletor.
Update: Emiliano Santalucia of The Power and the Honor Foundation has learned that the character known as Vikor, commonly thought to be an early He-Man concept, was in fact Taylor’s sketch for the aborted Mattel Conan line. In retrospect perhaps it should have been obvious – he looks very much like the classic Conan character, and not much like any version of He-Man:
As Taylor tells the story, Mattel was looking for a new boy’s action figure line that could be produced without paying licensing fees to a third party. The company had passed on making Star Wars toys, and of course Star Wars had become enormously successful in the meantime. Mattel’s existing boy’s lines (Clash of the Titans, Battlestar Galactica and Flash Gordon) could not compete with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. As part of the initiative to create a new male action figure line, Roger Sweet (a designer at Mattel), used some of Mark Taylor’s drawings to assist in developing a pitch for a new line of action figures. For a presentation to Mattel CEO Ray Wagner, Sweet created three rudimentary action figures, which were really Big Jim figures packed with extra clay muscles. In Roger’s concept, the character could be a generic hero, outfitted with science fiction, barbarian or military costumes, and would have access to science fiction vehicles.
As you can see, a recognizable version of the final He-Man harness is present on the center figure, which has come to be known to fans as Vykron:
Roger has acknowledged in a podcast interview (Masters of the Universe Chronicles) that Mark Taylor designed the harness for his barbarian prototype, including the inclusion of the Templar cross. And if you look closely at the bracers on the center figure, you can see they come from Mark Taylor’s Torak character. The helmet also comes from another Mark Taylor design from the 1970s. This fits with statements by both Mark Taylor and Ted Mayer that Roger’s model was based off of Mark Taylor’s designs. Of the three 1980 prototypes, it was the barbarian-themed figure that was green-lit by Ray Wagner for further development.
Mark Taylor also drew a couple of illustrations in 1981, apparently based on the prototype (in turn based on Mark’s designs). The harness in these drawings was even closer to the final toy design:
Still, Roger Sweet has been claiming for many years that he designed He-Man:
“What I always say is, I originated and named He-Man, and originated the general concept of the Masters Of The Universe. I constructed three prototype figures at nine and a half inches, which I first showed at a product conference at Mattel in late 1980. These three prototype figures brought He-Man into existence. They were all of He-Man in different themes and configurations. One had a barbarian theme from the ancient past (low tech), another had a current military enhanced theme (mid tech), and the other one had a futuristic military, a la Star Wars, enhanced theme (high tech), showing that He-Man can go anywhere, and do anything, at any time, in any theme. These figures were nine and a half inches tall, and the figures in the line from 1982-87 were five and a half inches. But I knew if I showed these figures at the height they ended up being, I would have a very poor chance of selling the concept, so I made them very tall, huge, and very impressive.” – Roger Sweet
As far as Roger Sweet’s barbarian prototype goes, the harness appears to be the only element on the sculpture that is unique to the final He-Man’s design. And as we’ve already learned, it was Mark Taylor, not Roger Sweet, who designed the harness. It appears, moreover, that the entire costume was designed by Mark Taylor. Roger appears to have been the sculptor, not the designer (later, finer sculpts were done by Tony Guerrero). Sweet has based his claim to creating He-Man on this prototype, but it’s hard for me to see how Sweet can be given any credit for the design of He-Man.
Based on all available evidence, it is my opinion that Mark Taylor is the principal and primary designer of He-Man, with some ancillary contribution and input from many others at Mattel. In fact, the whole 1982 lineup was almost entirely designed by Mark Taylor, with help from Ted Mayer on the vehicles. The toyline was really Mark’s vision, at least for the first year of its existence.
As far as I can tell, Roger Sweet’s contributions to He-Man (the figure) were primarily as follows: the name itself, and the “power punch” action feature, and the idea to exaggerate the musculature (as Roger often says, he wanted He-Man to make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a wimp). Roger Sweet’s more significant contributions to the Masters of the Universe toyline seem to have come later, with figures like Tri-Klops, Mekaneck, Webstor, Kobra Khan and others. We have Sweet’s concept drawings for most of those figures, but all the concept artwork for He-Man and other figures released in 1982 comes from Mark Taylor.
“When I first saw the  Masters of the Universe line all together I thought it was somewhat weak because it was low-tech and it was conservative. My concept of MOTU was that it combined everything- low-tech, high-tech, past, present and future. I wanted MOTU to be as expansive as possible and do anything that was appealing. I would love to see a G.I. Joe segment in MOTU. I wouldn’t mind seeing a character like [Child’s Play] Chucky in it.
“In other words, anything could go into it. When I became the manager in charge of creativity for the line in 1983 I worked real hard to change that.” – Roger Sweet
Rudy Obrero, the freelance packaging artist behind the artwork for the earliest MOTU product boxes (Castle Grayskull, Battle Cat, Wind Raider, etc), described his working relationship with Mark Taylor:
I don’t remember the conversations [with Mark Taylor about the MOTU line] but I remember the feeling I got. I left there thinking this guy is really into it. He’s really into this. And that’s why I always thought he created it. It just felt like it was his baby.
This 1981 model (above) by the late Tony Guerrero is closer to the final He-Man design in some ways. The bracers and belt now look very recognizably He-Man, as does the belt/loin cloth. I’m not sure if this was meant to have a harness put over top it or not, but I would assume that it did.. A cast of this sculpture appears in early prototype pictures of Ted Mayer’s Battle Ram vehicle, as well:
Incidentally, a helmet very similar to the one on the above prototype appears on the door to Castle Grayskull:
The horned helmet stuck with He-Man until very late in his development. It appears in several versions of Mark Taylor’s B-sheet for the character, including an early colorized version dated April 6, 1981, and a later recolored version dated August 3, 1981:
This version looks very close to the final production figure. The colors have been made brighter to be more appealing to children. The shield looks close to the final version.
A prototype (below) was sculpted based on the 1981 B-Sheet. Most of the elements from the B-sheet are there, with the notable exception of the horned helmet. This version is also missing the bracer on the left wrist and the boot knife. Perhaps the left bracer is missing because its presence on the B-sheet was obscured by the shield.
Mini comic artist Alfredo Alcala probably used both the B-sheet and the above prototype as a reference, because his earliest depictions of He-Man have specific elements from both (notably, the knife in the boot, the two-tone boots, the belt, the occasional lack of a bracer on the left wrist, and the shape of the axe).
Another view of the close to final prototype appears in this photo (courtesy of Ted Mayer) of an early version of the Wind Raider. In this image, the detail on the right forearm bracer is more evident. From this angle, it looks like the harness is a part of the chest sculpt, although it’s difficult to say for sure. It’s also clear that the cross symbol on He-Man’s chest is also more raised than the final toy.
Update: More views of this early prototype have recently surfaced in these promotional images shared by Andy Youssi. These images include He-Man’s prototype axe:
Mark Ellis, who was in charge of marketing for the fledgling MOTU line, explains some of the changes to He-Man’s design:
Preliminary Design did the original figure for the theme test, one of which was the barbarian. After the research came back on the theme, work began on developing the line. Engineering and the art departments took over the development of the characters. Each character was modified a few times, each time being a little less barbarian and finally to what was produced. In developing the original line, you have to remember that we were introducing it without the benefit of a movie, comic character, or TV show. It was on its own. From the Usage Research, kids when they are 5 and 6 want to know if the character is good or bad. So over time, changes were made to make He Man more clearly good and Skeletor and his cronies made to look quite different from the good guys. I do remember changing He Man’s hair to be blond because my boss had blond hair. I had a chart on my office wall to keep track of who was who, and what their special powers were so that everything we did in the commercials and packaging was consistent.
You might have noticed that every version of He-Man we’ve seen so far lacks the iconic power sword. The sword seems to have been an added later as a marketing consideration, according to Ellis:
I will say that at Mattel, we were careful to make sure the sword fit into the characters hand. An idea was proposed when we were doing the television commercial for the line that involved a split sword. That is why He Man’s and Skeletor’s swords fit together. We later dropped that idea in the development of the commercials.
I’d also like to note that the upward-curved cross guards on the sword were meant to be open, as in the Alfredo Alcala artwork (below). But it appears that strengthening connectors were added to the cross guards because the plastic used was so flexible. So the ends of the cross guards were often depicted in media as being fused together, especially in the Filmation cartoon – an interesting accident brought about by engineering and safety considerations.
According to designer Mark Taylor, the upward curved cross guards were actually meant to be handles, as you turned the sword like a key to open Castle Grayskull. In his view of the He-Man mythos, He-Man would have inherited one half of the sword from his ancestors, and the Skeletor would have inherited the other half.
It was recently pointed out to me by Dušan Mitrović that there is an early Filmation drawing that features the half sword concept. The split sword idea was dropped before the show went into production.
This final, hand-painted He-Man prototype (below) brings all the refinements and changes (many driven by market research) into the final iconic look for the most powerful man in the universe:
The cross sell art (below) is very true to He-Man’s finalized design, and so was likely created sometime after the final prototype:
He-Man was first packaged on the sought-after “8-back” card. Reissued versions featured an amazing scene on the back of the card of He-Man, Teela and Man-At-Arms gazing out over the rolling hills of Eternia, vigilant for any signs of Skeletor. My favorite version is the reissued “12-back” card, because it features that artwork.
The first He-Man 8-back release figures were made in Taiwan. The version below is the very first release, which you can tell because it has no warranty information listed on the back, no subtitles for the character names, and no batch number (ie G1, G2, G3, and so forth):
He-Man, Mexico “8-back” packaging, 1983, with warranty:
He-Man, Taiwan “12-back” packaging, 1984:
Early versions of the 1982 made in Taiwan loose figure (stamped 1981) have a sculpted belly button, which disappeared from the figure starting in 1983. I believe the earliest versions have somewhat blue-ish gray accessories, while subsequent versions have more of a flat gray color.
The belt color ranged from an orange-salmon color to more of a mustard yellow. His hair color could be subdued or quite bright. I won’t explore production variants in depth in this particular blog post.
One of the things that really captivated me about He-Man as a kid, aside from his powerful appearance and striking but simple design, was his face sculpt. It wasn’t a handsome face. He had very strong cheekbones and muscular jaws. Depending on the angle, his expression could go from a grimace to a smile. It’s really a remarkable face, and a testament to the great skill of Tony Guerrero.
He-Man in Action
Some photos and a short video of He-Man in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:
He-Man and his early compatriots were an instant success. Even before the debut of the Filmation cartoon, the Masters of the Universe line sold five million figures in its first 10 months:
He-Man, as a toy, was sold in a number of configurations, apart from the single-carded figure. I won’t get into He-Man variants (ie, Battle Armor He-Man, Thunder Punch He-Man, etc) for now. But the standard release He-Man was available in the following gift sets:
You can explore what these items looked like at the excellent Grayskull Museum site.
An interesting side note. In early materials He-Man is referred to as “Strongest man in the universe” rather than “Most powerful man in the universe.”
He-Man appeared in most of the box art produced for the MOTU line. My favorite depictions of He-Man in box art tend to be the Rudy Obrero pieces. I’m also quite fond of William George’s depictions, but I’ll get into his artwork in another post when I discuss Battle Armor He-Man:
He-Man’s origin story changed dramatically over the first few years of his existence. In the Alcala/Glut mini comics, he was a jungle warrior who had been gifted by the Sorceress/Goddess with some powerful weapons and artifacts. His harness acted as a force field and amplified his strength. He-Man was strong but he couldn’t move mountains. He could be overpowered by enemies like Beast Man or Mer-Man, if he wasn’t careful. He-Man was always He-Man in this continuity – there was no Prince Adam.
In the earliest Golden Books stories, He-Man again lacks an alter ego. He is simply He-Man, tireless protector of Castle Grayskull:
In the 1982 DC Comics series, the alter ego of Prince Adam was introduced for the first time. This Adam (dressed in a blue vest) could only transform into He-Man by entering the “Cavern of Power”.
By the time the Filmation cartoon debuted in 1983, Prince Adam was sole keeper of the power sword (in other canon it was often hidden in obscure places or guarded by the Sorceress), and he used it to summon the power of Castle Grayskull and transform into He-Man. He was warrior with immense, almost limitless strength, but he had an aversion to violence except as a last resort.
In the Filmation cartoon, He-Man’s design was noticeably softened. He lost the rectangular elements on his harness and the detail on his bracers and belt. But in the Filmation-produced commercial, He-Man retained the details of the vintage toy:
As the protagonist of the MOTU line, He-Man was of course featured prominently in almost all marketing materials for the line, including catalog images and television commercials:
He-Man captured the imagination of a generation of children, from 1982 until the demise of the Masters of the Universe line in 1988. He was a bit of a contradiction, though. He tapped into the primordial barbarian fantasy worlds that were so popular during the 70s and early 80s (Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, etc), but he also had a heart and was a good role model for children. And despite the fact that he wore furry shorts and rode a giant tiger, he would also pilot fantasy vehicles and fight opponents armed with laser canons.
Equal parts Conan, Trazan, Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant, He-Man was derivative of dozens of disparate but iconic characters. But He-Man also transcended those influences and became something much more. Would it be at all plausible to say that He-Man represents some kind of unconscious primordial image – a Jungian archetype? Maybe that’s taking things a bit too far. But then again, maybe not.
Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. Joseph Campbell’s concepts about myths and legends and icons are ingrained in all artists’ mentality. If you’re going to tell a story, you need to understand Joseph Campbell.
As an artist it’s always been integral to me to tell the story. Even if I’m doing something that you wouldn’t think has a story to it, like a painting, I have to feel that I’m telling a story.
I think I got this [idea of what a hero is] by looking at Greek literature and Tarzan and Prince Valiant. I would read it with my dad, which was really important, and I wanted to be the next hero. And at the same time I was kind of fascinated with the idea of Cro-Magnons and Vikings. They would just go into battle with almost no armor on. They went into battle, and so did the Greeks and so did all the heroes. A hero doesn’t need a lot of armor. To me the hero is the guy that is willing to go out there and just do it no matter what. His job is to prevail.