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.
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:
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.
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.
Ornamental Bird Heads & Wings
Mark would frequently employ bird wings and bird heads as ornamentation on his designs.
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.
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.
In Mark’s early depictions of skull-faced places or characters, the faces are usually partially decomposed.
Mark would occasionally give his characters Skull ornamentation on their costumes, as shown in Mark’s pre-MOTU hero and in Ram Man, below.
Mark’s pre-MOTU warrior below, his pre-MOTU Skeleton villain, and Skeletor B-sheet all incorporate elements inspired by Roman baltea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A similar mace weapon appears with two unproduced Mark Taylor characters.
One of the most common features on Mark’s male figure designs are a series of regular “bolts” on costumes and shields.
Update: Artist and customizer Walter de Marco added another observation – repeating cylindrical shapes in Mark’s Man-At-Arms and Battle Cat designs:
The shield on Mark’s pre-MOTU Eternal Hero drawing shows up as the shield included with the Castle Grayskull weapons rack.
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.
- 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!