Heroic Warriors

He-Man – Most powerful man in the universe! (1982)

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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.

From Rudy Obrero's Castle Graykull box art illustration
From Rudy Obrero’s Castle Graykull box art illustration

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.

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Torak, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via the Toy Masters documentary sneak preview.

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:

Mark Taylor's Vikor, from the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Mark Taylor’s Vikor (actually Conan), from the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
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Conan doing battle with a giant lizard, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via The Art 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 mean time. 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 him 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.

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Roger Sweet’s “He-Man Trio”, late 1980

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:

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Roger has acknowledged that Mark Taylor designed the harness for his barbarian prototype. And if you look closely at the bracers on the center figure, you can see they come from Mark Taylor’s Torak character. 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.

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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:

Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog
mark taylor vykron illustration
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via The Art of He-Man

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. 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.

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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. 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 [1982] 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

The 1982 lineup
The first year of the Masters of the Universe line

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.

Source: Power & Honor Foundation
Source: Power & Honor Foundation
Image Source: Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. Note that this version has reduced horns on the helmet. Perhaps it’s a degraded copy of the original.

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:

Battle Ram mock up 2Battle Ram sketch

Incidentally, a helmet very similar to the one on the above prototype appears on the door to Castle Grayskull:

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Image source: Poe Ghostal

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:

Mark Taylor's He-Man B-sheet, March 3, 1981
Mark Taylor B-Sheet
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From the Mark Taylor Portfolio, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Colorized version from August 3, 1981. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Source: Power & Honor Foundation Catalog
Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

This version looks very close to the final production figure. The distinctive harness with the iron cross is back, but simplified and refined. 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.

Closer to final prototype
Closer to final prototype. Image source: He-man.us

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).

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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.

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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.

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Quick mock-up of the Power Sword with open cross guards

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.

Image source: James Eatock
Image source: James Eatock

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:

Final hand-painted prototype
Notice the unpainted bracers on the forearms – a cost-saving measure. From The Art of He-Man.

The cross sell art (below) is very true to He-Man’s finalized design, and so was likely created sometime after the final prototype:

hm cross sell large

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.

Reissue card art by Errol McCarthy
Art by Errol McCarthy, from The Art of He-Man

He-Man, first release Taiwan “8-back” packaging, 1982:

He-Man, second release Mexico “8-back” packaging, 1983:

He-Man, third release Taiwan “12-back” packaging, 1984:

1982 Taiwan loose figure (stamped 1981):

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As with all MOTU figures, there are some slight color variations depending on country of origin and date of manufacture. 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 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.

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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:

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Trade magazine advertisement, reusing a pose by artist Alfred Alcala in the mini comic, King of Castle Grayskull. Image via www.motucfigures.com

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:

  • He-Man/Battle Cat
  • He-Man/Wind Raider
  • He-Man/Jet Sled
  • He-Man/Skeletor
  • He-Man/Teela
  • He-Man/Teela/Ram Man

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.”

Strongest man

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:

battlecatart br artbook Castle Grayskull obrero artbook windraider high resolution

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.

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In the earliest Golden Books stories, He-Man again lacks an alter ego. He is simply He-Man, tireless protector of Castle Grayskull:

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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”.

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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.

filmation transformation

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:

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He-Man as he appeared in the Filmation cartoon
He-Man from the animated commercial. Image source: The Art of He-Man

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.

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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.

Savage Tales Featuring Conan the Barbarian July 1974 prince valiant star wars1 - CopyTarzan_(1948)_01 flash  frazetta

As Mark Taylor recently said:

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.

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Illustration by Earl Norem
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Illustration by Earl Norem
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Evil Warriors

Skeletor – Lord of Destruction! (1982)

Skeletor Graphic

Released with the first wave of characters in the original Masters of the Universe toy line, Skeletor would eventually become one of the most iconic and memorable villains of the 1980s.

Art by Rudy Obrero
Castle Grayskull box art by Rudy Obrero

I remember getting Skeletor along with He-Man, Beast Man and Man-At-Arms in 1982.  I hadn’t even heard of these figures before getting them as birthday presents. I don’t remember what toys I owned before that day, but the experience of opening and playing with these toys for the first time is permanently etched in my brain. Skeletor especially made a big impression on 5-year-old me. I’d never seen anything like him.

Like all the other first-wave MOTU figures, Skeletor was designed by Mattel artist Mark Taylor. Taylor’s 1979 drawing (before the MOTU line was first conceived) featured his He-Man-like character “Torak” and included a villain in the background who bears a striking resemblance to Skeletor:

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Torak, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via the Toy Masters documentary sneak preview.
Close-up of Skeletor-like villain, from The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Mark Taylor did another sketch, predating his work at Mattel, that informed his later Skeletor design. In the drawing below, we see a mummy-like character, complete with torn bandages. He has a decaying body and face, but he also has elements of the final Skeletor costume that are recognizable – most notably in the cross bones on his chest. From the crown and collar, he looks like some kind of undead king.

The sketch was recently found by Rebecca Salari Taylor (Mark Taylor’s wife). Of the sketch, she said:

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. I found a new stash of sketchbooks when they repaired our garage.

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor. Sketch by Mark Taylor.

The concept character who has come to be known as Demo-Man (1980) is often considered to be an early version of Skeletor, although according to designer Mark Taylor he is a separate character. While this Taylor design does feature a skeletal face, it otherwise bears little resemblance to Skeletor. In fact, Demo-Man seems more similar to Beast Man in many ways. It’s unclear what might have become of this character had he been further developed. His sword design seems influenced by the sword in the “undead king” sketch Mark did before coming to Mattel.

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The sinister Demo-Man

 

The B-sheet for “D Man” gives us the first look at a close to final and “official” Skeletor design. He retains the decaying face and general body shape and pose from the mummy sketch. His costume is much more recognizable as Skeletor, however, and he has his characteristic blue skin. He has the five-toed bare feet and yellow bat detail around his shin guards and chest armor that would later appear in the first minicomics. The head of the staff was meant to be attached via string and would have doubled as a flail.

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Colored version of Mark Taylor’s Skeletor concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

The D Man B-sheet was translated into a clay model by legendary Mattel sculptor Tony Guerrero. The paint details on the face were altered to the familiar yellow/green scheme, and the handle of the staff was left unfinished.

Guerrero Skeletor - Copy
Skeletor prototype, sculpted by Tony Guerrero. Notice his stance is very similar to both the concept art and the cross sell art. Image via He-Man.org
Skeletor’s prototype seems to built on top of the original He-Man sculpt. The leg musculature looks identical.

This design was highly detailed and would have required a lot of unique parts. Presumably to save money, Skeletor’s design was simplified and made more generic and reusable.

skel cross sell 2
Skeletor cross sell art

The cross sell art (above) seems to be the next step in Skeletor’s evolution, before the final toy. Skeletor was given legs that could be reused for Mer-Man, with three-toed feet and a more generic shin guard. Instead of the decrepit forearms, he was given unpainted gloved forearms that could be reused for Mer-Man (ironically Mer-Man would eventually lose the painted gloves, making this design change unnecessary). Other differences from the B-sheet include a wider “skirt” and a simplified bird motif on the belt.

Skeletor hand painted prototype
Skeletor hand painted prototype. The skirt piece seems to be broken and on backwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This final prototype (above two images) shows some further changes to the design. The boots were given a scaly, organic appearance, and the “gloved” forearms were made to look more ambiguous, as if they could either be gloves or bony protrusions. Again, this seems designed to make these molded parts fit with either Skeletor or Mer-Man. Interestingly, the armor seems to sit higher on the body than the final toy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first release of Skeletor featured the iconic “8-back” packaging. Reissues featured a scene on the card back of Skeletor looking rather sneaky, with Castle Grayskull in the background (art by Errol McCarthy].

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skel illustration card reissue
Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

The very first run of Skeletor figures had an error in the face paint. As Mattel marketing director Mark Ellis explained:

As with all large scale endeavors, screw-ups happen. After production was authorized, the factories started to turn out the characters in amazing quantities. I walked by Tall Paul’s office one day and he had a set of MOTU figures on his desk. I picked up Skeletor and noticed on his right cheek there was an orange mark. I asked Paul and he deduced that before the paint master was shipped to the factory, apparently it was moved or some stray color was accidentally added to make that orange mark. So Paul went down and got it fixed, but not before thousands and thousands were produced with that “error.”

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This was actually the version I had as a kid. I certainly didn’t see it as an error. When I re-bought Skeletor as an adult, none of the Skeletors looked quite right to me until I found the one with orange cheeks. I remember staring for hours at that face as a kid, memorizing every detail.

Early versions of Skeletor had half-painted boots, which were probably meant to represent shin guards. He also had purple shorts and a black belt. Later versions had fully-painted boots and black shorts (and of course the corrected face paint). The full boot version has traditionally been associated with the black shorts/corrected face, but I’ve also seen the orange cheeks version with black shorts and half boots:

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Below: corrected face paint with full boots and black shorts. Probably the standard version for most collectors:

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There are of course all kinds of international production variants as well, with subtle and not-so subtle differences from the initial Taiwan versions.

Skeletor was sold in a number of configurations, apart from the single-carded figure. I’ll t get into Skeletor variants in future posts (ie, Battle Armor Skeletor, Dragon Blaster Skeletor, etc), but the standard release Skeletor was available in the following gift sets:

  • Skeletor/Panthor
  • Skeletor/Screech
  • Battle For Eternia (Skeletor/Panthor/Man-E-Faces)
  • Evil Warriors (Beast Man/Skeletor/Faker)
  • He-Man/Skeletor (German set)
  • JCPenney Skeletor/Beast Man
  • JCPenney Skeletor/Mer-Man

You can explore what these gift sets looks looked like at the excellent Grayskull Museum site.

The box art for the sets featuring Skeletor with Panthor or Screech are particularly good. They capture the same Frazetta feel as Rudy Obrero’s artwork, but with a slightly different flavor. I include the single packaged Panthor art piece as well, because I like the artist’s depiction of Skeletor so much:

Skeletor Panthor hi resSkel screech best

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Battle For Eternia Giftset artwork. Image source: Tokyonever

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The Skeletor/Screech artwork was painted by Rudy Obrero, while the others were done by William Garland.

Skeletor was featured along with He-Man in this very early live-action commercial:

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most memorable depictions of Skeletor in any media was created by Alfredo Alcala, who did the artwork for nine MOTU mini comics, the Power of Point Dread comic book/record set, and the 1982 DC series (he is credited with the inks rather than the artwork for the DC series, but his stylistic influence is evident).

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Notice the body and clothing in the above illustration almost exactly match Mark Taylor’s b-sheet (this example is from the first mini comic, He-Man and the Power Sword). The face looks like a creepier, more ghoulish version of the vintage toy, however.

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This artwork from The Power of Point Dread (above) is based on the cross sell art, but again the design of the skull face is unique to Alcala.

Taylor wasn’t responsible for writing the back story for any of the characters, but he did have one in mind when he created Skeletor:

[Skeletor] is a corrupted super human. His father threw him into the “Pit of Souls” as a youth to eliminate him as a claimant to the throne (Grayskull). Years after, 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.

His stay in the demonic “Well of Souls” morphed his body and soul forever, before he looked very much like He Man. …. [His] hood is to help hide his glowing eyes and camouflage his distinct silhouette. It is made of the eyelid of a dragon that tried to kill him just after he emerged from the “Well”. [His armor] is made from the hide of an armadillo type monster that dared to defy him, it is tougher than steel.

[Skeletor] is the ultimate bipolar, from quiet malevolent to towering rage. … Not counting the time warp in the “Well of Souls” he is about 317 years old but he doesn’t celebrate birthdays… he never sleeps.

Taylor had no involvement in the production of mini comics, other than seeing them and approving them. The first official origin story (written by Don Glut) gave a simple but effective origin for Skeletor. He was an evil demon from another dimension, bent on stealing the power from within Castle Grayskull, and bringing more of his kind into Eternia. He was apparently brought into Eternia when the “Great Wars” ripped a hole between dimensions.

Don Glut origins
A dimension full of Skeletors!

Much later in the line, it was hinted that Skeletor was once Keldor, brother to King Randor, but the story was never fleshed out until the 2002 cartoon series.

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The Search for Keldor

Perhaps the most widely-recognizable look for Skeletor came from the Filmation cartoon series. Voiced to perfection by Alan Oppenheimer, Skeletor featured a stripped down, more humanoid design, and more angry-looking eyes than the original toy:

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There is a brief reference to Skeletor’s origins in the cartoon. In “The Greatest Adventures of All” VHS release, the Sorceress mentions that Skeletor is a demon from another dimension, which accords with the Don Glut story. (Thanks to both Jukka Issakainen and Dušan Mitrović for the information.) This idea is even more fleshed out in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin:

A new vitality soared through their veins as they woke their new bodies to the horrid laughter of Infinita’s remaining ruler — the evil, megalomaniacal, power-mad monster, SKELETOR.

Beneath his hood eyes peered at them from the dark sockets of his skull face and his voice rang hollowly from the recesses of his bony jaws. In his hand he grasped the black, ram-headed HAVOC STAFF. He knew they were the minions he needed to break the Space Portal seal so he could invade and conquer Eternia. On the other hand Evil-Lyn, Beast-Man and Tri-Klops recognized Skeletor as their device for wreaking vengeance throughout the universe.

Skeletor led them to his lair beneath the twin peaks of SNAKE MOUNTAIN. Around one of the crags twisted a terrible carved snake. A portal along the snake’s back until it reached the fanged mouth. Entrance here entrapped the incautious stranger for once a person stepped into the snake’s jaws they snapped shut thrusting the trespasser into almost inescapable dungeon.

A footbridge connected one mountain with the other where a blood red waterfall cascaded over crags, past blasted trees and murky swamps. Skeletor’s chamber hid behind BLOOD FALLS and only he knew its entrance, its traps and snares. The lair itself was a dark cavern dripping with venom. In one corner, its eyes blazing red, its tail twitching, sat Skeletor’s pet and charger, the giant cat PANTHOR. Its purple fur glistened as its muscles rippled when it stretched out iron claws from the mighty paws.

Skeletor waved his staff and a charge of energy sprang forth rolling back a huge boulder from one wall uncovering a screen. A wave of his hand and a picture swam into view — a picture of Eternia then that of King Randor and Marlena. At the sight of the former captain, the trio snarled and clenched their fists – and it wasn’t lost on Skeletor.

“I see you feel as I do. You’d like to invade Eternia and conquer it. My reasons are simple enough. Infinita can no longer sustain life.  We need Eternia’s air and food and I intend to take it by force. If you are with me we can accomplish our aim. But before we do we must break through the Space Portal sealed centuries ago against my ancestors. Once that’s done we’ll wipe out that simpering Eternian goodness and our dark powers will reign over all Eternia — over all the universe.”

In the animated commercial for the MOTU toy line produced by Filmation in 1982, Skeletor looked even more menacing than his later appearances in the show, with a more detailed design:

animated commercial2animated commercial1

 

 

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on Skeletor. I could cover all his appearances in the box art, or the different comic book depictions and characterizations, or all the advertising and merchandising related to the character, but this really would turn this blog post into a novella. And maybe that’s what you’d need to really do justice to the evil lord of destruction!

I’ll return to the topic another time when I discuss Skeletor variant figures. Perhaps I’ll also do a separate post just on Skeletor-related box art, with some more detailed pictures of packaging.

Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen and Dušan Mitrović for some corrections and guidance on this topic.

Catalogs

1983 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog

Here is the 1983 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog (or at least the portion relevant to the MOTU line). Intended for retailers, Mattel’s dealer catalogs showcased all the latest and greatest releases, along with existing merchandise. The catalog showcases all the 1982 items plus everything new for 1983. As we’ve seen in other catalogs, the “new” items tend to be hand-painted rather than final factory examples.

The new for 1983 lineup includes:

  • Ram Man
  • Man-E-Faces
  • Trap Jaw
  • Tri-Klops
  • Faker
  • Evil-Lyn
  • Panthor
  • Attak Trak
  • Point Dread and the Talon Fighter
  • Screeech
  • Zoar

01 02 03

Close up shots:

attak trak
Attak Trak
Hand-painted Evil-Lyn
Hand-painted Evil-Lyn
Panthor with a hand-painted, glossy saddle
Panthor with a hand-painted, glossy saddle
Panthor with Battle Cat and the 1982 vehicles
Panthor with Battle Cat and the 1982 vehicles
Ram Man, Man-E-Faces and Faker
Ram Man, Man-E-Faces and Faker
tk tj
Trap Jaw and a hand-painted Tri-Klps. Notice the lack of orange detail on the bracers
Zoar. Notice the green detail on Teela's armor.
Zoar. Notice the green detail on Teela’s armor.
Screech
Screech
Talon Fighter. Notice the lack of red spray paint in front of the cockpit, just like the cross sell art.
Talon Fighter. Notice there is no heavy red spray paint in front of the cockpit, just as depicted in the cross sell art.
Point Dread, Talon Fighter and story book with record. Point Dread appears to be hand painted.
Point Dread, Talon Fighter and story book with record. Point Dread appears to be hand-painted.

Source: Orange Slime

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