Lists

The top 20 posts of 2016 (and part of 2015)

The end of the year seems to be a traditional time for top 10 and top 25 lists. It seems like an American ritual to tabulate lists of the most popular things we did, said, ate or watched over the course of one trip around the sun.

I didn’t do this for 2015 (it would have seemed somewhat meaningless, as I didn’t start this blog until August of that year), so I thought I’d formulate the top 20 articles I’ve written to date (by number of views).

I’ll post them in ascending order of popularity. Try, if you can, to imagine this list read by David Letterman:

#20: 1982 Mattel Wish List

#19: Castle Grayskull prototype – a closer look

#18: Masters of the Universe Trademarks Timeline

#17: Masters of the Universe store display (1982)

#16: Panthor – Savage cat (1983)

#15: Battle Ram – Mobile Launcher (1982)

#14: Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

#13: Rudy Obrero: Heroic master of illustration

#12: Ted Mayer: Virtuoso of vehicle design

#11: Beast Man – Savage henchman! (1982)

#10: Mark & Rebecca Taylor on the origins of He-Man

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#9: Man-E-Faces – Heroic human…robot…monster! (1983)

#8: 1982 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog

#7: Mer-Man – Ocean warlord! (1982)

#6: Teela – Warrior goddess (1982)

#5: Faker – Evil robot of Skeletor (1983)

#4: Battle Cat – Fighting Tiger (1982)

#3: Castle Grayskull – Fortress of mystery and power (1982)

#2: Skeletor – Lord of Destruction! (1982)

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

And that’s the list! Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I appreciate all the kind support and encouragement from all the readers, and for all those who have contributed to my blog with information, images, and corrections. Special thanks to Mark, Rebecca, Ted, Rudy and Martin for taking the time to let me interview them. Here’s hoping for a great 2017.

Good journey!

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Evil Vehicles

Roton – Evil assault vehicle! (1984)

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Roton was a toy that, as a kid, I admired from afar, but was never able to own (at least until many years later). I remember very clearly going over to my friend Tyson’s house in first grade and being bowled over by his collection, which dwarfed mine. Among other things I got to see in person for the first time toys like Zodac, Stratos, and the amazing Roton.

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December 1, 1982 marks the earliest known mention of Roton, where it appears in the Masters of the Universe Bible. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the heroic warriors:

ROTON – when this vehicle’s in the fight, He-Man‘s enemies scatter, literally. He-Man rides atop the round vehicle which has a swiftly moving buzzsaw sipping around its center. Instead of blades, the buzzsaw’s blunted, club-like appendages sweep away anything or anyone in the way.

In a way, conceptually the Roton seems to have been merged with another early idea, called the Tornado Traveler (also from the MOTU Bible):

“TORNADO TRAVELER* – a wild, whipping flying craft which only Skeletor can control through the skies of both Infinita and Eternia. Whenever it appears it’s preceded by a violent windstorm.”

While the Roton seems to have been originally intended as a ground assault vehicle, its spinning blades make it look like it could plausibly fly, and so it was often depicted that way.

A couple of early concept drawings related to the Roton appear in The Power and the Honor Foundation‘s Catalog Volume One. Both are illustrated by Ed Watts.

The first is a Roger Sweet concept call the Gyro. This does not seem to be directly related to the Roton, as the drawing is dated September 17, 1983, and the Roton had its name set already in December of 1982 and the trademark filed on August 22, 1983. Still, the rotating blade concept is very similar.

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Gyro, by Ed Watts. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

This undated drawing by Ed Watts shows a Roton that bears close resemblance to the final toy, with some key differences. The color scheme is red and white. The design around the sides is in keeping with the look of the final toy, except the decals are simple triangular shapes. The face on the front is quite different, as is the design of the seat back. All in all this version looks much less monstrous. I would guess that at this point it was still intended to be a heroic vehicle.

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Artwork by Ed Watts. Image via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog Volume One

However, up until this point in the line (1984), there hadn’t been a single vehicle produced that was specifically intended for the Evil Warriors. Perhaps with that in consideration, the design was changed to make it look more sinister:

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Roton cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

The above cross sell art, which matches exactly the look of the final toy, shows what changes were made to make the Roton fit with Skeletor‘s crew. The vehicle was now black, with red blades. The face on the front became much more monstrous, and organic-looking spiny plates were added to the back side of the vehicle. The shape of the twin guns on the front was also overhauled.

William George did the packaging artwork for the Roton. In his illustration, the vehicle is cruising along the ground, as a lizard and a tiny demon-like creature look on. George often included little creatures like this in his artwork.

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Scan by Battle Ram Blog

The toy itself is relatively compact and simple. No batteries were required. You simply rolled it along the ground, and an internal set of gears would cause the buzz saw to rotate with a satisfying (or annoying, if you’re a parent) clicking sound. Of all the evil vehicles, this one seems to lend itself most to fleet-building. Like the Battle Ram, it works as a ground or air assault vehicle.


Monogram produced a model kit version of the toy, as they did for the Attak Trak and Talon Fighter. In the case of those two vehicles, Monogram based the models on early prototypes or concept drawings of the toys. I wonder if that isn’t also the case with the Monogram Roton. It looks closer to the final toy than the to the Ed Watts concept art, but there are a few differences as well, the canopy being the most obvious one. Larry Elmore did the packaging artwork:

Curiously, the Roton doesn’t show up once in the mini comics, while the Land Shark (released a year later) shows up in multiple comics across multiple years.

Errol McCarthy illustrated this scene of Skeletor “mowing the grass” in the Roton. I believe this was intended for use on a T-shirt:

The Roton makes some prominent appearances in Golden Books stories, including Dangerous Games, The Rock Warriors, Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, and The Magic Mirror:


The vehicle also plays a supporting role in the Lady Bird story, He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom (images via He-Man.org):

The 1985 German Masters of the Universe Magazine is mostly filled with toy photography, but it does include a short comic story, and the Roton is a formidable presence:

The Roton appears in the background of a few different posters by Earl Norem and William George:

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The Roton made several appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, although it was never a regularly used vehicle. The Filmation design is simplified for ease of animation, and its buzz saw has longer (but fewer) blades, but otherwise it’s fairly true to the toy design:
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Of all the evil vehicles produced for the line, the Roton is my favorite. You just have to take one look at it and you immediately get what it’s about and you feel sorry for any heroic warriors who have to go up against it.

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From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org
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From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
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From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.

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Reviews

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2015)

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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.

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Limited Edition printing of The Art of He-Man, with Castle Grayskull slipcover and exclusive artwork by Gerald Parel.

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.

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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.

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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):

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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:

page_6The 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.

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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.

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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.

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Turbosaurus, by Ed Watts. An early incarnation of Gigantisaur. Originally via The Power and the Honor Foundation.

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:

  • David Wolfram
  • Dolph Lundgren
  • Earl Norem
  • Eric Treadaway
  • Erika Scheimer
  • Gabriel de la Torre
  • Gary Goddard
  • Joe Ferencz
  • Larry Houston
  • Paul Dini
  • The Power and the Honor Foundation
  • Rob David
  • Scott Neitlich
  • Steven Grant
  • Val Staples
  • William Stout

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.

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Artwork by Earl Norem

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.

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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.

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Ralph McQuarrie’s Man-At-Arms

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.

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New Adventures of He-Man concept, by Martin Arriola

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.

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Concept 2002 He-Man, by Four Horsemen Studios. Image via The Art of He-Man.

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.

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Classics “Alcala” style Skeletor and prototype Demo Man

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.

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Modulok illustration for Masters of the Universe Classics, by Axel Giménez