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Castle Grayskull in Box Art

As a kind of sequel to my post about Castle Grayskull in the minicomics, I’d like to turn to Castle Grayskull as it was depicted in the box art. It shows up less frequently than you might expect.

Although Rudy Obrero painted the box art for the first year and a half of the Masters of the Universe toyline, most of the pieces of box art that feature Castle Grayskull were painted by him. That makes sense, as the the time to most heavily cross-promote the playset would be around the time it was released.

Battle Cat (1982)

Rudy Obrero’s first piece for MOTU was actually for the Battle Cat packaging. Castle Grayskull really isn’t the star of this illustration. Most of the detail is saved for Battle Cat and He-Man, while the castle is half-shrouded in mist in the background.

Notice the barbarian warrior on top of the turret.

Most of Rudy’s depictions of the Castle generally follow the design of the playset However, this one is kind of a transitional piece, in between the prototype and the final toy design. It has the rounded teeth, full towers (these were shortened on the production playset) and red laser cannon of the prototype, but has lost the prototype’s tower ledge and “pawn” piece on the helmet. The “pawn” was actually present in Rudy’s original charcoal drawing (below). That indicates that some of the changes made to the castle happened while Rudy was still illustrating this piece.

Image via the Rudy Obrero Box Art Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

Castle Grayskull (1982)

The landscape around the castle seems to change with each depiction. In Battle Cat, it seems to be sitting in a valley. In the Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, the scenery is much more dynamic. The castle is surrounded by a deep chasm, seemingly filled with lava. We don’t get a good view of the ground directly in front of the castle, but it seems that the jaw bridge is the only thing making it accessible by land.

The castle itself is highly detailed, based on the playset but amped up with bigger teeth and a meaner looking face. It has the finalized laser blaster and flag designs. In my opinion this is probably the single most iconic piece of artwork ever done for the Masters of the Universe line.

Battle Ram (1982)

In Rudy Obrero’s Battle Ram illustration, the castle is is in the distant background. It has the general look of the version of Castle Grayskull that appeared in the Battle Cat illustration. In this instance, the castle is set some distance away from a deep chasm.

He-Man and Wind Raider (1982)

The castle is a bit more finely detailed in Rudy Obrero’s He-Man and Wind Raider illustration. It follows the general look and design of the Castle Grayskull packaging, but now the castle sits on a rocky, smoke-filled battlefield, with no hint of any trenches or chasms.

Wind Raider (1982)

Rudy Obrero’s Wind Raider illustration (below) is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it again seems based on Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, complete with oversized jaw bridge. In this scene one tower has been destroyed by He-Man’s Wind Raider anchor (remember at this point the castle was no one’s home base).

Finally, the Castle this time sits on small, rocky island in the middle of a lake (or so it appears). That’s significant because that’s the setting that designer Mark Taylor originally had in mind for the castle:

“The visible Castle rises above a fetid lake/moat inhabited with assorted exotic and dangerous flora and fauna, the castle extends seven levels/floors into the bedrock of the lake. Each level distorts reality (i.e., time and space) more than the one above. For example: the levels below the weapons storage room (armory) start with all the weapons that exists within one century each way from the present (MOTU time), the floor below that within five centuries years each way and so on.

“The Pit of Souls is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time, that also extends into the time and space continuum (probably a miniature black hole). The powers of the castle are linked to these evil captives. Skeletor and his minions would love them released but also fear their potential. One must be very careful when listening to their counsel because they are extremely clever and totally evil.

The elevator when properly programmed (secret code) drops into these descending levels, of course, with each level potential danger as well as power lurks… This is obviously not the Eternia envisioned by marketing at Mattel, it is my world of He-Man.”

 

Attak Trak (1983)

For whatever reason, Rudy Obrero’s Attak Trak illustration is a mix of influences. In most respects it looks very much like the playset, but at the top of the helmet it features the prototype “pawn” piece.

Location-wise, this looks like another rocky battle field, like the one in He-Man and Wind Raider or in Battle Cat:

Zoar (1983)

Rudy Obrero’s Zoar illustration has Castle Grayskull on top of a rocky hill. Design wise, it’s a very close match to Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration.

Skeletor and Panthor (1983)

This illustration by William Garland features a Castle Grayskull that very much resembles the way Rudy Obrero depicted it in Battle Cat. Garland, however, seems to prefer to set his battle scenes in the desert, with blowing clouds of dust everywhere.

Point Dread & Talon Fighter (1983)

This William Garland illustration features a mirror image Castle Grayskull – the tallest tower with the window is on the wrong side. It also seems to have the prototype “pawn” piece on top, and feature’s Garland’s usual desert location.

Panthor (1983)

Castle Grayskull is easy to miss on William Garland’s Panthor illustration. It’s off in the distance and it happens to face upward on the box.  The design and location of the castle are more or less identical to Skeletor and Panthor.

Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor (1984)

William George didn’t illustrate Castle Grayskull all that frequently, but when he did, he tended to put it on top of a mountain, often with a winding path leading to it. His castle generally follows the look of the playset, albeit with longer teeth.

Eternia (1986)

William George included both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain in his Eternia box art illustration. Interestingly, this version of the castle seems more closely based on the prototype than the playset. The castle seems to be set on a small hill rather than a mountain, but the winding road leading to it is still there.

Flying Fists He-Man & Terror Claws Skeletor (1986)

William George again sets his Castle Grayskull up on a mountain, although there is no path leading up to it this time. The face on the castle is a little compressed looking in this interpretation, with an upper jaw that seems to hang far out over the entrance.

 

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Castle Grayskull in Minicomics

This time around I’m going to take a closer look at Castle Grayskull as it appears in the minicomics. I won’t post a picture of every single appearance of the castle, just a representative sample from every issue it appears in. My focus will be on the exterior, especially the front.

There seem to be two primary influences on the way the castle was depicted in the minicomics – Mark Taylor‘s original prototype of the Castle, and the version Mark Texeira drew in the second series of minicomics in 1983.

Alfredo Alcala, who illustrated minicomics from 1982-1984, always patterned his drawings of the castle after the original prototype. Even when his character depictions evolved past early prototypes and started resembling their mass-produced counterparts, his Castle Grayskull never changed:

Mark Texeira did the pencils for the DC-produced second wave of minicomics. His version of the Castle has squared-off walls, a tall jaw bridge, and a skull that seems rather small in comparison to the rest of the castle. Ted Mayer described an abandoned attempt at sculpting Castle Grayskull by Mattel engineers that actually reminds me of the way Texeira’s castle looks. According to Ted:

Mark did the original sketch. That was then be sent to the sculpting department. When we saw their rendition, it was awful. It was a square castle, just like you would find in the English countryside! We made a fuss and it was sent back for revision. The second go round was almost as bad. As I remember, it was square with turrets on the corners, very symmetrical.

Somehow Mark persuaded the powers in charge to let him sculpt it. The sculpting department was pissed! Mark set up a board in his office and with a bunch of Chevaler sculpting clay, set about modeling it. I took turns helping him, even my nine-year-old son had a go. When that was finished it went back to sculpting for molding and engineering.

It makes me wonder if Mattel might have sent one of these discarded attempts to DC to use as a model. I don’t know for sure, but it’s an interesting thought. Note however that some versions of Texeira’s illustration seem just a bit closer to the actual playset than others.

From 1984 onward, the Texeira look seems to pop up quite frequently. Larry Houston seems to use that as a basis for his illustrations:

It continues to pop up in the 1985 wave of comics as well. One notable exception is Bruce Tim’s illustration in The Power of the Evil Horde. His seems like a mix of many different influences, from Filmation to Texeira to the actual playset.

 

Castle Grayskull sees its final minicomic incarnations with the 1986 series of minicomics. Here the depiction of the castle begins to mutate. While the Texeira influence still pops up here and there, we also begin to see an interesting interpretation from Jim Mitchell, starting with Escape From the Slime Pit. His castle has an almost mummified-looking face, without any of the sharp teeth of previous incarnations. In a way it comes around full circle to the Alcala depiction.

Bruce Tim gives us our final look at the castle in The Ultimate Battlegound, which follows the same look as his illustration for The Evil Horde.

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Battle Cat Box Art Scan

Rudy Obrero‘s Battle Cat packaging illustration was the first piece of box art done for Masters of the Universe, which I think affords it a special place among the myriad of other pieces of ingenious artwork created for this toyline. I would put it in my top three personal favorites (the other two being Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram, with the He-Man and Battle Cat giftset artwork coming in a close fourth). When it comes to MOTU box art, there is a great deal of amazing work to choose from. Rudy’s work is my favorite, but of course I also love the art of the late, great William George.

Rudy Obrero was hired by Mark Taylor to paint Frank Frazetta-like artwork for the fledgling Masters of the Universe toyline, and that feeling is perhaps most evident in the original Battle Cat illustration.

I shared the original scan several months back in another post, but I’ve since done some digital manipulation to remove the most obvious wear marks and the horizontal packaging fold that goes across Battle Cat’s legs. Enjoy!

More posts about MOTU box art: