Reviews

Rudy Obrero & Errol McCarthy portfolios

I haven’t had as much time as I’d like for writing blog posts lately, so I’ve tried to focus more on toy features than reviews of current offerings related to the vintage toyline. However, I would like to give a quick review of two portfolios from two of my favorite artists – Rudy Obrero and Errol McCarthy.

Produced by The Power and the Honor Foundation in collaboration with Super7, the portfolios consist of large, high definition prints of the artwork used on the original packaging. In Errol McCarthy’s case, it was the artwork used on the back of carded figures, starting in 1983, when the cardbacks switched away from the “8-back” format. In Rudy Obrero’s case, it was packaging for playsets, vehicles and beasts, starting at the beginning of the the line in 1982.

The quality and presentation is very similar to the Mark Taylor portfolio that was released in the fall of 2016. On the back of both portfolios we get a nice photo and biography of each of the artists:

Rudy Obrero‘s portfolio comes with the following pieces:

Rudy is my favorite artist to work on the Masters of the Universe toyline, so this set is particularly dear to me. The chance to have nice crisp versions of Rudy’s Frazetta-like interpretation of these characters on one’s wall is not to be missed. The inclusion of the original charcoal artwork for Battle Cat (the first piece of box art done for the toyline) is the icing on the cake. The original is owned by Eamon O’Donoghue, so we have him to thank that this piece is included in this collection.

Note that in the charcoal drawing, He-Man’s pose is different from the final illustration in oils, and Castle Grayskull has the “pawn” piece on the top from the original prototype.

If you check out part one of my feature on MOTU box art, you might notice that there were some changes made to some of these pieces when they were printed on the actual packaging. The most obvious is Battle Ram – the image was reversed and lightened for the packaging. He-Man and Wind Raider, Castle Grayskull, and Battle Cat were also lightened and color shifted.

This particular portfolio does not include any of the illustrations Rudy did for toys that came out in 1983 – perhaps they will appear in a future collection.

Errol McCarthy’s portfolio is of a more uniform size – the cardback illustration dimensions were all equally proportioned, while the box packaging was not. The McCarthy portfolio, like Rudy Obrero’s portfolio, focuses on the first year of the toyline. However, it also includes two pieces that were produced for 1983 and 1987 (Evil-Lyn and Faker, respectively). Faker was actually released in 1983 (or perhaps early 1982), but his original release featured the 8-back card. His re-release in 1987 featured the artwork included in this portfolio. Perhaps Errol’s illustration was done earlier, but not used until 1987 – I’m not certain.

Update: Miguel Ángel in the comments confirms that the Faker artwork was indeed done much earlier than 1987. Thanks Miguel!

In Argentina, the 8-back blisters never came into use. The figure of Faker was always packed with the blister that had the illustration of Errol McCarthy in the reverse and went on sale between December of 1984 and January of 1985. Obviously, that illustration of McCarthy about Faker already existed in 1984 and I dare to say that it was created in the same stage that the artist made those others for the 8 initial characters and those that would join them in the second wave … With the intention to relaunch and / or re-pack Faker in 1983, as with the other 8 of 1982? I would say yes, although for some reason that would only take place in 1987. The illustration itself, however, was much earlier.

Errol McCarthy’s portfolio comes with the following pieces:

Errol McCarthy is another one of my favorite MOTU artists. His vision for Eternia, like Rudy Obrero’s includes plenty of rocky and volcanic looking landscapes. But he also has some cleaner, more familiar looking locations that speak to me as well. In fact, two of my favorite pieces are Teela and He-Man, which place the characters in a region with windswept, rolling hills.

Errol McCarthy was perhaps the most prolific Masters of the Universe artist. He not only did artwork for cardbacks through the life of the toyline, he also produced quite a lot of illustrations for merchandising and marketing purposes. I suspect if there was enough interest, there could be at least another 10-20 portfolios of his work.

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Reviews

MasterEnglish Customs Red Beast Man

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Image source: MasterEnglish website

I recently purchased my first custom action figure by MasterEnglish customs. As a rabid fan of the early Masters of the Universe minicomics (particularly those illustrated by Alfredo Alcala), his take on the first appearance of Beast Man inspired me to sell off a few things so I could add this savage brute to my collection.

Early appearances of MOTU characters in minicomics often draw from unfinished concept art or prototypes. Often minicomics and toys were being developed simultaneously, and there was no time to go back and modify minicomics after the toy had undergone significant changes.

In Beast Man’s first appearance in He-Man and the Power Sword, he is colored entirely red, with the exception of the yellow medallion on his chest, as well as his teeth, eyes and claws.

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That’s reflective of earlier iterations of the design, which were also dominated by red.


However, by the time the toy got released, Beast Man was given orange fur, a blue loincloth, and white and blue patterns on his face. That got reflected in later minicomics, but the change happened too late for He-Man and the Power Sword.

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Mark Taylor’s b-sheet design, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation


MaterEnglish’s custom seeks to recreate the look of the first appearance of Beast Man, using the original vintage toy sculpt. It is cast in bright red plastic, with hand-painted gold, white, yellow and black details, expertly applied. Given the amount of red on this character, a new cast is really the only way to go. Trying to slather a vintage figure in that much red paint really wouldn’t work well.

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Whatever material was used by MasterEnglish for the body, it’s very close to the look and feel of the original mass-produced made in Taiwan figure. The armor feels slightly more flexible than vintage, and the head of course is not the soft, hollow polyvinyl of the original, but I wouldn’t expect that from a custom. Unlike the late hard head releases in the original vintage line, the hard head on Red Beast Man remains as sharply detailed as the original soft head release was.

Red Beast Man does not include the original spring-loaded waist action feature, but this is again something I wouldn’t expect from a custom, hand-cast figure. The arm joints are a touch loose, but remain poseable. He comes with a red version of his signature whip, complete with red string, which is a nice touch. He is packaged on a resealable card that gets at the general feel of the original MOTU packaging without replicating it too closely.

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The back of the card shows off more vintage-style customs by MasterEnglish, including his (sadly) sold out, brilliant take on the Goddess/Sorceress character that also appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword.

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Red Beast Man works surprisingly well as an action figure, despite his monochromatic color scheme. I understand why the original designer (Mark Taylor) modified the colors of the figure before its release. Orange, red and blue work well together, and help break up the design. An almost universal design characteristic of MOTU figures is their bright complementary and contrasting colors. Still, a mostly-red Beast Man looks great in hand.

This is, of course, not the only take on a red Beast Man action figure. There are red variants of the character in the Masters of the Universe Classics line as well as the Loyal Subjects MOTU line, but I feel like the 1980s format most closely resembles the general body shape of Alcala’s depiction of the character.

 

Reviews

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures is a nearly-600 page love letter to the 1983 and 1985 Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons. James Eatock, the author (the She-Ra section was co-written by Alex Hawkey) has been reviewing and researching the cartoon since at least 1997, and knows more about the series than perhaps any living person. In fact, Eatock published his own Unofficial Guide to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe back in 2010, so it’s fitting now that he has been able to publish an official guide through Dark Horse.

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The book takes an exhaustive look at each episode of the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, offering a synopsis for each episode, a list of characters, memorable quotes, reviews, morals, deleted scenes, information on animation reuse, trivia, artwork and more. There is also a forward by storyboard artist and writer Robert Lamb, as well as some information on abandoned episodes.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these cartoons. I remember well the power struggles over control of the TV when I was a kid. My big sisters would always steer us toward episodes of Three’s Company, Different Strokes, The Monkees or Gilligan’s Island, but when I had a choice, I would always be watching He-Man.

Having said that, the Filmation cartoons have never been the focus of my own research in this blog. My research interests lie mainly in the development of the toys and packaging and comics. So for me, the book is actually a godsend. Anything I could possibly want to know about any episode in the series seems to have already been uncovered by Eatock and Hawkey (or if it hasn’t, it’s probably unknowable).

The book is called a guide, and it works very well in that capacity. I’ve found that the best way to digest this book is to read about an episode and then go immediately watch it, so you can catch all the behind the scenes facts and surprising connections across the series.

One of my favorite things about the book is all the marvelous artwork (in fact, I think a sequel that focuses entirely on artwork would be warranted, particularly rarer pieces from the animated commercial and Filmation’s highly detailed backgrounds). Dušan Mitrović illuminates the black and white character model sheets with colors that are authentic to the look of the series:

There is a great deal of development artwork in the book, including some lovely pieces by Fred Carrillo, known primarily among fans for his work illustrating many of the Golden Books series of He-Man stories:

Eatock’s enthusiasm for the series is infectious, and even non-Filmation fans will find themselves being drawn into the depths of the series through the eyes of the author. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fan of the cartoon, this book is a must-own.