MOTU History

Lords of Power Collection – at the dawn of He-Man

Update: this post has been recently updated with slightly nicer quality images, plus a new picture not previously shared. Many thanks to Andy Youssi.

A rather incredible set of pictures has recently surfaced, showing early Masters of the Universe prototypes. Shared by Andy Youssi, son of freelance artist John Youssi, these images come from a collection of slides set in a View-Master-like apparatus. Apparently this was a very early promotional item.

Image courtesy of Andy Youssi

John Youssi (known for his pinball machine illustrations) did illustrations for MOTU retail display cases and marquees, and Mattel shipped him these early prototypes, as well as the pseudo View-Master. Andy had the good fortune of being able to play with these prototypes for a month, while his father used them as models for his illustrations.

Andy describes his experience playing with these amazing prototypes:

Hold onto your seats for this, but after these slides, Mattel actually shipped the prototypes to my Dad for a month so he could illustrate the characters & Castle Grayskull in detail for some of the promotional posters & display shelves put up in toy stores. My introduction to loving Masters of the Universe was seeing & falling in love with those Lords of Power prototypes as a 5 year old kid, before the public knew what any of this was! I think the saddest day of my childhood was when my Dad’s illustration jobs were finished, and he had to pack the prototypes up & ship them back to Mattel… but that month with them made me a fan for life before they even hit stores! One of the most exciting emotions I had was the anticipation of them being released in stores, and building the collection up again, knowing we could actually keep it this time!!!

It’s been known for some time that “Lords of Power” was an early working title for Masters of the Universe. In an interview (conducted by Jukka Issakainen) with packaging designer Bob Nall, the artist said:

I designed logos and packages for many brands and settled on Boys items (mostly Hot Wheels). When the product designers developed He-Man (largely designed by Mark Taylor – who worked in the same group) I had the opportunity to look at the retail face of the brand. We looked at many names before coming up with MOTU – it was almost called ‘Lords of Power’ but many thought that was too religious in nature.

Image source: Jukka Issakainen

In the first image below, we see that this is the “Lords of Power Collection”. Interestingly, this set also comes with the Masters of the Universe logo as well. We’ve seen some of these prototypes before – He-Man, Mer-Man and Skeletor, certainly.

The Beast Man and Man-At-Arms prototypes in the image below have not been shown publicly before to my knowledge. Man-At-Arms’ design brings to mind his cross sell artwork and Alcala minicomic appearances (complete with fur-lined armor and large mace); those illustrations were almost certainly based on this model. The model, in turn, is based on the original Mark Taylor B-sheet design.

Beast Man, however, is a very primitive design indeed, resembling an early Mark Taylor Beast Man sketch, but recolored in the orange, red and blue color scheme that has come to be associated with the character. This appears to have been done before Mark Taylor’s final B-Sheet for the character.

From interviews with Mark Taylor, it appears that Teela was sculpted very early on, but for some reason was not included in these photos. Perhaps it was because early versions of the figure were considered by some to be too “sexy”.

He-Man holds an axe last seen on the helmeted He-Man prototype; here we see Skeletor’s finished prototype havoc staff for the first time.

For comparison, here’s a very early Mark Taylor concept drawing of Beast Man:

Image via Grayskull Museum

And here’s Mark Taylor’s finalized B-Sheet design for Beast Man:

Below are He-Man and Man-At-Arms as they appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Note that they are both based closely on early prototypes:

Man-At-Arms as illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

This next image that Andy shared focuses in on He-Man and Man-At-Arms, with Battle Ram and Battle Cat in the background. Battle Cat is the early prototype with a striped tail and orange around his mouth. The Battle Ram is also an early prototype, more detailed than the final toy. All of these toys have finer paint applications and most of them have greater sculpted detail than their mass-produced counterparts. We can clearly see Man-At-Arms’ armored fist, a detail absent from his final toy. His boots are brown, while He-Man’s boots are two-toned red and yellow.

Here’s a clearer view of this early Battle Cat’s paint scheme:

Image by Tokyonever

Here’s a somewhat clearer view of the He-Man prototype:

Image via He-Man.us

Below we see another image focusing on He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Battle Ram. You can see that Man-At-Arms has a fully armored left forearm. In profile we see that his metal “glove” is actually a flat piece covering what looks like an unfinished left hand.

Here’s another view of the Battle Ram prototype, with an earlier, helmeted version of He-Man piloting it.

Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In this image we get a front-on view of the prototype Castle Grayskull – an angle we’ve never seen before. We can also see, for the first time, the front of the jaw bridge in this image – it doesn’t have the wood details of the final toy. This particular prototype may be different casting of the prototype than the one we’ve seen before. It certainly seems to have more green paint than that version (shown four images down). An article going over the differences between the prototype castle and the final toy can be found here.

In the image immediately below, Skeletor holds the castle, while the heroes launch an assault.

Note that in the image above, the back of He-Man’s harness crosses in an “x” shape. This is also seen in artwork by Alfredo Alcala:

 

Another view of the prototype castle, with moat. This one seems to have less green paint.

Man-At-Arms stands at the foot of the castle. We can see the back of his armor, which is solid, as opposed to the thin straps on the final toy.  Beast Man operates the laser turret, which is put on the opposite side of the castle from where it normally sits. We can see a flag that appears to depict He-Man’s axe – which is certainly different from the twin sword design of the mass-produced castle.

The two-sided light/dark flag design used on the commercially-available Castle. The artwork was done by Mark’s wife, Rebecca.

Here we see the entire castle opened up. Skeletor and Beast Man seem to have been victorious. We see that the opposite side of this flag depicts a skull with two enlarged canine teeth. It looks somewhat like the castle’s face. Note also that this prototype version of Skeletor does not have a skull face, but rather a decomposing face.

Here’s another view of the Skeletor prototype, with unfinished staff. Note the decaying face. He also has bare human feet and arms with no fins.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Here’s an image that wasn’t shared the first time around – labeled “He-Man Collection”. We get a nice view of all the toys at once, including a nice front view of Mer-Man.

Note the yellow detail on Skeletor’s armor. This follows Mark Taylor’s original B-Sheet design.

Finally, here’s that Masters of the Universe logo:

Thanks very much to Andy Youssi for kindly sharing these images and for telling his story. Stay tuned – he is also planning to share some of the artwork done by his father for Lords of Powe… er, Masters of the Universe!

 

 

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Evil Horde

Mantenna – Evil spy with the pop-out eyes (1985)

I got Mantenna at the same time I got Leech, for Christmas in 1985. While I gravitated toward Leech at first, I kept coming back to Mantenna. His telescoping eyeball action feature wasn’t all that much fun, but his bizarre appearance kept drawing me back in. What was this guy? He looked like a cross between an an, an Elephant, and a space alien.

 

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Designed by Ted Mayer, Mantenna is certainly the weirdest looking figure in the Masters of the Universe toyline. According to the Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Mantenna’s early working names were Sensor (also a working name for Zodac) and Raydor. All of his names are puns on devises used to sense things from a distance – hence his large, pop-out eyes and oversized ears.

This early version of the character (below) has the early detachable horde insignia. He also has white teeth, red hands, and lacks the horde emblem shinguards he would get later in his design evolution.

Image Source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest issue 202

 

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man. His eyes appear to have some kind of hypnotic power.

This revised drawing by Ted Mayer gives the character red teeth, and the standard Horde insignia on his check, shin guards, and left arm. He was given a yellow belt and black trunks. He also had a strange staff weapon with some kind of creature wrapped around it. Hordak had a similar weapon in early concept art as well.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

The prototype Mantenna is featured in the 1985 Mattel dealer catalog. The shape is finalized, but there are some color differences between this and the final toy. He has orange sides, rather than black. His chest insignia is outlined in black, as are his red teeth. His eyes seem to also have orange and red veins.

Mantenna’s cross sell artwork represents another intermediate step in his design – his sides are mostly black, there is still a strip of red or orange under his armpits. His teeth are also still outlined in black.

The final Mantenna has fully black sides and simplified teeth. At this point it’s really not obvious that they’re actually teeth. It really looks much grosser than that. It’s not obvious at first, but the toy does retain the original concept of having four legs – but the legs were fused together in pairs.

There is another Mantenna variant that has a color scheme on his chest closer to the cross sell art (with orange around the head of the bat design). It had a black lever in back, but the bats on his shin guards were not painted red:

02

Mantenna’s pop-up eye mechanism was also patented, although it seems like a simple enough design. The patent was filed December 17, 1984, and it was trademarked on September 10, 1984.

Mantenna was sold on his own single card, of course. He was also sold in a JCPenny giftset with Leech.

Note that Mantenna has white eye stalks and a white weapon in this illustration.

Mantenna’s minicomic isn’t a fan favorite. I remember not being able to get through it as a kid – the artwork seemed too jumbled and hastily done. It should also be noted that although Mantenna’s name is in the title, he barely makes an appearance in it.

In The Power of the Evil Horde, illustrated by Bruce Timm, Mantenna has the ability to fire stun rays out of his eyes:

In the Mattel Style Guide (illustrated by Errol McCarthy), Mantenna is characterized this way:

Power: frightening ability to see and hear over great distances with his highly sensitive ears and periscope scanners.

Character Profile: Mantenna can do more than just see with those wild eyes. He can fire a variety of horrible beams from them as well, including paralysis beams, stun beams, etc. Mantenna is also an agile scout and often goes out well ahead of his companions to make sure their way is clear for marauding, pillaging and the like. Since he is no slouch in the combat area, either, Mantenna rarely needs assistance on his scouting missions.

Image source: He-Man.org. Note that Mantenna is colored like his prototype here.
Image source: He-Man.org. Black and white version of Errol McCarthy’s style guide illustration.

The 1985 Golden story, The Horde, seems to draw directly from Ted Mayer’s concept art in its depiction of both Mantenna and Leech:

Image source: He-Man.org

Mantenna’s grotesque appearance was toned down for the She-Ra cartoon series. He lost most of the fins on his limbs, and his mouth lost its sphincter-like look. He was also given simple yellow eyes rather than the bloodshot eyes of his action figure. Changes were made to his hands, feet, and costume as well. He was generally depicted a bumbling henchman, often dropped through a trap door by Hordak.

Dusan M. pointed out that this is an intermediate design – final design sheets had a visible tongue.

The Filmation Mantenna did have the ability to shoot various beams from his eyes, which he occasionally used to devastating effect:

Mantenna maintains his Filmation look in this Evil Horde poster by Earl Norem. It appeared in the Summer 1985 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine (US version).

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.