If you grew up in the ‘80s, you remember this phrase well: “By the Power of Grayskull…I Have the Power!”
From the hit Mattel toy line to the Filmation cartoon to the Dolph Lundgren movie, He-Man’s battle against Evil Lord of Destruction™ and current Honda pitchman Skeletor remain a powerful force of nostalgia today with the Masters of the Universe Classics line, DC’s comics, and the ever-in-development new feature film.
Now, Dark Horse seeks to examine the full scope of this phenomenon with the new hardcover The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Written by Tim and Steve Seeley, who’ve also done mini-comics for the Masters of the Universe Classics line, the nearly 400-page book takes an extensive look at He-Man in all his forms, from the original ideas for the toy line to art from all versions of the franchise – and many that readers have never seen before.
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe hits comic shops April 15 and bookstores April 28. There’s also a limited edition that includes a special Castle Grayskull slipcase and enhanced cover, which we have a look at with this article.
We talked to Tim Seeley about this, and got a special look at some of the pages from the book. We also geeked out about He-Man. A lot. You have been warned.
Newsarama: Tim, how’d the book come about?
Tim Seeley: This is definitely a dream project for me. We were talking to Dark Horse after we did the mini-comics that came with the Masters of the Universe Classics figures.
It took a few years to get it all set up, but when Mattel agreed to it, I jumped at it – everyone who knows me knows I’m a big He-Man fan, and this was a great chance – doing interviews, writing the text, and generally putting the book together.
And I wanted my brother Steve involved, because I have a lot on my plate, and I knew he’d be a huge joy to work with – just two guys who’ve loved He-Man since we were kids. It was like everything came full circle.
Nrama: What were some of the biggest challenges in putting this book together?
Seeley: There was so much stuff, so there was the problem with figuring out what to put in, and what to focus on.
Initially, it was a bit of a challenge to find stuff we felt no one had seen – a fair amount of new reveals, new art from deep in the archives that hadn’t been seen, such as early designs for the cartoon, the figures, unmade figures, vehicles that were pitched but never made…we wanted to delve into this and give people things that could only be seen in this book.
Nrama: Now, I want to get an idea of the scope of what this book includes – is there a compilation of the mini-comics? You talk about there’s art from the movies, the cartoons…
Seeley: We try to break it down mostly by year, but also by different product. So the first chapter deals with the conception of the toys and the backstory for it, and how that contributed to the style of the art that was made for every aspect of it.
We deal with the original mini-comics, we deal with the Masters of the Universe magazine…
Nrama: Earl Norem! I love the covers and posters he did for that magazine, and got to meet him at a show a few years back.
Seeley: Yeah, Norem! His work is amazing.
We have backgrounds and figures and storyboards from the cartoon…we try to turn it to all aspects of the brand. We cover the movie, the most recent comics, the most recent figures…the development art that goes with some of the stuff they’re working on now.
Nrama: Do you reprint any of the mini-comic stories in full?
Seeley: We have some selections. But to print all the mini-comics in full, or all the storyboards…that’d be a 2,000-page book. So we sort of picked select pages and covers that encompass the various artists they used.
But we didn’t do anything quite in full because of the amount of space we had. People can read the original mini-comics online, so we wanted to look at them but keep a broad focus.
Nrama: Well, if this does well, maybe there could be a book focusing on the mini-comics or the box art.
Seeley: Oh, I’d love that. I’ve always wanted to do a trade paperback of all the mini-comics. Some of that stuff is really, really great illustration!
Nrama: The two things that blow me away about those as an adult are first, those Alfredo Alcala ones they did early on, some of which were more like picture books…really messed-up picture books. I definitely have the Masters of the Unvierse Classics “Alcala Skeletor” head on my Skeletor figure.
Seeley: As do I.
Nrama: The other is, wow, there was one I loved as a kid, “King of the Snake Men,” where they bring King Hiss and company in, and the creative team on that was Steven Grant, Bruce Timm and Stan Sakai! What a lineup! When I first met Steven Grant, here’s the guy who did The Punisher, Balands, Damned, all these books and the first thing I wanted to ask was, “You did He-Man mini-comics?” Because those were like my first comics ever.
Seeley: That’s something we really wanted to deal with in the book – the degree of art and background and detail put into that universe, and all the people who worked on them. It was all really considered, and no matter the medium, there’s a consistent design.
The figures were cool, but there was this very considered world that you felt you could be part of.
Nrama: There was a real atmospheric quality to that world, like you say. There’s like this epic movie quality to them – I work in a toy shop a few days a week, and we have the Eternia playset in a box, and you have this giant painting with He-Man vs. Skeletor vs. the Horde vs. the Snake Men…it’s just this chaotic, apocalyptic world.
Seeley: I have that playset! The monorail isn’t installed, because it is so brittle, but it is such an image, like you say.
I think that was one of the difficulties of doing Masters of the Universe in the 1980s, that every figure and vehicle had to have an action feature. Toward the end, you couldn’t just do something simple like Man-At-Arms – a figure had to pump blood inside its chest (Mosquitor) or blast apart (Blast-Attak). I feel like that later stuff is a little more gimmicky and not as successful – but it’s amazing they got that many figures out in so short a time, with that much innovation.
Nrama: I agree to a point, but I kind of like the figures they did toward the end of the line like Mosquitor. There’s something more monstrous and surreal about them, and they don’t rely on things like the rubber-band pull-back punch.
Some of the designs are truly odd – Rio Blast, I’m looking at you – but I love that you’ve got a cowboy and a ninja and even a sort-of pirate with Blade from the movie in this line. Like, it’s very inclusive – this is a universe that can incorporate any kind of trope, not just sword and sorcery. But who will be the master of this universe…? That joke failed miserably.
Seeley: But that’s one of the strengths, that adaptability. And I think that was a problem with the “New Adventures” line. There’s some great figures, but the transition to a more science-fiction idea makes it seem a little more uniform.
We actually have several pitches for different versions of what became that series in the book – and there’s some crazy stuff in there. There’s a flexibility to that original series, and that’s something we wanted to capture in the book.
Nrama: And I understand you did some interviews for this –
Seeley: We did a lot of interviews, actually. We called a lot of people associated with Masters of the Universe to get their take on the property – Earl Norem, Erika Scheimer, whose father Lou was behind Filmation – Steven Grant, Larry Houston, even Dolph Lundgren from the movie.
Nrama: Did you ever find out about the connection between Jack Kirby and the movie?
Seeley: Yeah, we talked to Gary Goddard, the director of the film, and he said he actually wanted to bring Jack on, and he was too busy. But when the other people on the film came on – including Moebius – they were looking at Jack’s work for inspiration on their designs, the cosmic stuff.
And the story, of He-Man coming to Earth – done for budgetary reasons! – it’s very much a Fourth World story, Orion and Darkseid coming to Earth. Gary Goddard was a big Kirby collector, and Jack’s influence was a big part of that movie.
Nrama: Yeah, I remember reading John Byrne’s Next Men and Byrne said in a letter column that Masters of the Universe was his favorite Kirby movie, and pointed out all the similarities, and then it was Goddard or someone else from the film wrote in a few issues later and said, “Yeah, we did that on purpose!”
Seeley: We looked really closely to see if any Kirby art is in that film. Couldn’t find it! But you see the influence in that film, that sort of approach to big and cosmic and iconic. I think maybe the most Kirby design is the “God Skeletor” with the gold armor.
Nrama: Ah yes, with what I call “Mad-Phat Giant Headgear.” I wish they could make a figure of that, but likeness rights…!
Seeley: I like the movie a lot. It’s goofy, but it’s got a lot of amazing design and is fun.
Nrama: Got the Masters of the Universe Classics Gwildor on my desk right now.
What’s it like having been involved with that line, doing the mini-comics and such?
Seeley: It’s just been fun playing in this universe I loved as a kid. Whenever a chance to work on it comes up, I jump – but it’s not about having an impact on that universe, it’s just the fun of getting to play with it, and relive my childhood with my brother. It’s like we’re in the basement with a big pile of figures again, reliving these imaginative moments from my childhood.
I have all of them except for the really late releases like Laser Light He-Man and Skeletor and the Tytus and Megator giants, all up on a wall in my studio. But I even have Wonder Bread He-Man!
Nrama: All right, so now is the time when I’m going to do some hardcore He-Man fan opinions of you.
Nrama: So, first up: Favorite Skeletor – Alan Oppenheimer, Frank Langella, some other from comics, different cartoons…?
Seeley: Definitely Alan Oppenheimer. I love how on the cartoon, he was sort of an obnoxious dick! He wasn’t really evil in most episodes, just snotty and jerky.
Nrama: I’m sure you saw that “Skeletor’s Best Insults” video…
Seeley: Yeah, he has this muscular body, and this yellow skull for a face, and then he’s just this whiny, jerky child. It’s a perfect creation in that sense.
Nrama: It’s a terrifying visage, but I really appreciate they had to make that palatable to kids, and Oppenheimer did a great job of making that transition while keeping the character kind of scary.
Seeley: Yeah, you always liked him. He was the hero, in a way! He drove the story, and when other bad guys came along, they were always worse than Skeletor, like Evilseed or Hordak.
Nrama: You walked into my next question: Evilseed – artichoke-head from original series, or cactus version from 2000X series?
Seeley: Oh, artichoke head. You want to make a dip out of him. He is completely ridiculous, and completely awesome.
Nrama: See, I want both versions when they do an Masters of the Universe Classics figure, a two-pack. I like to pretend the cactus version hatches out of the smaller version. Just put an artichoke-head on the Unnamed One’s body!
Seeley: He looks like a big-brained classic villain, like the Leader, but a vegetable.
Nrama: What is your favorite one-off character from the cartoons or mini-comics?
Seeley: There’s a few I really love, Strongarm (Newsarama Note: Renamed “Strong-Or” in toy form for trademark reasons) he’s very left-of-center, but I love the design, made a custom of him before they did a Masters of the Universe Classics version.
And I loved Goat-Man from one of the original storybooks – they made a figure of him in the last year as well.
Nrama: What’s the coolest/weirdest piece of He-Man memorabilia you’ve had as a kid or adult?
Seeley: Oh man, I got a lot of good stuff. The Filmation art, I’d say is a real favorite of mine – I have a piece of Teela laughing, and one of He-Man cleaning his sword. And my Wonder Bread He-Man, I’d say that’s pretty cool.
But I’d have to say – I got these weird squeeze toys for dogs or something – that’s a Land Shark and a laser thing, and they’re pretty weird. [laughs]
Nrama: Which strange and deeply uncomfortable fan theories have you ever agreed with? Spill it!
Seeley: No! [laughs] I don’t try to put adult ideas on things for kids. But I know what’s on the Internet, let’s put it that way. I’d rather do a story with Teela where she finally expresses she has an attraction to He-Man, that’s about it. But no one needs to reveal they’re a furry or anything!
Nrama: And to really get you in trouble: Orko – yay or nay?
Seeley: Oh, Pro-Orko! He’s a perfect character for a kid’s cartoon – he’s a catalyst. His natural curiosity gets him into trouble, which is what happens when you’re a kid. The design is a bit weird –
Nrama: It probably saved a lot on animation – no feet, no mouth –
Seeley: But they got so much out of it. He’s got a certain sense of intrigue to him. I might have not appreciated him as much when I was a kid, but now I can as an adult.
Nrama: We’re running low on time, so – give us the hard sell. What did this project mean to you personally, and why should people check it out?
Seeley: There was nostalgia, affection…and it was also a really interesting study for people who love this stuff, or just love books about art and process.
It’s an exhaustive view of how that universe was created out of a simple toyline, and how it translates to all these different media, all these different media, and how it created an entire universe out of the need to make new toys – “We need a new playset! We need a new vehicle!”
If you have any affection for art or ‘80s toys or fantasy, you’ll love this. People we’ve shown this to go, “Wow, I’m not even a He-Man fan, but I want this book.” It’s a real look into the He-Man process, and all the imagination that went into creating a little plastic man.