Dark Horse has been fulfilling fans of the Masters of the Universe franchise for over a year now with art books dedicated the world of Eternia and beyond with the likes of The Art of He-Man and The Masters of the Universe, and Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection. They expand their library once again with the release of He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures.
While the previous art book discussed the various outlets for these characters such as movies, comic book, and of course the animated series, He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures (as the name implies) delves in deeper with the history of the franchise's mythos and its creation with various interviews and concept art ranging from top-tier characters to the more deep-cut entities that filled this universe and captured fans imaginations.
Much like the Art of He-Man And The Masters of the Universe released in 2015, He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures will have a limited edition variant designed in part by artist Val Staples, who helps organize and run the He-Man centric convention Power Con.
"It's extremely limited. Only a 1000 copies will exist of this variant,” Staples told Newsarama. “So fans of He-Man and She-Ra will have something extra special to go on their shelves. The front of the special dust jacket features He-Man and She-Ra transforming. So when it came to that design, I wanted the cover to come to life. And through my years of printing and publishing, one medium I've grown to like for enhancing the visual appeal of a cover featuring magic is holofoil.”
“It's colorful, reflective properties make the art come to life,” he continued. “When you move the Limited Edition around in your hands, that light will dance around and you will feel the power of Grayskull! Plus, when the book is spine-out on your shelf, should you choose to display it like that, you'll catch elements of the holofoil there as well. It will make the book stand out from all others in your personal library.”
Newsarama also had the chance to talk to James “Busta Toons” Eatock, who is a known Masters of the Universe expert and has worked on previous projects such as the first He-Man art book as well as the earlier The Unofficial Guide to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Eatock lends his extensive knowledge once more and helped bring He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures to fans.
Newsarama: So James, let's talk Masters of the Universe. What's your earliest memory you have with the franchise?
James Eatock: My earliest, somewhat vague, memory of the franchise would be owning the original He-Man action figure in early 1983. There's even a family photo in which I'm wielding the most powerful man in the universe! However, a clearer memory (and one highly appropriate for this interview) would be the first time I saw the animated series. To this day I remember a TV spot showing scenes from the pilot episode "Diamond Ray of Disappearance." I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "I must watch this show!" A week later, September 5,1983 to be exact, I sat down and watched the first episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe! It's safe to say that it made an impression on me.
Nrama: Okay, so you have the Art of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the MOTU Minicomic Collection, and now Dark Horse is releasing the He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures. Take us through the contents and making of this book.
Eatock: I first worked with Dark Horse when I, alongside the Power and The Honor Foundation, contributed most of the material to the Filmation chapter of the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book. I also contributed an unpublished mini-comic for the MOTU Mini Comic Collection. With these two factors in place, Val Staples, who had overseen production on both books, suggested Dark Horse approach me with the possibility of working on an in-depth guide to the animated series. I hurriedly wrote a book pitch, ensuring to include a few pretty pictures (not of myself), and sent it to Daniel Chabon. A short while later the book was green-lit and work began!
I started off by focusing on the 130 episodes of the He-Man series; meticulously writing synopses of each and every episode, listing the characters that appeared in the shows, as well as highlighting pieces of trivia and animation reuse, of which there is a fair bit unsurprisingly. Then I trawled through the scripts, noting deleted scenes and memorable quotes. When it came to the 93 episodes of She-Ra: Princess of Power, I hired Alex Hawkey to write the synopsis and review the episodes, as I felt he was best suited. Once all of the writing was completed I sent it over to Dark Horse. Then the almighty scanning process began. I've been collecting, and recently selling, He-Man and She-Ra animation art since the late nineties. I used to visit the Filmation warehouse when it was located in Los Angeles, which allowed me to cherry pick many key pieces of art. As such, a great deal of amazing production art appears in this book. I even had artist Dušan Mitrovic help me in coloring a few hundred pieces of black and white line art to make it stand out in the book.
Concept character illustrations, model sheets, storyboards, layouts, backgrounds, cels, a He-Man credit card advert, Bruce Timm illustrations during his time working on the show-it's all in here! I genuinely think that the amount of images and text within this book is going to blow people's minds. And to those wondering what Orko looks like under his cowl, this book finally reveals that mystery! I hope you have strong stomachs.
Nrama: Now, the Filmation animated series had some differences from the Mattel toy line because the toy line came first for most of the characters and some had interesting translations. Clawful, the crab warrior and Catra for examples, both had extremely different looks than their toy counterparts. Instead of a crab, on television, Clawful looked more like a dragon. What were some other ones that had to have changes and what were the reasons?
Eatock: The reason certain characters differed from their toy counterparts is that Mattel were often developing action figures at the same time that Filmation were producing the cartoon series. During production of the cartoon Mattel would hand action figure concept illustrations to Filmation, which the studio would use to create the animated versions of the characters. However, by the time the action figures were released some radical design changes may have taken place, resulting in them looking nothing like their animated counterparts!
One has only to look at Tung Lashor. The character appears in the She-Ra cartoon and looks nothing like his action figure! However, Mattel's concept design for the Tung Lashor action figure is the same as his animated appearance. This was a prime example of Mattel handing Filmation their earliest concept for an action figure. Other characters like Acrobad and Dylamug were conceptualized to be action figures, appeared in the cartoon, but eventually never released as toys.
Nrama: I love the rumor of why Castle Grayskull is called that despite it being green on the show and the play set. Are you familiar with that one?
Eatock: Are you referring to the story of Donald F. Glut, the original Masters of the Universe mini-comic writer, naming the castle after his wife Linda, whose maiden name was Gray? Or are you referring to the 2002 cartoon's "King Grayskull" storyline?
Nrama: Ha! I actually heard it was Robert Sweet who named it because it all the photographs that was given to him were in black and white.
Eatock: I've never heard that story before; though I have heard some of Sweet's unique stories over the years! From what I know, at the time of Donald F. Glut's writing of the minicomics, Mattel had not provided him with a name for the castle. Mark Taylor (who had illustrated the earliest version of the castle) and Roger Sweet had originally named the castle the Dwell of Souls, which was a name created by Taylor for his Torak, the pre-He-Man, concept.
Nrama: I like that story better, but it's so great that some of the these designs are instantly recognizable. I mean both He-Man and Skeletor are pop culture icons. Do you have any favorite less than A-list character designs?
Eatock: There are a plethora of Filmation characters that I love the design of which, in recent years, have been receiving their own action figures thanks to Mattel's Masters of the Universe Classics toyline. Masque and Shokoti from the "House of Shokoti" episodes were two of my favorites; Lady Valtira from "The Sleepers Awaken" had one of the most attractive character designs (think Jessica Rabbit before Jessica Rabbit), so much so that last year my friend Marianne and I attended the German He-Man convention, Grayskull Con. She loves creating costumes and so I asked her to dress up as Lady Valtira. And I will always love and champion Plundor, the giant pink muscle-bound rabbit!
Nrama: The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book released last year covered so much ground, what is explored here that hasn't been touched on yet? Or maybe a person who wasn't interviewed previously?
Eatock: The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book only brushed the surface of the Filmation cartoon. The level of detail within this particular book is the selling point. It covers 223 episodes of He-Man and She-Ra, and the specials, as well as episodes that never made it into production. I guarantee that even the most casual of fans will pick up this book, begin reading it, and not be able to put it down! I also guarantee - two guarantees in one paragraph - that people will read about an episode and soon after find themselves popping in the DVD and watching the episode to appreciate the information within the book. Dare I use an outdated word, but I think this book is somewhat interactive!
Nrama: What character do you think went through the most redesigns that you might have seen?
Eatock: Well, for many years it was assumed that Mattel were the sole designers of the Evil Horde and the concept of She-Ra. However The Power and The Honor Foundation purchased a wealth of Filmation concept illustrations which revealed that both the Evil Horde and She-Ra were a collaborative effort between both Mattel and Filmation! While there is no doubt the Evil Horde toys were designed for the Masters of the Universe toy line, the characters were always destined for the She-Ra animated series according to the Filmation production artwork. This partnership resulted in the cast of She-Ra - on the sides of both good and evil - given at least 10-20 concept illustrations. She-Ra herself I've seen at least 30 concepts!
Newsarama: Taking a step away from Eternia, what were your thoughts on the New Adventures of He-Man, from a design standpoint?
Eatock: I always liked the idea of He-Man and Skeletor in a sci-fi setting. However, I was not a fan of the New Adventures action figures. I owned He-Man and Skeletor... and that was it. The thing that made the original Masters of the Universe action figures so popular were their ridiculous stocky proportions and the bizarre character gimmicks! By comparison I remember thinking that the New Adventures figures would fall apart at any second. As that line went on the designers clearly attempted to win back the original fans by making the He-Man figure bulkier. But, by then, it was a too late.
I think I'm probably one of about ten or so people that champion The New Adventures of He-Man cartoon. It took me a while to accept that show. By the time that show had finished airing in the UK I already had a love for hip hop, braids down to my shoulders, and hated anything to do with action figures and cartoons. Years later, rediscovering my VHS tapes of that show, I began treating it like an Elseworlds/What If? kind of series. That made it easier to grasp.
Nrama: Lastly, why is it you find yourself still a fan after all these years?
Eatock: I've been asked this question so many times before, that I wish I had a stock answer! Even though it was the toy of He-Man that got me started in the first place, it was Filmation's envisioning of the worlds of Eternia and Etheria that made me truly appreciate the brands. With regards to the show it's hard to pinpoint but I guess I like the characters, the fantasy and sci-fi element, the stories, the moral standards, Filmation's style of animation, the music, the people who worked on the show, etc. I think there are so many things that I love about the series that I can't single out one. The characters of He-Man and She-Ra were so wonderfully written in the cartoon and came across so very natural in the series.
There's one moral segment at the end of the He-Man episode "Double Edged Sword" that I continue to champion to the fans. He-Man appears on screen very straight-faced and delivers beautifully written dialogue that sums up the series: "Sometimes movies and television adventure series like this one make it seem as though shooting a gun, fighting, and taking chances are fun and exciting things to do. And what's more, the good guys never get hurt. But in real life, people do get hurt, even killed, when they fight or use guns. Make believe can be fun, and there's nothing wrong with imagining great adventures. But never forget, that when it's the real thing, someone can get hurt. Even the good guys. Even you."
There's something so perfect about that dialogue that I think applies to all of the fans of He-Man and She-Ra; a definite sense of escapism where, for twenty minutes, you are transported into a wonderful fantasy world where anything seems possible! I think it is this that has kept He-Man and She-Ra in the hearts and minds of millions for so long!
Nrama: Lastly, there’s talk of a new Masters of the Universe movie in production, so do you think He-Man is being primed for a comeback?
Eatock: It depends on what scale. I think an animated series on Netflix would work. With regards to a live action movie, I feel like it's pretty much missed the boat. We've had theTransformers movies, Ninja Turtles movies, G.I. Joe movies, and a plethora of Marvel movies. If He-Man/She-Ra were to have a movie, it needs to happen sooner rather than later!