This August will see the release of Dark Horse's much-anticipated He-Man & She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures. This behemoth of a book will capture the knowledge of Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoon expert James Eatock, with additional important content courtesy of Alex Hawkey and Dusan Mitrovic.
And to celebrate, it will also have its own Limited Edition limited to just 1000 copies for collectors who want something a little extra special on their shelves. This Limited Edition will feature a special faux leather cover with gold foil accents, and a holofoil dust jacket featuring some iconic images of your favorite characters. Click here to check out more info and pre-order details for the Limited Edition.
When it came time to create the art for this cover, the team of Axel Gimenez, Diana Egea Conesa, Jeremy Roberts, and Val Staples were there. Axel is a fan-favorite artist who created and continues to create amazing renditions of MOTU and POP characters. Diana is an inker extraordinaire who has been bringing Axel's pencils to life for years, and Val Staples is a 15+ year veteran comic book and toy artist who has worked on too many He-Man-related projects to list. This interview will take a look at the creative process that brings animated to life in print.
When it came time for the design of the Limited Edition, what initially led to the concept?
Val Staples: "Originally the guide was going to only feature He-Man on the cover. A lot of fans knew She-Ra was going to be in the book and hoped she might also be included in the art. So I proposed a variant to Dark Horse doing exactly that. Dark Horse has been a dream to work with from day one and they were supportive right away. And, as fate would have it, Mattel and DreamWorks went on to approve the addition of She-Ra on the regular edition. So James Eatock went on to rework her into that design in a fantastic way. Meanwhile, I went back to the drawing board on the Limited Edition to create another fun concept.
My goal was to have something that went a step further than the regular edition, and that also played more to our memories of these characters. And in my opinions, few things are as iconic as He-Man and She-Ra's transformation scenes. So right away, the idea for the front cover clicked: He-Man and She-Ra with swords aloft, both their magic energies surrounding them, with He-Man's original magic yellow and orange radiating burst placed behind them to center the characters and create a sense of them exploding off the cover.
But, you can't have the main heroes without the main villains. So the back of the book went on to feature the two baddest fellows in the universe: Skeletor and Hordak. They are centered over a background from Snake Mountain, and are coming at you ready to attack."
So what is so special about this holofoil dust jacket?
Val: "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. 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."
And this wraps around a faux leather cover. Tell us more about that.
Val: "The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe also had a Limited Edition. The book inside the slipcase was a red faux leather with silver foil accents, featuring the Sword of Power. But I wanted to change things up for this cover. Diverse color and exciting hues play an important part in the worlds of He-Man and She-Ra. So I went with a faux leather color unique to this volume, which is royal blue. And instead of silver foil, I opted for gold. I also created new Sword of Power and Sword of Protection art that is on-model to the Filmation cartoon, and they are depicted on the cover with blades crossed. ThenDark Horse worked with me to fine tune the layout and make it one heck of a professional product, thanks to their amazing in-house designers."
So for the art on the cover, how did all of that come to pass?
Val: "When it came to the art elements, we wanted to be as Filmation as possible. About ten years ago, I worked with BCI and my own creative team, which included Emiliano Santalucia, to determine the best poses for many of those He-Man and She-Ra DVD sets. A lot of the full body shots used in the animation didn’t work as well for static packaging shots. We found that some of the best elements only existed across various pieces of art. For example, there might be a part of Skeletor that looked great but only existed in a cropped torso shot. While the best legs that worked with that torso might have been in another full body shot where the upper body wasn't as dynamic. So by piecing together existing pieces of Filmation cel art and model sheet art, we all decided on what stood out as the strongest possible combination of vintage Filmation art. It was all from Filmation, but not something you'd necessarily find in one single frame of an episode. And it worked really well.
Ten years later, much of that same artwork and those similar pose combinations have been used a number of times on licensing and packaging. Because of that, we didn't want to deviate too much from the poses fans have become familiar with, and also because I still feel those are some of the strongest poses that can be made from existing Filmation components. So instead, we took the opportunity to give those same pose concepts a fresh update for this cover. For that, I turned to Axel. He is so diverse in style, and knows the He-Man and She-Ra brands exceedingly well. Therefore, he was tasked with going back to the original Filmation source material, and then compositing a slightly updated pose that still embraced most of the same elements that everyone agreed on ten years ago as being the strongest."
Axel Gimenez: "Like Val explained, it begins with the assembly of the character in the desired pose, using different screenshots or model sheets from the series. Those are the only two sources you can use do created on-model "mockups", and they are really important because they come from Filmation. The process of composition is like putting together a puzzle. And it's the perfect excuse to watch the cartoons again!"
So when it came to the creation of the pencils, what was the process like? What all was considered and what went into making the characters look just right once you had the composite template to work from?
Axel: "After completion of the mockup, I start with my pencil drawing directly over top of it. But it's not as simple as tracing over the mockup. Because the pose is assembled with parts from different scenes or models, even when we tried to find parts that match their best, it's always necessary to make adjustments so that the final version has a natural pose and improved anatomy, while continuing to stay very close to the models created by the Filmation artists.
Once the pencils were done and we were happy with them, next came inks."
What is that process like? And how is what is done with inks on these different or similar to what is done with inks in animation?
Diana Egea Conesa: "The inking style was done in a way to fit in as much of the old style of animation lineart as I could. I tried not to modulate too much of the line weights, and I avoided sharp edges and over-accentuating the volume. I also added a bolder outline to give the entire piece weight while keeping all the inside lines thinner to allow for subtle details."
After the inks, came the colors. What can you tell us about those?
Val: "It was a great honor to be able to color these. In particular, I was very happy to recolor He-Man, which is a pose similar to one of the character illustrations I colored ten years ago. I remember agonizing over the colors on He-Man for that 10 Best DVD cover. But I was younger, and second guessed myself a lot, and was never truly happy with it. Every time I see it, I'd only see the things I wanted to revise. So I was able to revisit some of my original anatomy rendering that I was never completely satisfied with.
On top of that, I was able to produce these in vector format in Adobe Illustrator, which means these can be scaled to the size of a building and look exactly the same. Back then, I was primarily skilled in the use of Adobe Photoshop. But Photoshop's raster format is not as forgiving and limits how big you can make the art for print.
I was also lucky to have the help of the talented Raunak, who laid in the base colors for me. This enabled me to jump in and start rendering while juggling so many other things in my life like toy packaging, graphic design, and planning for Power-Con: The He-Man and She-Ra fan convention.
It was a great feeling to color these characters all these years later."
And to tie it all together was the backgrounds. How were those made?
Val: "The spine and rear background art are actual backgrounds from the Filmation cartoon that I restored digitally. But He-Man's burst and the energy are all recreated from the cartoon. Jeremy Roberts tackled that. Jeremy is a digital painting whiz. Back in the day, he brought many of my studio's 200x He-Man covers to life with his gorgeous color art. So to be working with Jeremy again was fantastic. He really did the effects justice."
How do you feel about having the chance to recreate artwork based on the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons?
Axel: "Being a fan of Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power, it's always an honor and a privilege to have the chance to participate in any project related to this fantastic universe. Especially when it comes to recreating or recovering material from the original versions that helped make the franchise known all around the world. In this particular case it was a great responsibility, because, although the Filmation style is simple, you must take care of every detail so that the characters are on model. In some cases, an unnecessary line, or a line in a wrong place, drastically alters the desired result."
Diana: "It was fun and hard at the same time. Inking something that is totally connected to your childhood always makes you feel good. But the difficult part was the hundreds of tiny changes in every pose because we wanted the look to be perfect with the hope that fans would love it."
Val: "I could work on art like this all day long. In a way, I feel like a kid again, seeing my favorite childhood heroes and villains once more. And I hope this special Limited Edition gives fans the same feeling when they hold it in their hands!"
The He-Man & She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures Limited Edition variant is up for sale right now! But because it's limited to only 1000 copies, you will want to preorder yours today! Click here to check it out.