Well actually, Beast Man, Stratos, Skeletor and Zodac…
All of these figures were sculpted at the same time for the original 2-pack concept. But for the sake of blogging, I will try to split them up into separate rants.
When these six figures were tooled, we had yet to sell a single figure, so there isn’t much I can say on how they influenced future figures, but I can chat a bit more about the line kicking off.
One thing to talk about at this time is the period between July 2008 and November 2008 when the first six figures were being sculpted by the boys in Jersey. I took this time to immerse myself back in MOTU lore and history to be ready should the first six figures prove successful and lead to a full line.
The first thing I did was request every box of work I could from the Mattel archives that the “founders” of the MOTU line worked on. Using a short list of names of former employees that I knew were attached to the original MOTU pitch in 1979/1980 (Roger Sweet’s non-licensed book “Mastering the Universe” was a good jumping off point for names and dates), I requested all of the work that anyone who worked on the original pitch had in our archives from pre-1982 product launch (i.e., design work, not post-launch work).
What I got back was 11 very old dusty security sealed boxes full of 99% paperwork. I hijacked an empty locked conference room and stuffed all of the boxes under a free table. Then on Friday afternoons for the next 4 months I would stay late (Mattel closes at 1 on Fridays!) and each week I would pull out one box and go through it item by item, piece of paper by pieced of paper. To say this was a tedious job or what I wanted to do in my free time is an understatement. But honestly, if it meant a full MOTU line, it was so worth it. Plus, hey, maybe I would find something neat!
Well, 95% of what was in these boxes had nothing to do with anything MOTU. It was mostly design briefs, memos, and proposal documents for a variety of late '70s, early '80s toy lines and pitches. To say there was a lot of dust involved was an understatement. By the third week (and third box) I was using gloves and a Mattel art smock I borrowed from the guys in the Chemical Lab.
Slowly I went through each box. As I said, most of it was useless for MOTU research, but I did find some amazing gems. One box had tons of prelim notes and research material on what would make a good boys' toy line. I even found the original letter from then-Mattel president Ray Wagner calling for a meeting to discuss a new boys' action play line (you can see this letter in the 2009 SDCC art book -- in fact, most of everything I found wound up in the art book). The conference was actually being held at the Hacienda Hotel, which is literally across the street from the current Mattel HQ in El Segundo (but at the time in 1979 was a bit of a drive from the former Hawthorne HQ off the 405 Freeway).
But the real gems were finding Glut’s prelim story notes and the original Mark Taylor concept sketches for He-Man, Skeletor and Beast Man (you may know them better as Vikor, Demo-Man and Red Beast!). I very distinctly remember pulling them out. This was about the third or forth week of me staying late on a Friday. I hadn’t found much useful at this point, but there at the very bottom of a dusty box was a manila envelope simply labeled “Fantasy/Monster” in faded pencil.
My heart stopped.
What could this be? Could this actually be something related to the creation of MOTU? OMG!
I slowly pulled the envelope out and laid it on the table of my empty conference room. Unhooked the brass tabs (that clearly had not been touched in 20 years!). Inside were three pieces of paper.
Holy cow! This was it!!!!! Here were (what I found our later were copies of) the actual original sketches from Mark Taylor of the main characters that would be in MOTU! I couldn’t believe that I was the first person in decades to open this envelope. How could these gems possibly have been sitting in this box for so long? To quote Indy, “They should be in a museum!”
After weeks of dead ends, this was hitting the Mother Lode. I just stared and stared at these pencil colors for an hour, blown away by what I had just unearthed from the Mattel archives. I had hit pay dirt.
This process continued for the next few weeks. I found a lot more items in my search, and pretty much EVERYTHING I found (which wasn’t much) wound up in the 2009 art book. It was clear some of the really good stuff wasn’t around anymore (or at least I couldn’t find it) but there were quite a few gems including a lot of handwritten notes about "Monster/Fantasy" toys, and even a few documents from early 1980 that mentions “He-Man” and “MOTU” by name. Very cool.
I spent weeks reviewing all of these boxes and categorizing everything. I made copious notes of every item I pulled out, which box it came from, what it was and what it signified. I had no idea what I might use any of this for, but something told me, “find everything you can!” I didn’t want MOTUC to be the greatest MOTU line of all time, I wanted it to be the greatest TOY line of all time! So all the research I could do was worth it.
In the six months of development, not only did I pull all of these boxes from the archives, but I used the time to re-familiarize myself with MOTU lore. I re-watched every episode of every series, re-read ever mini comic, DC comic, Marvel comic, Image comic and so forth. (The He-Man.org guys were nice enough to send me samples of all of their MVP comics since I only had a few issues in my personal collection.) I started making a lot of notes on characters and rights issues. Knowing we did not have access (at the time) to Filmation-created characters, I wanted to have a clear understanding of exactly which characters we could make if the line took off.
I used this time to start to draw up master plans. One of the reasons the 200X Staction line had a short life was because they blew though key characters very quickly. Therefore, it was very important that if MOTU Classics (as we were now calling this line) was going go for the long haul, we needed a road map to get us through a few years. More on this when we get to Stratos. That was around the time the master plans (and bios) started taking shape.
Back to Beast Man specifically. There actually isn’t much more to say. He was developed at the same time as the other “first six” figures that were originally meant to be 2-packs. It should be noted that these first six figures were actually a bit expensive, tooling-wise. While we have really only been able to do one to two newly tooled figures per year, right out of the gate we had to tool three complete body types: Human (paid for with King Grayskull) Beast (Beast Man, Stratos) and Reptile (Skeletor). So the first six figures actually wound up eating a lot of our tooling budget.
But we positioned this to management as an investment, and if it paid off we would be able to do a year’s worth of figures with very minimal tooling after this. Luckily, this was a gamble that paid off.
Another thing to point out is that while most figures in the ongoing MOTUC line had at least two accessories, most of the figures in the first six (Beast Man, Stratos, Zodac) had only one (or none!) This was essentially because they were envisioned as 2-packs and not as single figures that needed a minimum number of accessories. Fans still point out the lack of accessories (especially with Stratos, who had none). All I can say is that these first six fell under different “rules” compared to all of the figures after them. It wasn’t a lack of caring, we just weren’t looking at them as a long term line yet and essentially were just mimicking the vintage figures’ accessories for the first six. If the vintage figure had one accessory, the new figure got one. If he had none (like Stratos) the Classics figure got none. We were not being cheap; we were just mimicking the vintage line, even down to the accessories.
Eventually, when the line took off, we made it a self-imposed “rule” to try and give each figure at least two accessories. End of mystery! (Yes, I still see flaming posts on this issue, oh well…)
Beast Man had a few other issues. Hong Kong mixed up his and Stratos' belts on the cross-sell (we even had some incorrectly assembled Stratos figure show up on eBay which freaked everyone out). But we did catch this and quickly made the change (although we were unable to make the change to the cross-sell image right away!).
This was also before we started matching the cross-sell images and packouts to the vintage cross-sell pose/packout. Long time fans will note that (for the most part) we tried to match packouts and cross-sell poses to the vintage toy. But during the development of the first six figures, this wasn’t something we had thought of yet (we were just happy to be making MOTU figures at all!) and essentially all of our efforts were going into just making six figures (knowing that the line might just end at six figures and that would be it).
It really wasn’t until Stratos’ quick sell-out that we knew we had a hit on our hands. There was a lot more MOTUC to come, but at the time, we were just excited to be getting six figures out there!
Oh, one last note on Beast Man is to talk about his “real name.” While the full bio “storyline” and the actual bios for the next six years would not be written until Stratos’ quick sell out and we knew we were in this for the long haul, we did want to make sure the original six bios worked on their own.
One thing that is very common in toy bios is to provide “real names” for characters (GI Joe, anyone?). Some characters in MOTU lore already had very established real names (Adam, Duncan, Keldor, etc…). But for others, we felt that “Beast Man” or “Spikor” was much more of a description of the character (like a code name, like “Snake Eyes” or “Duke,” not to overuse the GI Joe reference here). So (at least for the first six) we decided to issue real names for the first time for characters that had descriptive names (come on, we know his mother did not name him “Beast Man!”). This was really the first time we added anything to the “lore” that was new.
There wasn’t an overarching rule on how the real names were created. Really, they were handled on a character-by-character basis. We also knew that ANY new info (be it info in the bio or the real name) would be controversial with long-time fans. (what can I say, many long time fans hate change). But as with any new info, we hoped fans would come to embrace it in time. Hey, remember when it was revealed in 2003-2004-ish that Keldor was Skeletor’s real name and he was in fact Adam’s uncle? Fans HATED this. The flaming on the boards over this connection made Snake Man-at-Arms 2012 figures look like cheesecake.
But like most changes, in time fans grew to accept these new facts and even embrace and defend them. Nowadays, if you tell someone Keldor is not Randor’s brother you will get flamed yourself! What was controversial eventually becomes lore. Many hard core fans just don’t like change, but tend to accept it in time. We were well aware of this going in and fully expected the reaction we got. No big surprise as we know how passionate MOTU fans are. Change is bad (or is it?).
Raqquill Rqazz specifically was created as Beast Man’s real name because it was designed to mimic his people’s voice and beastly language. It was also designed to sound vicious in nature (Ra-KILL Ra- Kazzz). Love it or hate it, we had a “real name” and were ready to unleash it on the public (fully aware this added element to the lore would be extremely controversial at first).
But a big point of the bios and all aspects of them (real names included) was to give fans something to talk about and it worked in spades (no Spector pun intended). While some loved the bios and names, others not so much. But with the lack of any new mini comic or animation, these bios were the form of entertainment available and they succeeded beyond out hopes giving fans another thing to talk about and keep the line going.
So that is about it for Beast Man, his figure and bio/real name. I’ll be back to jump into Skeletor next as we started to head towards our on-sale date and what would be the edge of a knife whether this new line would find an audience and, more importantly, if that audience would be big enough to support the line!
Until next time,