The first Masters of the Universe comic book series in nearly a decade certainly has the fanbase buzzing. DC’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is ushering He-Man’s world back into the public consciousness with edgy storylines, shocking surprises, dramatic design choices, and even an upcoming crossover with the Justice League.
The second issue of the ongoing series was just released this past Wednesday, so this seemed like the perfect time to discuss the comic with series penciller Pop Mhan. Mr. Mhan has worked for DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Wildstorm, Top Cow, and Tokyopop. His work has appeared in such titles as Batgirl, World of Warcraft, Ghost Rider, Flash, and Bionicle. Currently, Pop’s exciting and action-packed illustrations help bring the new He-Man comic to life.
Mr. Mhan was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to discuss the series with He-Man.Org.
Interview with Pop Mhan
by Danielle “Penny Dreadful” Gelehrter
May 17, 2013
Can you tell us a little bit about your background in comics? Who are your influences?
I've been drawing comics since 1995 when I got my start working for Jim Lee at Wildstorm Productions as an artist intern. I've pretty much been drawing comics ever since. My influences start with (of course) Jim Lee with a healthy dose of Carlos Pachecos and Japanese manga, particularly Harold Sakuishi and Oh! Great. Those were my early influences, at least. Now, I soak up whatever draws my attention at the moment.
Were you a fan of Masters of the Universe prior to your current assignment?
As a kid, I watched the Filmation cartoons that came on each morning before going to school. I really enjoyed them a lot. I always dug the transformation scene when Adam became He-Man - it was cool!
In the past, some critics dismissed cartoons and comics based on MOTU as marketing tools used to sell toys. However, the stories of He-Man and She-Ra clearly captivated millions and are more than simple "advertising" to fans. What are your thoughts on working in the "world" of MOTU?
Well, I think that the cartoons and comics are indeed marketing tools used to help sell toys - but, I don't believe they should be dismissed. Building and creating an entertaining narrative is a very powerful and necessary way to promote and also breathe life into a product. The narrative creates a reason to care about the toy line and provides the consumer with a template with which they can inject their own stories and ideas. The cartoons and comics (the vessel with which the narratives are delivered to the consumer) may act as a marketing tool but should hardly be dismissed or disrespected.
The MotU universe is lush, captivating and to be expected of a 30 year old IP - full of back stories and history. It can be daunting, trying to figure out what goes where and what versions of characters, vehicles and settings belong to which version of the MotU universe but I leave it in my editor's and Mattel's capable hands to make sure I'm getting all of the details correct. With the support structure I have behind me, I can relax and just really have fun working on the property!
What, to you, are design elements which are essential to Masters of the Universe?
Coming onboard the project, I was given a "welcome packet" that included many of the awesome new designs being introduced with notes and design cues that Mattel is looking for with the new Ongoing book. In that regard, much of the design elements and direction was already previously established.
From my personal perspective, I think beyond the instantly recognizable "sci-fi sword and sorcery" feel of the MotU universe are very inspiring and subtle nuances. That in itself is a fun challenge for me to capture in the pages I draw. This particular incarnation of He-Man that I am drawing is kind of based on the classic He-Man, so a lot of the design cues and stylings were taken from the cartoons and the distinct, early 80's way people drew sci-fi tech and how they visually portrayed the concept of sword and sorcery and injected with some modern sensibilities and adaptation. While this might be a different He-Man story, I want people - hardcore fans and the casual fan alike - to feel like coming back to a familiar place. Sure, it's got new curtains, modern light fixtures, fresh paint and new carpeting - Yeah, we knocked down a few walls to make the space more open and cohesive but it's the same comfy house that you've always loved and cherished. :)
What thought process did you got through when redesigning some of the characters?
A redesign of a character is tricky. The new design should make sense, capture the essence of the character and be visually pleasing and exciting. After some good research, I usually pick out some characteristics that speak to me and emphasize that and use it as a base for where the design wants to naturally go. It's an organic approach but one I find very pleasing and satisfying.
With MotU, I usually do a few versions and send it out to Mattel and get a cool redraw from one of their supremely talented designers or artists that ties up where I was trying to go with the design. They make it all "MotU" for me. I love it. I am able to just kinda go with it and Mattel will reign it all back in and make sure the design conforms with their brand. It's liberating!
That said, my contribution so far is the redesign of Roboto and enhancing Phillip Tan's previous design of Stratos. Oh and Hordak! Hordak was previously established in the Digitals before his appearance in issue 1 but was never shown in his element before.
Many fans are not thrilled with He-Man's new full-body armor. Is this a permanent change in appearance for the foreseeable future?
I can't really make a comment about that that because I seriously have no idea. I usually get a quick heads up about things that affect me in an artistic capacity but storywise, I see the story unfold as I get the scripts. It's pretty exciting that way since I'm a huge fan of Keith's and reading the script is like reading the comic. Boooooo to spoilers! Hahaha, it's like Christmas every month!
Was this change requested by Mattel or by DC? Why did they want to alter He-Man's iconic look?
I don't know for sure but I'd assume Mattel, since it's their property. Now, I have to state that I'm kind of a spectator as well since I only draw the book and have no real input with the story or much of the designs but I know those guys at Mattel are very brilliant and disgustingly talented. Whether the change is permanent or the prelude of an epic storyline, I know that Mattel will have something very exciting in store for us that will blow our collective socks off!
What's up with Teela wearing less clothes than her vintage counterpart, while He-Man will have to wear more with this new armor?
This is kind of a touchy, debatable subject. Wow! Ok, I'll try to broach the topic but let me give a brief disclaimer that I don't represent Mattel or DC and my thoughts and views are my own and I also didn't have a hand in the redesigns of He-Man or Teela - not that they're bad, I think the redesigns are very cool - but I wasn't involved so I can't really comment on the why's.
I do understand the stance that some people are having because of Teela's new redesign and what less clothes implies on Teela's character but I try to portray Teela as she's always been. I try to draw Teela capturing her strength, her confidence, her fiery attitude and biting wit. She's a strong, empowered woman capable of donning the costume and kicking butt. I think she wears the costume without giving a damn what you think about her. She's comfortable and she's a bad ass. Bring on the Horde! :)
What are your thoughts on Despara/Adora? From what I understand, Mattel provided the idea for the character’s new design. Did you bring anything to the table in terms of the design?
I love Adora's new look but I wasn't involved with her design.
With Despara/Adora, we're seeing a side of the character that was never fully explored in the Filmation cartoon. We knew she was the Force Captain of the Horde so she must have done bad things, but we never saw those things. Here, we see her in action, and many fans enjoy exploring this darker edge to the character. What's your take on the Adora we're seeing here?
To be honest, I don't have the same familiarity with the POP line that I do with the MotU line. In that way, I'm a pretty clean slate that my exquisitely knowledgeable editor, Michael McCalister and the fine folks at Mattel, can fill with all of the relevant lore that's inline with their vision of this version of Adora. I am very intrigued with Adora and her darkness and love how Keith is writing her. If this version of Adora follows her earlier versions and gets redeemed to become She-Ra... How awesome would that be?? Seriously! I hope it happens and I can't wait to see what Mattel does with She-Ra! :)
How heavily is Mattel involved with the comic? Did they provide figures or reference photos for you to work from?
I'm not sure how heavily involved Mattel is with the comics but this incarnation of He-Man is a licensed book and all, and each step of my art has to be approved by Mattel before moving forward.
Mattel has been a dream to work with! They are organized and provide me with the guidance and reference to make my job much easier.
Many fans appreciate Easter Eggs and nods to what came before. Can we expect more of this sort of thing in the comic?
MOTU features quite a pantheon of characters. Is there any particular character you'd like to tackle that you haven't had the chance to encounter yet?
With the huge pantheon of characters to choose from, I'm not sure I can single out a character. MotU's root in scifi sword and sorcery allows for some of the coolest looking characters of any property and I'd love a hand at all of them!
Who is your favorite character to illustrate and why?
My favorite has to be He-Man. He presents a challenge in that he has to look the perpetual Adonis at all times. Teela's right up there with He-Man for the same reason.
What sorts of things can we look forward to seeing in future issues?
As I settle into the characters, I feel that my art improves with each new issue. I'm looking to really bring it to this book!
There's something that's been bugging me about the reaction to a scene in issue #1 that's kind of my fault for not being able to properly illustrate it. The fact that I have to give some clarification is ample evidence of that, hahaha!
In issue 1, Teela strips down to her underwear while talking with Adam and co. and some fans were confused as to why she'd done that. Basically, the scene was supposed to subtly supply readers with some background on the inner workings of Teela's attitude and outlook. She sees herself as "one of the guys" and will do what she does. The stuffy uniforms are just not her thing and she shows her eagerness to toss it away and jump into her comfy battle dress as soon as humanly possible. Dekker and MAA averted their eyes but Adam does not because, congruent to Teela's view, Adam also doesn't really see her as a "girl" but his age-old buddy. Well, that's what I attempted to portray at least.
Haha, that's all there was to that. :)
Thanks so much Pop!
It's totally my pleasure! I love interacting with fans and MotU fans are some of the most exciting and passionate ones around!
A million thanks to Pop Mhan for discussing his work on the comic. Look out for issue three of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe coming your way on June 19th!