It was roughly 35 years ago that Mattel decided to do its own action-adventure toyline, to make up for its decision not to do Star Wars toys in 1977. In an exclusive excerpt from the book The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, we've got exclusive early sketches, plus the first He-Man pitch memo!
Above is early "production artwork" for the first He-Man cartoon ever produced — which wasn't an episode of the Masters of the Universe TV show, but rather a commerical for Mattel's Castle Grayskull play set. The level of detail and rendering in that first attempt at the characters was actually higher than that of the 65-episode TV show that came afterwards.
This artwork comes from a new book called The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, being published in April 2015 by Dark Horse. That book is the fruits of the labor of the Power and Honor Foundation, a non-profit that aims to "collect, archive, preserve, and educate the public about the creative origins of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra Princess of Power."
Below is another spread from the book, containing what looks like the earliest pitch to Mattel for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe:
In that memo, lead designer Roger Sweet (usually credited with coming up with the concept) writes:
It may be time to introduce into the [Mattel Action Figures] line a new theme of "fantasy make-believe." The theme would be oriented towards Frizetta [sic] type figures possibly combined with parts of Conan, and Flash Gordon and Star Wars. Frizetta [sic] type subject matter had no "advanced technology" vehicles and accessories but these can be added within this theme. In addition giants (Shogun size), mid-size and nine figures (1 1/2" - 2") can all be combined in this theme and played with together.
So there you have it — the genesis of He-Man was basically taking Frank Frazetta and mashing his style up with everything else that was popular. And it absolutely works.
Here's some amazing artwork, including a couple of card-back art pieces explaining the powers of Stinkor (TM) and Moss Man (TM):
And here are a couple of pages of layouts, including Bob Kline's layouts for the episode "Colossor Awakes," which were so good and expressive, the show decided to use hardly any stock animation for that one:
To find out more about the Power and Honor Foundation, check out their website.