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The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

September 9, 2019

Right now, in the Pacific Ocean, is a widening gyre of plastic garbage, and among the junk food wrappers are heaps of forsaken toys, broken, exploded by firecrackers, and forgotten by spoiled children across the world. Intrepid explorers through this archaeological landscape will be able to timestamp their findings to the early to mid-1980s when they stumble upon the impressive figure of He-Man.

The library, of course, doesn’t have any of these toys on hand, but you can marvel at them in the wonderful coffee table book The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. This is an amazing collection of concept art, animation stills, packaging paintings, product tie-in, you name it from the toy line and animated series first introduced in 1982. If you’re between 30 and 40 there’s a good chance you had at least one of these toys or watched this show or were jealous of a neighbor kid who seemed to have the whole of Eternia in his or her bedroom closet. 

This book is a treasure trove of He-Maninalia, including memos which lead to the creation of the product line. One internal Mattel document states, “boys are attracted to strength, fierceness, and superhuman powers”, a pretty obvious statement that nonetheless points to the bluntness of the character’s name and abilities. Another describes the gestating product as a combination of “Frazetta-type figures combined with parts of Conan, Flash Gordon, and Star Wars.” It’s interesting to see this kind of corporate, focus group-generated fun from the inside, and to think of yourself as a little kid having your strings pulled by old men in board rooms. It really makes you long for the good ol’ days.

The best part of the book are the Frazetta-like paintings which appeared on figure cards, boxes, and other He-Man items. Most of these were by Earl Norem, an artist who did covers for tons of men’s adventure magazines in the 1960s, as well as trading cards and comics. There’s beauty in this junk, and we should all be thankful it’s not floating in the ocean.

Comic book panel of man expressing horror avatar


Jeremy Estes has worked for Nashville Public Library since 2008. He loves comic books and dislikes the term “graphic novels”. He hosts Panel Discussion, a comics book club for adults, on the first Wednesday of the month at 12pm at the Main Library.