Growing up in the 80s meant that the ‘He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe’ cartoon was a staple part of my childhood. The over-the-top heroics, bombastic music, comforting moral at the end of each episode alongside the opportunity to pester my mum to buy me lots of He-Man toys was a tremendous source of excitement for a young mind. But as the 80s faded away and a more cynical age came into view, so did He-Man. While there have been a few attempts at re-invention for the franchise, He-Man seems firmly of a time and place.
Tim and Steve Seeley’s ‘The Art of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe’ brings memories about childhood flooding back while providing an interesting insight into the development of an entertainment franchise. Beginning with early memos from toy manufacturers Mattel about the development of ‘Generic Licensed Male Action Figure’, the book looks at early prototypes of He-Man, at one time called ‘Viktor’, and provides plenty of artwork and sketches from designers and manufacturers. Taking the likes of Conan as an inspiration, the world of adult fantasy was given a kid friendly sheen. Indeed, looking at the section devoted to the creation of the cartoon show, you can see how amazingly detailed and intricate some of the backgrounds and scenery was, even for a studio as cheap as Filmation could be.
Of course, much of the fun in the book is also reminiscing on all the weird and wonderful characters that made up the He-Man universe. Ram-Man, Modulok, Man-E-Faces and many, many others made up a wonderful fantasy menagerie and, again, a great opportunity to sell lots of action figures.
The authors have interviewed almost every major player in the franchise from Paul Dini (a former writer on the cartoon series now more known as a driving force in DC comics and ‘Batman’) and Dolph Lundgren, the star of the 1986 live action movie. They even get Alan Oppenheimer, the voice artist he created the legendary cackle of Skeletor. Most of the interviews are informative, though there are a couple of amusing moments when the interviews basically consist of ‘I don’t remember a thing, it was all a contract job’.
The book also lives up to its name. This very much is a collection of all the artwork related to the franchise, sketches, animation cels, comic books etc. There are few stills or photos of merchandise and the like. Indeed, the section devoted to the live action film doesn’t contain any actual images from the movie. But fans should find themselves thoroughly engaged as this is still a gorgeous coffee table book that is comprehensively researched and often beautiful to look at.
‘The Art of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe’ will be of most appeal to hardcore devotees of the show and character but more casual fans will also find it an enjoyable wallow in 80s nostalgia.
(pub: Dark Horse Publishing. 184 page hardback. Price: £33.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61655-592-4)
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