E-mail interviews with Donald F. Glut, writer of the original four Masters of the Universe mini-comics
(conducted by Matt Jozwiak on December 14-16, 2001)

Matt Jozwiak: First off, I feel silly because I mis-spoke myself about having the four mini-comics. I currently only have two of the four. (I'm searching for the others.) But my understanding is that "He-Man and the Power Sword" details how He-Man left his jungle tribe to fight evil abroad.

Donald F. Glut: I think I have some extra copies of three of the books "He-Man and the Power Sword" (basically the origin story wherein He-Man leaves home), "Battle in the Clouds" and "Master of Castle Grayskull” (which I'm willing to sell, if you're interested.) By the way, at least one of the titles was kind of my in jokes. "Battle in the Clouds" was the title of a very old silent science-fiction movie I had in my film collection.

MJ:My primary question is: How close to the original concept of He-Man were your stories? Did you invent the background of He-Man, or were the tales written to accommodate someone else's preconceptions?

DFG: Originally, when I came onto the project, there were no stories at all. Not all the characters and places were yet named and not all of the characters had been invented. All that existed then were some prototype toys and some general ideas of who and what they were and what they could do.
     I'd been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys. The lead character was to be named He-Man (which I thought was just ludicrous) and others were named Man-at-Arms and Beastman. (I seem to remember coming up myself with the name for the then unnamed Merman.) At the time, none of these characters had origins or backgrounds and even their powers were not really defined. It was my job, working for relatively little pay and with no "piece of the action," something I'll never do again and refused to do when Mattel subsequently wanted me to do the same for their failed Wheeled Warriors project  to come up with all of that. Mattel then only had the prototypes of the toys, Polaroid photos of which were given to me for reference.
     The stories had to be of a precise length, with a certain number of lines per page and characters per line. The artwork on each page was to show a different scene. I was told what the toys could do and have their literary counterparts do them as much as possible in each story. Other than that, I was pretty much on my own.
     I came up with the name of Eternia. Since this was a kind of "eternal" realm, it just seemed natural and logical. The name just popped into my head without a lot of thought.
     The Power Sword was a sort of homage to the various "Power Stone" stories in the 1940s Superman comic books.
     There's a somewhat interesting story behind the name Grayskull. In the Polaroid's, at least, the prototype of the castle looked gray, not its true green. At the time I was married to a girl named Linda whose maiden name was Gray. As I was not going to get any byline credit for writing these stories, I thought I'd put in some in joke references that friends of mine in the know might spot. Hence, the castle became Castle Grayskull. (Ironically, Linda and I split up between my writing of these stories and the actual release of the toy for which she was named.)
     When I turned in my first batch of stories I included a female character, which, at first, upset the powers-that-be at both Mattel and Western, because there were no women in this particular toy line! After my explaining that a female was needed to make the stories work, they finally decided to go ahead with a lady character, one whose original mold (like He-Man's) could be re-done for yet more characters. When I needed to name her, I half-jokingly suggested "She-Man." (Ooh, never joke like that when the people you are working for take their characters seriously! I won't give details, but I had a similar experience at Hanna-Barbera when, asked by a story editor to suggest a name for Scooby-Doo's new little relative, I proposed Doggy Doo.) Then I remembered an early 1950s TV show I liked as a kid called Smilin' Ed's Gang. Old Smilin Ed sometimes told stories, acted out in little films that he ran, about a Sabu-like East Indian boy named Gunga Ram. Gunga rode through the jungle on his "great bull elephant Teela". For some reason that name just popped into my brain as I was thinking of that female character, and the rest, as they say, is history.

MJ: I've always assumed that everyone involved in the start of the toy line agreed with the origins detailed in the first four mini-comics. But in later years, especially with the advent of the television cartoon, they started to change things around. (There was never a Prince Adam in the originals, since He-Man came from the jungle, right?)

DFG: I didn't watch the cartoon show and had no interest in the movie, so I didn't really know or care what they did with my original concepts, especially since I wasn't getting any royalties on toys or other items (e.g., the View-Master adaptations) based on my concepts. Remember that my work was simply done as a "work for hire." I did it fast and turned it in. Not much thought or time went into any of it. When my part was over I moved on to other projects not related to Masters of the Universe.

MJ: Naturally, I feel the first four mini-comics are "canon material". It's the following ones that are confusing, though the comics introducing Ram Man, Tri-Klops, and others are still of a similar class. Aside from the official company viewpoint, do those next few mini-comics (before Prince Adam and company) also fit in with what you envisioned Eternia to be?

DFG: The first four were "canon". Thanks, I'm flattered. But I never read or even saw the booklets done after the ones I did, so I have no comment on this or their characters. My idea of Eternia, a name I invented, by the way, was simply a timeless realm in some unspecified place in the universe, where both magic and science were the order of the day.

Matt Jozwiak:On a slightly different note: Do you know who did the magnificent box art for the Masters of the Universe vehicles and playsets? I wonder if the company saved the originals. Those would make a wonderful book.

Donald F. Glut:  Sorry, I don't have the foggiest idea.

MJ: I'd like you to describe how you envisioned the characters and places, personalities, histories, races, occupations, whatever you dreamt up to fill in the blanks so you could write stories. Please include as many details as possible, however insignificant.

DFG: It's hard to remember much of this, as it was long ago and so quickly executed. Basically, I was given Polaroid photos of the prototype toys. I'd written lots of sword and sorcery and heroic adventure type stories by this time and so it was relatively easy to come up with the personalities. He-Man, for instance, was your typical "noble savage stereotype" a kind of combination Tarzan and Conan. I just used the same standards and principles I'd applied to earlier stories to "Master of the Universe". And the plots were similar, too. Most such plots involve a villain who needs "something" (a magic jewel, a secret formula, etc.) to achieve a goal (conquer the world, achieve immortality, etc.) and a brave hero who fights to prevent the villain from accomplishing this. You simply "fill in the blanks," changing the particulars from story to story.

MJ: You wrote that Castle Grayskull was "built by unknown hands before the Great Wars". Please elaborate on whatever history you may have invented for Eternia. For example, how did the monstrous people (like Beastman and Mer Man) end up on Eternia? Were they native species, mutants, or dimension wanderers like Skeletor?

DFG: I don't think I ever took it that far or thought about it that much. I simply put as much work into the stories as they were paying me to do. If something didn't concern Mattel or Western (e.g., the background of Beastman) I didn't let it bother me. Stating that the castle was "built by unknown hands before the Great War, and not having to explain whose hands or what that war was all about, was an easy way out for me. I have know idea who built the castle or fought in that war!
     As to what species (or better, subspecies) these characters were, I never thought about that, either. Remember that the primary intent was to sell neat-looking toys. What really mattered to Mattel is that 1. the toys looked good, 2. that the characters looked different, but 3. they could be made reusing the same prototype molds. Therefore, He-Man and Beastman, though different, could be sculpted over the same original bodies.

MJ: What about vehicles like the Battle Ram and Wind Raider? Any history or special abilities for those? And of course Castle Grayskull, if you haven't already discussed that, I suppose that's the big one.

DFG: I was not asked to come up with specs or backgrounds on the hardware so I didn't, I just used them in the stories to promote product. In the case of Castle Grayskull, they told me what the various gadgets of the toy could do and asked me to work them into the stories.

Matt Jozwiak: According to all you've told me, there's very little beyond the self-explanatory references in the mini-comics. So, since I can't think of any more questions, do you have anything you'd like to mention about your work on Masters of the Universe? Character information, funny stories, similar work on different toy lines?

Donald F. Glut: You pretty much summed up everything, I think. The only other toy line I worked on was, again for Mattel, the ill-conceived "Wheeled Warriors," which I knew from the start would flop. The whole idea made no sense to me and the only conclusion either Mattel or Western had that I had to work on was that in the end, somehow, everything was "all right again." There was also more censorship on this series. For example, I couldn't have an explicitly aggressive action of the characters against one another. One character could lunge "toward" another but not "at" another; real subtle differences that drove me crazy. I told Mattel and Western that, unlike my "Masters" stint, I would not make up any characters, any character names, any names of places, etc., only write stories in which to put characters and locations that were supplied to me. I didn't want to get into the same situation as on "Masters," where I was literally "creating" things that became toys, cartoon shows, movies, etc., but for which I got no future rewards, only my flat-rate "work for hire fees. This, of course, did not set well with the folks at Mattel and I was afraid for a while that it would cost me the gig.
     I'm not proud of the "Wheeled Warriors" books I did for Mattel and had no fun writing them. Like the "Masters" booklets, they required a finite number of pages, lines per page and maximum characters per line. And like the older series, they were simply done to sell the toys. At least I was able to write the stories fast.
     My work on "Masters of the Universe" taught me one basic lesson: Don't create anything original, especially concepts that someone else will make millions of dollars from, unless you have a percentage of the profits or part ownership. It's a lesson I've managed to stick to since my days with He-Man and the gang.

MJ: Hey, I've got an idea (or maybe I'm getting carried away). If you had to speculate on how you would have continued the story of the Masters of the Universe, how do you think it would have gone? (You, apparently, aren't restricted by knowledge of the later mini-comics.) What further details would you have added to the environment and characters, if you had continued?

DFG: I hate to be a "wet blanket," but I never had any idea of where my versions of the characters would have gone or what they would have done beyond my little booklet stories. Again, remember that this was just a job, one of many I have done and continue to do, and I saw no reason to use up any additional brain power unless I was getting paid for it.

MJ: Know anything about Robert E. Howard, the original creator of Conan?

DFG: I know a little about REH. I did, for a while, write a number of the Kull and Solomon Kanes stories, plus a few "Tales of the Hyborian Age," for Marvel Comics back in the 1970s. And, around the same time, I created and wrote "Dagar the Invincible" for Western (Gold Key/Whitman Comics). Now there's a whole new interview!

Copyright 2001 by Matt Jozwiak
v12.16.2001
 


 
 
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