Roger Sweet - Origin of He-Man

Origin of He-Man

In 1976, Mattel's CEO Ray Wagner declined a request to produce a toyline of action figures based on the characters from the George Lucas film Star Wars. Upon the commercial success of the film trilogy during the next few years and all related merchandise, Mattel attempted to launch several unsuccessful toylines, none of which captured the public's imagination or made a significant dent in the toy market.

In the race to design the next hit action figure, Roger Sweet, a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, realized simplicity was the key to success. According to his book Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea published in 2005, Sweet knew that if he gave marketing something they could sell, he'd won 90% of the battle.

"The only way I was going to have a chance to sell this was to make three 3D models - big ones. I glued a Big Jim figure into a battle action pose and I added a lot of clay to his body. I then had plaster casts made. These three prototypes, which I presented in late 1980, brought He-Man into existence."

"I simply explained that this was a powerful figure that could be taken anywhere and dropped into any context because he had a generic name: He-Man!"

—Roger Sweet

It has been rumored that Conan the Barbarian was a source of inspiration for the He-Man character. According to this rumor, Mattel had a licensing agreement to make the Conan action figures associated with the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently, such idea had to be modified in order to avoid objections from parents concerning that a toyline for kids was promoting a film with nudity and violence. In addition, brown-haired prototype versions of the He-Man action figure with a strong resemblance to the Conan character created by Robert E. Howard were produced and given away as promotion through an unknown mail-in order by mistake.

This rumor has been refuted by Roger Sweet claiming that he conceptualized and developed the He-Man/Masters of the Universe franchise in late 1980, two years prior to the release of the Universal Pictures film. The toyline existed prior to the movie, starting production in 1981 and marketed in 1982. At that time, Mattel did not have a license with Universal to make toys for the film, which resulted in Conan Properties suing Mattel over copyright infringement with He-Man's similarities to Conan.

Further, Sweet was influenced by the superbly beautiful art of the Frazetta illustrations and by the descriptive power of the Conan books. But, concerning the content of those illustrations and the Conan books, Sweet only was influenced by the Barbarian Fantasy theme as one of several possible themes ultimately that could be applied in combination to his highly generic He-Man concept. This is highly visually apparent in Sweet’s He-Man Trio, which consists of three He-Man characters, each in a very different theme outfit – one low technology, ancient Barbarian; one high technology, futuristic military ala Star Wars enhanced; and one current technology, military ala G. I. Joe enhanced. However, Sweet was definitely not influenced by the Frazetta Barbarian characters’ physiques, by the Conan books, or by the Conan comics, all of which were of characters of relatively average athletic mass and musculature. In his He-Man origination, Sweet sought a character that was infinitely much more physically massive and muscular - also highly apparent in Sweet’s He-Man Trio. In addition, Sweet certainly was not influenced by the Conan name. This name is weak as a male action figure or heroic figure name because it describes nothing strong. In fact, it describes nothing. And in actuality, it is the name of a Scottish author, Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the creator of the relatively comparatively physically wimpy and frumpy Sherlock Holmes character. In contrast, when the “He-Man” name is heard, it instantly and stunningly describes a greatly physically powerful, heroic man. And that name is a big reason why the He-Man / Masters franchise was such a huge success in competition with literally hundreds of other male action figures and heroic characters through history.

From the lawsuit of CPI vs. Mattel:

"In 1980, CPI, through its agent, Conan Licensing Company ("CLC"), began negotiations with Mattel regarding the possible licensing to Mattel of certain toy rights in CONAN. During this time, Mattel received a substantial quantity of material on the CONAN character. On July 31, 1981, CPI and Mattel executed a License Agreement whereby Mattel was granted "the right to make and sell certain plastic action figures of CONAN and ancillary characters as depicted in the CONAN movie." Amended Complaint, para. 12. The Agreement provided, however, "that nothing in the License should be construed as an assignment or grant to Mattel of any right, title or interest in or to CONAN, and that all rights relating thereto were reserved by CPI (except only for the licensee to use the property as specifically agreed to)." Amended Complaint, para. 14. It was also agreed that, after the termination of the License Agreement, Mattel would not make or sell any CONAN toys."

"In January 1982, Mattel requested that the License Agreement be terminated. On April 14, 1982, CPI and Mattel entered into a termination agreement which provided that "all materials created and or developed by Mattel for use in connection with products under the CONAN License" would be delivered to CPI's agent, CPC, which would have "the exclusive right to use such material." Amended Complaint, para. 17."

"In February 1982, Mattel introduced a fantasy character, "He-Man," as part of its new "Masters of the Universe" toy line of action figures. Since that time, Mattel has also featured He-Man and the other Masters of the Universe characters in, inter alia, a television series, comic books, and video tapes. Thereafter, CPI commenced this action asserting that these figures are copies of CONAN, were created under the License, and are CPI's property. Amended Complaint, paras. 20, 21."

In the end, Mattel won the lawsuit against Conan Properties to retain the rights over He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

In agreement with the above paragraphs at the beginning of this "Origin of He-Man" section, the He-Man concept was first presented by Roger Sweet in the form of three large three-dimensional plaster prototype He-Man Trio models, which had some painted formed sheet wax outfit parts. This He-Man concept was first presented by Roger Sweet to Mattel executives at a mid-December, 1980 Product Conference. The He-Man Trio models were a barbarian, a soldier, and a spaceman. There were no drawings or other wax sculptures presented of the He-Man concept in that first He-Man presentation. Out of the three concepts, the barbarian version was chosen to be the basis of the toyline. Taking in consideration that the Conan character was created almost 50 years prior to the development of the He-Man franchise, it is likely that the Masters of the Universe borrowed many aspects from Conan, but it appears that it was not intended to be a toyline for the film after legal agreements were dissolved. Additionally, Roger Sweet has claimed also to have been "real impressed" by the paintings of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta when creating He-Man. To further expand on this initial barbarian theme, Mattel hired comic book writers and artists such as Donald F. Glut and Earl Norem to create additional characters and their backstory, posters, package inlays, box art and mini-comics to be distributed with the action figures.

Of the three original He-Man Trio prototype models, the barbarian themed prototype He-Man was black haired with a deeply tanned eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance. His helmet had no horns. Later, at the direction of Tom Kalinske, then in Mattel's upper management, He-Man was made more clean-cut and changed to a blond... Plus, He-Man's skin was lightened, though definitely still tanned.

—Roger Sweet

The concept of He-Man originated by Roger Sweet in the form of the He-Man Trio was first presented by Sweet to Mattel upper management at a Product Conference in mid-December, 1980. The He-Man Trio consisted of three prototype plaster models, which had some painted formed sheet wax outfit parts. There was no He-Man male action concept in any form before Sweet originated the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio. The He-Man Trio originated / brought into existence the following attributes:

1. The super powerful "He-Man" name as a male action figure that instantly communicates exceptionally great physical strength, size, and power.

2. The highly generic / open-ended "He-Man" name as a male action figure that enables the He-Man male action line to accept practically any theme, time period, degree of technology, situation, etc., and combine them all into one highly generic and versatile line.

3. The immensely physically powerful and massive He-Man physique with the 2 - to - 1 body proportion. This means that the He-Man figure is 2 times as tall as he is wide across the shoulders.

And that far more massively muscular and defined appearance of the physiques of He-Man / Masters figures went on to revolutionize the look of other competitive male action figures’ physiques in the toy industry.

4. The battle action stance. This is unlike the relaxed, static poses, or distorted positions found in other competitive action figures of the time. Further, in a production He-Man type male action figure, it would have pose-able legs. And the battle action stance would also allow the legs to be posed in a running position, or a sitting position.

5. The battle action waist. This spring-loaded feature enables He-Man to power punch and throw weapons and other objects - such as small, puny Star Wars and G. I. Joe figures. When Sweet was originating the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio, he reached a point where he had conceived a tremendously physically powerful male action figure in a dynamic and powerful Battle Action Stance. But based on his past Mattel toy experience, Sweet knew that a figure’s strong action appearance was not enough to sell the He-Man concept to Mattel upper management. The figure also needed a strong, direct, yet simple, action feature. So Sweet originated the idea that a spring-loaded, swivel-waist power punch and weapon swing would be the terrific addition needed. And this single feature could be added to an entire line of male action figures. This swivel-waist action feature is described in two Mattel documents that Sweet originated before Sweet originated the He-Man Trio: (1.) Mattel Project Budget No. R333, Title: Space / Monster Fantasy Figures, Date: 9 / 21 / 80, Idea by: Roger H Sweet. It has the quote: “Each figure will utilize a swivel waist – rear end actuated - to swing weapons & the arms”. (2.) Mattel Project / Toy Number Request Form, Working Name: Megaton Man, Date: 11 - 3 - 80, Project No.: CA 06, Originator: Roger Sweet. It has a quote: “Megaton Man is a male action figure with a swivel waist torso”. Further, the He-Man Trio He-Man figures each had a swivel action waist. And the Barbarian theme He-Man Trio He-Man is shown in a photograph with a turned upper torso. This dynamite feature later became known as the “Battle Action Waist”, “Battle Action Punch”, or "Power Punch".

6. Much ripped, bare muscular flesh showing.

7. The figure's ability to have attached and hold outfit parts, weapons, and other accessories.

8. The battle action open-mouthed facial grimace expression.

9. The He-Man Trio figures showed that the He-Man / Masters of the Universe line's figure configurations could be basically simple to design and manufacture - yet still be highly appealing.

10. The three He-Man Trio figures had another feature that had not been done in other pale-skinned lead heroic male action figures, and established a new precedent: The He-Man figures had deeply tanned skin. This gave those He-Man figures an exceptionally ultra-healthy looking appearance which accentuated the incredibly massively muscular physique. And, that He-Man tanned skin also was passed directly to the 1982 first year production He-Man and other Original Series He-Man figures.

11. The three He-Man Trio He-Man prototype figures were dressed in three different costumes. Each of those costumes represented the three different themes that had tested most strongly in the mid-1980 Mattel market research male action theme focus group study, shown to children and mothers. This was the first of what was to be three market research studies on male action line themes that were done for what later turned out to be the He-Man / Masters of the Universe male action line. Those three male action themes were: (1.) Ancient Barbarian Fantasy. (2.) Futuristic Space Military ala Stars Wars enhanced. (3.) Current Military ala G. I. Joe enhanced. The Ancient Barbarian Fantasy theme ultimately was selected as the dominant theme for the new He-Man / Masters of the Universe male action line by Mattel Boys Toys Marketing and upper management. The reason was that theme was totally fresh - it had not been done in any toy company’s male action line. And it had not been done in a movie. But, the He-Man Trio figures were also shown in the two other themes, Futuristic Space Military ala Star Wars enhanced and Current Military ala G. I. Joe enhanced. For that reason, the new He-Man / Masters line was also made highly generic – so that the line could go in many other directions relative to theme, time period, degree of technology, or other element.

The He-Man Trio figures were 9 1/2 inches tall. The 1982 and Original Series Masters figures were 5 1/2 inches tall. But the above He-Man Trio physical attributes, scaled down, were transferred directly into all seven of the 1982 Masters of the Universe line male figures. And, in total, those He-Man Trio physical attributes also went into fifty-six of the He-Man-shaped figures in the Original Series Masters line from 1982 through 1987.

Based on valid and factual observation and analysis, all of the above information is readily proven to be true.

The above combination of He-Man attributes that Roger Sweet originated at the beginning of the concept composed Sweet's masters plan that was absolutely essential for Sweet to initially sell the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio to Mattel upper management at the mid-December, 1980 Product Conference. And those He-Man attributes were extremely essential for the He-Man / Masters of the Universe line to become the phenomenal success that it was.

- Roger Sweet

Roger Sweet's comments refer only to his He-Man Trio toy prototypes. But after Roger Sweet originated and first presented the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio at the Mattel mid-December, 1980 Product Conference, then concept artists such as Mark Taylor penciled up and showed black and white drawings of a black haired Conan-like barbarian sporting a horned helmet as it can be seen on the Masters of the Universe official site. The black-haired He-Man Trio He-Man concept and Taylor's black-haired barbarian character concept were later dropped when He-Man was effectively redesigned as the blond He-Man when put into toy prototype form. Taylor’s Conan-like barbarian character was created and shown by Taylor after Sweet originated and presented the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio. Also, Taylor’s Conan-like character was originally unnamed. Further, Taylor’s Conan-like character definitely originally was not He-Man. In spite of these facts, the following events subsequently occurred:

In 2011, Mark Taylor's Conan closely inspired concept finally has been made into a toy named "Vikor". Quoting the section "prototypes and concept art" of "Masters of the Universe original series" on

He-Man... The most Powerful man in the UNIVERSE. As you can see in this first sketch, by Mark Taylor, the main designer on the early figures, he was originally envisioned as a far more barbaric character, with almost something of a viking-inspired look to him. He's not even sporting his trademark blonde hair, but is instead raven-haired.

Again on the Masters of the Universe official site, Vikor was announced for 2011, quoting a line from the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian "what is best in life?" :

Vikor, He-Man of the North

"What is best in life?" New MOTUC characters! Vikor is based on the original concept art of He-Man! This rugged looking barbarian comes with axe, sword and shield, all new! And he comes with a half of the Sword .

--- news "The Characters Revealed!"

The unnamed, average physique and muscled Conan-like barbarian characters in Taylor’s illustrations originally were not named “He-Man”, and were definitely not He-Man. Further, those Taylor barbarian characters were unknown to Mattel upper management, Marketing, and Preliminary Design - including Roger Sweet - before, during, and directly after Sweet originated the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio. Sweet then presented that He-Man concept at the mid-December, 1980 Mattel Product Conference. Therefore, those Taylor unnamed Conan-like barbarian characters had absolutely no influence on Sweet’s origination of the He-Man concept. In addition, those Taylor unnamed Conan-like barbarian characters had absolutely no influence on the Mattel Original Series He-Man / Masters of the Universe male action line which spanned from 1982 through 1987.

In Taylor’s illustrations, all of the characteristics of Taylor’s Conan - like barbarian characters are proven to be near copies of characteristics taken by Taylor from earlier Frank Frazetta barbarian character illustrations.

Taylor’s Conan-like barbarian character in Taylor’s illustrations, that later became the Mattel Classics Vikor figure, was of very average athletic physique. The character was even far less massive and muscular than Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Olympia in the 1970s. Therefore, that Taylor character was extremely physically puny in comparison with Sweet’s He-Man Trio He-Man characters, which were far more physically massive and muscular. But when Mattel designed the Vikor figure, to make the figure feasible and acceptable as a Masters Classics lead heroic figure, the company greatly enhanced the figure by “He-Man-izing” it, immensely increasing its physical mass and musculature over the puny Taylor Conan-like barbarian character in Taylor’s illustrations. Also, Mattel greatly enhanced the design of the parts and accessories that went with the Vikor figure. Not only that, but Mattel added to the name “Vikor”, “He-Man of the North”. Vikor had never been named He-Man until Mattel named him that.

Conversely, when Mattel designed another Masters Classic figure, the Vykron figure, which is a take-off of Sweet’s He-Man Trio He-Man figures, the company went in the opposite direction as had been done for Vikor. When Vykron is compared to the He-Man Trio, with Vykron, Mattel greatly reduced the number of figures from three to one, the height size of the figures from 9 1/2 inches tall to about 5 inches tall, the physical massiveness and musculature of the figures, as well as the size and detail of the outfit parts and accessories. And in addition, overall, Mattel poorly designed what parts the company did offer with the Vykron.

So, as the Mark Taylor Vikor character figure is considered so important as to be featured in this Masters of the Universe article, then another Masters male action character related to Roger Sweet certainly must also be considered and reviewed here:

That is the Mattel Masters Classics male action figure product, Vykron. This Vykron figure is a greatly altered version of Roger Sweet’s original He-Man Trio concept. In 2012, Mattel released Vykron as a San Diego ComicCon Exclusive, supposedly for two purposes: (1.) To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mattel’s Masters Of The Universe male action line, which was introduced in 1982. (2.) And also to give recognition to the origination importance of the He-Man Trio to the He-Man / Masters franchise. But in actuality, the Vykron product may not have done either because of its execution, several radical design and other changes that were made to the Vykron figure as compared with Sweet’s He-Man Trio: (1.) For 32 years, all three He-Man characters of Roger Sweet’s He-Man Trio had been named “He-Man”. Yet, in 2012, Mattel attempted to change the He-Man Trio He-Man characters’ name to the new, apparently formerly non-existent, name of “Vykron”. However, that Vykron name is one letter different than the name of “Vykon”, that Sweet gave to a greatly massively muscular character that Sweet originated at Mattel in 1980 before Sweet originated the He-Man concept. Be all that as it may, all three of the He-Man Trio He-Man characters will forever truly be named only “He-Man”. (2.) Whereas the original He-Man Trio was composed of three 9 1/2 inch tall He-Man figures, the 2012 Vykron figure is composed of a single, much shorter, approximately 5 inch tall figure. (3.) And that single Vykron figure is not nearly as muscular and massive as either Sweet’s original He-Man Trio He-Man figures or the 1982 production He-Man figure. (4.) Further, that single Vykron figure, when barely clad, shows a completely bald head with the upper head being an ugly, reduced size, bare, grooved knob sticking up on top! One obvious, much better design solution for the Vykron head would have been to have a finished, refined head with styled black hair as part of it. Then, the various helmets could be placed on top of, and around the head. (5.) Not only that, but the three Vykron outfits / costumes are skimpy and badly designed. For example, the Barbarian theme He-Man of the He-Man Trio had more refined, crafted, leather-like shoes complete with a detailed sole and heel section. But with the Vykron character, Mattel reverted to the crude, caveman-like, wrapped, leather-like “swaddling boots” similar to those on the 1982 production He-Man. Mark Taylor earlier had taken the swaddling boots idea directly from characters in the Frank Frazetta barbarian illustrations and applied them to the 1982 He-Man. Therefore, the fur shorts and the crude swaddling boots of the Barbarian theme Vykron figure show through on the Current Military theme and the Futuristic Space Military theme Vykron costumes. This is because the He-Man Trio Current Military theme and Futuristic Space Military theme shin guard / boots encircle and cover the He-Man figures’ entire lower legs. But, conversely, the Vykron Current Military theme and Futuristic Space Military theme shin guard / boots are snapped on from the front, and are completely open in the back and at the bottom. This bad design crudely exposes the Vykron Barbarian theme figure’s crude swaddling boots. (6.) In addition, the tank turret helmet, and the revised Boba Fett helmet have been greatly reduced in size, with much less visual impact and quality. Further, when the Vykron package text is examined, several negative factors are given: (1.) The Vykron costumes are ridiculed as “outlandish”. But those highly imaginative and unique He-Man theme costumes on the tremendously physically powerful He-Man Trio He-Man characters are what strongly aided Sweet to sell the He-Man concept to Mattel upper management at that late 1980 Mattel Product Conference. The reason is that those revolutionary He-Man Trio costumes showed how new, imaginative, and fun costumes for the new, highly generic He-Man line could be. This particular type of revolutionary outfit design had never been done in the toy, comic, or entertainment industries. (2.) In addition, in the package text, Vykron is slaughtered by Gygor. If Vykron truly had been He-Man - watch out Gygor! (3.) Further, Roger Sweet is given no credit – let alone gratitude - for originating either the He-Man Trio or the He-Man male action line concept, later name-changed to Masters Of The Universe. But Sweet’s origination and presentation of the He-Man Trio in late 1980 initiated, launched, brought into existence, and made possible the existence of the entire He-Man / Masters phenomena! This Mattel Vykron product is an incredibly weak diminishment of Roger Sweet’s original He-Man Trio concept.

The book, Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea, was written by Roger Sweet and David Wecker, and published in 2005. This book gives the only true, factual, honest account of Sweet’s origination and development of the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio known to Sweet. The reason is that the book’s account is substantiated by actual pertinent Mattel documents and events explained truthfully and clearly, and with correct significance. At the time that the Mastering the Universe book was written and published, the book did not include either Taylor’s Unnamed Later-To-Be-Named Vikor or Taylor’s Torak Hero of Pre-history. That is because at that time both of those Taylor characters were unknown to Sweet and Wecker. Further, at that time, those Taylor characters also were unknown to anyone who had been at Mattel in upper management, Marketing, or Preliminary Design before, during, and directly after Sweet originated and developed the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio. At that time, Sweet also first presented that He-Man concept to Mattel upper management at a Product Conference in mid-December, 1980. Taylor’s Unnamed Later-To-Be-Name Vikor character did not show in public until it began appearing on the internet after Sweet’s Mastering the Universe book was published in 2005. And Taylor’s Torak character did not show in public until it first appeared in 2011 in The Power And The Honor Foundation Catalog Volume One. Therefore, Taylor’s Unnamed Later-To-Be-Named Vikor character and Taylor’s Torak Hero of Pre-history character had absolutely no influence on Sweet when he originated the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio. In addition, those two Taylor characters had absolutely no influence on the Original Series Masters Of The Universe male action line which spanned from 1982 through 1987. The third character covered above, Vykron, also, needless to say, was not mentioned in the Mastering the Universe book because Vykron per se was non-existent in 2005 when that book was published. Vykron was not to surface until 2012 in the Mattel Masters Classics line.

Read more about this topic:  Roger Sweet

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