Obscurity of the Day: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Luckily for us comic strip readers, toys tend to go in and out of style fast enough that cross-marketing seldom reaches the newspaper comic page. However, the inexplicable phenomenon of the Masters of the Universe craze was one bullet we didn’t manage to dodge.

McNaught Syndicate, close to the end of its existence, distributed this daily and Sunday strip for just less than a year. The Sunday ran from July 20 1986 to June 7 1987, the daily dates are unknown but presumably coincide.

The Sunday strip was written by James Shull for the first three months, then it was taken over by Chris Weber. Art was supplied by Gerald Forton. Credits were often missing entirely or too murky on the Sundays (they were often lettered in an area of dark purple – brilliant!) , so others may have been involved. For reasons unknown, the strip’s colorist, Connie Schurr, who should not have wanted the limelight for this hackwork, received a credit line on the Sundays.

Not knowing anything about the back-story of He-Man I don’t know how the strip compares to the turd blossom-like marketing of these dolls in animated cartoons and comic books. For more information than you could possibly want to know about the subject jump on over to the Wiki page. Oddly enough, though the toys have a large fan base and many websites are devoted to Masters of the Universe lore, I couldn’t Google a single site that seemed to acknowledge the newspaper comic strip series.

16 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

  1. Hello, Allan—-Well, here we are, at the very dregs of comic stripdom, the prefab copyrighted promotion. Not explicitly advertising, although it pretty much is. A few examples come to my mind: BILLIKEN AND BOBBY(1909) promoting the turn-of-the-century bhudda-like character, CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S COMIC CAPERS, apparently regarded as such a big fat advertisement they had artists running from it, THE BOOP-OOP-A-DOOP GIRL, the 1933 attempt to shore up the waning career of singing oddity Helen Kane, I LOVE LUCY, a 1950’s short-lived strip version of the hit TV show, and THE SIMPSONS had a strip several years ago, that apparently lasted only a few months–did people just smell “ad”, and reject it? I thought it was kind of funny.—–Cole “Skeletor” Johnson.

  2. My understanding is that The Simpsons strip continued on after its initial year only in foreign markets. So few US clients kept the strip for the whole first year (canceling it over what they considered tasteless material) they didn’t really bother continuing to offer it here. Supposedly still doing well in England and other places.

    And Fortunato, I cited Forton in the post. I’ve not seen any strips signed by Stan Lee.


  3. Yes, I was asking about Lee, not Forton.
    I never have read a Smiling Stan interview where he talk about Masters od the Universe.

  4. Anyone else remember that Pokemon comic strip that ran in American newspapers cira-1999-to-2000? It was actually pretty well drawn but like many toy based strips it didn’t last long.

  5. Hi Paul –
    Yup, there was even a reprint book “Pokemon Meets The Press”. Regarding the art, well, I’m just not a manga fan. I’m sure that strip will bob up here as an official obscurity one of these days.


  6. POKEMON was syndicated by Creators (text by Gerald Jones and art by Ashura Benimaru Itoh).
    I think it run from 1999 to 2001 (or more).
    And was an absolute stinker…


  7. Why is there such a backlash towards children of the 80’nostalgia?
    Are you one of the older elite who doesn’t understand why fans of this toy exists?
    Guess you don’t understand cause of the comic book snobbery I see pouring through this blog.

  8. Anonymous 1: I wasn’t calling the art murky, I was referring to the placement of credits in areas of dark color.

    Anonymous 2: I am indeed guilty of not understanding the popularity of “He-Man”, or for that matter, muscle-bound superhero juvenilia in general. Fine for 12 year olds I guess, but any fan of He-Man today is presumably well in excess of that tender age.

    As for comic books I surely am a snob because I’m only interested in reading them if they have a well-written story. The vast majority do not, far in excess of Sturgeon’s 90% rule, and I prefer not to shell out 3 or 4 bucks to read garbage. I enjoyed Cerebus, Tales of the Beanworld, Zot and many others in their day, and there’s probably good stuff out there now — it’s just too much work and expense to find it. So I don’t read comic books. Which is too bad, because they admittedly offer a much better milieu for great stories than the newspaper comic strip. Ok, off my soapbox…


  9. Dear Allan,

    Do you know me? Are you a critic or historian? Do you know how color was applied to newspaper comic strips in the 80s? Because if you knew more about this strip you would know that Mr. Forton penciled in the credits as he saw fit and I certainly wasn’t seeking the limelight. You should also know that color was not applied directly by the colorist but by the publisher. The colorist chose the palette, in this case one that mirrored the colors used in the cartoon show. Colors were assigned to areas by number from a chart supplied by the publisher. They were then applied by the publisher. Sometimes the number was misread and the color was not applied exactly to the area
    indicated by the colorist. I actually paid my own way to fly from LA to the east coast to meet with the publisher and rectify some early problems.
    Several friends, some actual He-Man fans, have mentioned your harsh and unwarranted comments to me.

  10. Hi Connie –
    Do I know you? Just from your work on this strip.
    Am I a critic or historian? For the purposes of this blog, I play both roles. When history and art coincide, it is a rare historian who doesn’t make value judgments.

    Do I know how newspaper strips are colored? Sure do. I know that you had the option of either indicating palette codes or providing a colored photostat as a guide. From your msg apparently you went with the former, and seem to have chosen colors that were too saturated for the lettering to show properly. In the He-Man strip, of which I’m just a few strips shy of a full run here to look at, this problem occurs almost constantly throughout the run.

    Such problems are often fixed by the good folks in the mechanical department — it’s not uncommon for colorists to ask for oversaturated colors, not realizing the inherent problems that causes with low-grade newsprint stock.

    Purely a guess, but I wonder if the mechanical guys decided to give your work a hard time because they saw you getting credit on the strip. As you may know, it is rare in the extreme for newspaper strips to display a coloring credit. The mechanical dept folks put a lot of work into the coloring of strips and I can see them being (unfairly) peeved to find someone getting credit when they never do. People who toil away unacknowledged tend to get a bit fussy when they see someone getting credit for what they see as their work. Maybe they let your color directions stand even when they realized they wouldn’t work well, maybe they even sabotaged your work. No way for me to know, but the resulting printed strips were in fact dark and muddy, hence my comment.

    I’m sorry that my comments were harsh. I will tend to get pretty flip about a strip like He-Man, which would likely have been responsible for killing a good strip in the papers that picked it up. The strip was, at base, just a crass advertisement for a toy, after all, and deprived a serious cartoonist, someone whose livelihood depends on their feature, of markets only to give their spot to a thinly disguised corporate ad. I’d be willing to bet that whatever corporation was responsible for this toy underwrote the strip so that it could practically be given away to papers, making the playing field decidedly not level. I can see no great honor in being involved in that sort of base commercialism, and I’m surprised that after all these years you have an interest in defending the feature. I’m sure you went on to far better things.


  11. actually there was a market for this sought of thing, hence it made it in print. Surely your not bitter over another’s superior creativity? And before you start scoffing question which is more popular in the world, cerebrus or motu? So which then is better? Now shutup and go reflect…

  12. Popularity, my grammar and spelling impaired friend, is no measure of quality. If it was then we’d all hail Harlequin romances as great literature, Michael Bay’s pinheaded spectacles as great cinema, and Britney Spears as a worthy successor to Mozart.

    Look, if a 30-year gone action-figure craze is the cream in your coffee that’s just fine. Luckily we don’t all have to like the same things. It’s not like I get or expect a lot of respect from ‘regular folks’ for my enduring fascination with newspaper comic strips, just as I’m quite sure you don’t for your particular mania. But is that any reason to rail against those who don’t share your interest? Surely you don’t think that insulting people is going to magically open their eyes to the wonders of He-Man. Now do me a favor and crawl back in your hole you nasty cretin. Either that or put a modicum of effort into writing a more elegantly worded and reasoned defense. I might just take your barbs more seriously if they weren’t written with all the wit, intelligence and style of a third grader.

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