MOTUC Director’s Commentary – Skeletor

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#4 Skeletor originally posted 02.15.2012

[box style=”doc”]Skeletor.

Possibly our most popular character (hey, everyone knows the bad guys are way cooler vs. the good guys). Skeletor was loaded up with accessories, given a brand new paint job by the Horsemen and was ready to bring the conflict factor to MOTUC (sure, fans already had Beast Man, but Skelly was the real adversary for our new line!).

Skeletor was also one of our first big PR pushes. After a call to my buddies at Toy Fare magazine (sniff…rest in peace, you wonderful mag, you!) and after some haggling and negotiating we managed to land the cover to the Oct 2008 issue with a huge shot of the new Classics Skeletor surrounded by fire and smoke. A very cool shot (and I still have the cover framed on my desk at work!). The issue also included an interview with me, Mattel design, and a side bar with the Horsemen.

It is actually a bit surprising looking back that this was the first and last MOTUC cover we ever got with Toy Fair mag before it went big A-way in Jan 2011 (more on our planned, but never executed, Preternia cover with Megator when we get to his blog entry in a few months).

It is funny, going back and rereading the interview in this issue it is cool to see how much of our wishes for the line came true. Every single figure we listed in the interview as wanting to see has now been done! Even the Horsemen’s pick “Bow” made it into the line after about a year. Funny how time flies.

Anyway, back to Skeletor. There actually isn’t much more to say about him that hasn’t been covered in the last few blogs. Obviously, he introduced the new “reptile body” (that is what the vintage line called this body type and we swiped the name) as well as the Havoc staff and Skeletor armor (which could be later used for Faker).

Skeletor also introduced the new corrected human shoulders that were reversed on King Grayskull and He-Man (although not many fans took notice of this error until Skeletor came out and they had a comparison model). But man, were we embarrassed. Let’s just hope this never happens again… (oh wait-crud!).

We also went back and forth on the paint ops on Skeletor’s head. First, there was not enough green, then we had too much. I think the final figure hit it very well, but it was distinctly different from the deco on the vintage figure’s head. This was something we were eventually able to add with the Battle Armor Skeletor from 2011. And by having swappable heads from Day 1, it ensured that long time fans could mix and match parts to create their “ultimate” version of any character. This would be a feature we would later put to use with Bubble Power She-Ra, but I digress.

Skeletor was also significant early on because of his rather quick sell out. Well, quicker compared to He-Man and Beast Man, that is. Both of the previous figures were available for (if I remember right…) well over a month. Skeletor, if I recall, sold out in about 3 weeks and was the first time a figure was not available for the next month’s sale. So fans who wanted to wait a few months and then buy a few figures at once to save on shipping were out of luck. And this pretty much directly translated to a super fast sell-out of Stratos.

While we never intended for 5 minute sell-outs, this certainly helped to kick start the full year’s line and give management the “proof” they needed that the line could be a hit.

After Skeletor’s sell-out, we quickly started looking into what a full year of product could look like. We knew we had spent most of our annual tooling on the first 6 figures (and with them, three 100% tool’d body types) so that meant the remaining figures (if the line was going to be expanded) would need to be very minimal tooling. What was nice is that the vintage line had already set a precedent for shared parts. So applying this to Classics (as I stated in a previous blog) would not make it look like we were going cheap, but rather we were paying homage to the vintage line.

After Skeletor’s sell-out, we got the green light for two more monthly figures. Mer-Man became the obvious choice since he was minimal new tooling and was one of the “original 8.” After that, we wanted to stretch out a bit and went for the gold with Hordak. He wasn’t that much more tooling, but the new parts would really give us a lot of bang for our buck.

Pretty much at this point we thought Hordak would be the very last figure in the line. So hey, if we had to go out with a bang, at least we got to the “other” main villain.

It was also about this time that we finalized out plans to go to NYCC in February, and this time we wanted to bring a MOTUC figure with us. We had pretty much zero tooling available so the obvious choice was to do Faker.

Now Faker has an odd history in the modern lines because he was a NYCC-exclusive for Classics and a mail-away figure in the 200X line. I’ve seen a lot of fans taking issue with this but really taking a step back, he was the choice for both promotions (mail-away and NYCC item) BECAUSE he was a deco-only option.

Both projects had such small budgets that they required a deco-only figure for the slot. So it is not a prejudice against Faker or anything (as some fans insist), he just has the unique quality of being a deco-only character and therefore working for both promotions.

I’m totally off track at this point. More on Faker when I get to his entry. Back to Skeletor.

Actually, there really isn’t much more to tell. We developed Skeletor (as stated previously) at the same time that we developed the other “original 6.” His quick sell-out was the key to green lighting the next two figures (Mer Man and Hordak, who both got moved around in the schedule a bit). But other than that, there really isn’t much more to tell.

The key was that the line was finding its fan base and really starting to take off. With the next figure, Stratos, it became crystal-clear that we had a hit on our hands and it was time to start thinking long term, both in terms of character roll-out and creating bios for all the characters. But I’ll get into that in the next entry.

Oh, there is one more thing to hit on with Skeletor – his bio and the mention of the infamous “Demo-Man!”

So one of the things we hoped to do with the bios (other than justify the greatest number of figures) was to use them to seed ideas and concepts for future figures and storylines. We had hoped to one day get to a figure based on the concept art for the vintage line. We didn’t want to just call these characters “concept art He-Man” like Star Wars did back in 2007 with their Ralph line. Instead, we wanted to make all of the concept characters fully marketable and merchandisable characters on their own. We could have gone in either direction, and I know there are many fans who would have preferred we went with “concept art He-Man/Skeletor” for the eventual Vikor and Demo-Man figures released in 2011, but by making them both original stand-alone characters, we now had two more characters in our arsenal that could be merchandised and marketed to a new generation of fans and kids. And hey, the bios are there to embrace or ignore. If any fan/customer wants to just call Demo-Man “concept Skeletor” on their shelf, that is just as valid!

When I was doing all of my MOTU research between King Grayskull’s release and He-Man’s on-sale date, I was able to locate a few pieces of early art and a few early production memos. In many of these early drafts, Skeletor was called “Demo-Man” as well as “D-Man.” This was both a parallel to “He-Man” (D-Man/He-Man) as well as a nod to Skeletor’s original origin that was a demon from another dimension. (Love that classic panel in the first mini-comic where Skeletor is leading an army of Skeletor-looking demons through a portal to Eternia! How cool is that!).

Because so many of the vintage stories contradict each other, we basically wanted to choose the best elements from each and incorporate them into the bios. By making Demo-Man the being that was merged with Keldor to become Skeletor, it was a great way of legitimizing Demo-Man as a stand-alone character, tying him into Skeletor’s origin and paying homage to that first mini-comic story with a completely different origin for Skeletor compared to his more well-known Filmation and 200X stories. This story (as told in the bios) was not supposed to replace the older continuity or stories from mini comics or cartoons, but much like competitive brands like Joe or Transformers that reinvent themselves every few years, this was an all new storyline that in this case used some of the best parts of many other stories as a way of telling a new story that justified the greatest number of figures in the end.

And as an added bonus, by slipping Demo-Man into Skeletor’s bio, some fans actually started “asking for a Demo-Man figure” (while others begged us never to do one!). Either way, this was out first big proof of how important these bios were being treated by fans. We knew we could now use them as a tool to justify more figures (the main goal) and to entertain fans, and give them some type of content in lieu of a cartoon or comic book, which were just not in the cards at the time.

Due to a copyright error, the name Demo-Man was actually left off of the original bio card. We added it back into the online bio once the name cleared and when we went into a second run of Skeletor down the road, the bio was G-changed as well (that is the term for changing a package look).

Demo-Man would go on to be one of the most controversial elements of Skeletor’s bio. But in the end, much like the introduction of Keldor as his real name, a portion of fans have grown to accept and honor this addition to the lore. While we knew we were in no way going to please everyone, it really became a great way of building the line and justifying more toys (which we did when we made a Demo-Man figure in December of 2011 — okay, well, he didn’t ship until January 2012, but you know what I mean!).

With Skeletor’s success behind us and two more figures green-lit (and a third new NYCC deco-change figure), it was time to start looking at this line long-term. We knew we needed a long-term rollout to ensure we didn’t run out of steam too quickly (as happened with the Staction line in 2003) and that the bios did not come across as “we are making this up as we go along”).

Now was the time to kick it into high gear.

Until next time,

Scott[/box]

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