© Aidan Cross, 2019.

Like the MOTU comics, the POP comics also featured a lot of original ideas, and original characters such as the Crimson Fury, the masked desert rebel, and his arch enemy Count Sneer. Do you remember anything about the inspiration or development behind these characters?

 

There was one character where we kind of vaguely took the idea of Rudolph Valentino as our starting point. I think that was a John Gatehouse story. We knew we wanted this desert environment, and he did a film called Desert Sheikh, and that was a starting point that we kind of leapt off from.

The POP comic gave a unique portrayal of the character of Entrapta. While in most media she is a Horde villainess, the UK comics portrayed her as a neutral character who was confused about her allegiance but trusted She-Ra; while in one issue she was drawn with the appearance of the character of Double Trouble, who never appeared in the comics. Do you remember the reasons for this portrayal of Entrapta?

 

No, but I remember the reason why I wanted this ambiguous character, and it’s because I knew I needed more emotional content in the She-Ra stories. So I was always struggling as to where I could find this, and girls in particular like characters who, due to circumstances, are trying to do the right thing but are trapped by the moment, ‘Am I doing this right’, and ‘Am I doing that right’, and having that kind of tension based on her relationship and trust and relying on people, I felt gave us that little bit more drama to play with in there, and a little bit more character development. She-Ra herself was very strident and knows what she’s doing, a woman of the moment. And it’s nice to have these other characters around who are a little less certain of themselves, and there’s this whole sense of ‘I really don’t know what’s going on here’, ‘I don’t know who to trust here’ and that’s the reason why we wanted to play with Entrapta.

 

As for the costumes, and why she looked like Double Trouble, I can’t be sure.

Entrapta in issue #4 of the She-Ra comic

Issue #11 of the POP comic featured a guest villain called Hydron, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the character of Kalamarr from Mattel’s later ‘He-Man’ (i.e. New Adventures) toy line, whilst also sharing his name and elements of his design with one of the heroes from that line. I’ve always felt this could not possibly be coincidental- do you know if this character is connected to the later action figures in any way?

 

No, I think we just wanted a name that reflected a watery background. I don’t think there was a conscious connection beyond that.

Hydron, guest villain from She-Ra issue #11. His appearance is very similar to the characters of Kalamarr and Hydron from the later 'New Adventures' toy line.

We deliberately had to break our rules with that story, on the laws of physics. Because although he shrinks the water, and holds it in his hand, we knew it would still have the same mass, so it would be impossible to hold! But we thought, we’re going to have to ignore that. So there were times that we kind of logic-checked things, but sometimes we cheated. So we just thought, it’s a nice idea from a story perspective, we know he couldn’t possibly hold it, but we’re not going to have him say ‘And I managed to neutralize its mass’ or something, so I just thought, yeah, we’ll just let that one go by.

The POP comic seemed to end rather abruptly- the final issue (#14) gives no indication it is to be the last issue, and from memory I think it even alludes to ‘next issue’ at one point. And writer Mike Wild has said his story in the MOTU comic- “The Nowhere Bomb” (Issue #35)- was written as a POP story, but he was asked to convert it to a MOTU one after the POP comic ended.

Mike’s story, it was converted, and we would probably have asked him to redo it as a He-Man story anyway, because it was much more of a science fiction story. I remember in Mike’s original script, he actually put in a caption box about Einstein-Rosen Bridges. Which of course we couldn’t use- first, kids wouldn’t know what one is, and secondly, on Etheria there was no Einstein, or Rosen!

What used to happen is, every Monday we would have our meeting where myself, Robin Judd who was the MD, Alan Young who was the Production Chief, the accountant Peter, John the Sales Manager and myself, would meet up and look at our sales figures. We’d have a general meeting about where are we with this, any delays, and the most important part was we’d have this printout of our sales. And what it would do, if you imagine Excel, it would have this column going across saying ‘Issue #3 = 80,412, Issue #4 = 74,000” and you could just read across, and judging by that you could see the drops. The sales manager would identify anything that seemed to be dipping down. He would say, is there anything we can rectify with promotions, can we buy display space, is it worth putting more free gifts on it, do we think this would lift it sufficiently, and I think John would have said, ‘In this case I don’t think so; I think we’ve got a title that’s dropping’, and going back to what I was saying before, if he was saying Tesco was going to de-list it, you knew its time was up. And with that, it was this cliff edge point I was making before where sales wouldn’t decline slowly, they would just drop massively at once. At that time supermarkets accounted for about 25% of our sales, so if we were beginning to lose them, we were having problems.

And although these were dearer than most comics, they still weren’t very expensive, so there wasn’t much you could do to save them. We were already at the higher end of pricing, so we couldn’t really make that 40 pence comic a 45 pence comic because a standard comic, i.e. The Beano, was about 18 pence at the time. When I launched MOTU my first worry was that I couldn’t have colour throughout, which I hated. That was another reason, actually, for going for the three-part stories, because then I could make some of those in colour (The second of the three stories in the comics was always fully in colour, while the other two were in mostly black-and-white) and I was given a price point of 35 pence, which I thought at the time was too expensive for most people. But, we had TV advertising on it, and it sold well.

Just as something else, I know this is out of context, but the cover for issue #2 was originally my cover for issue #1. When I showed it to Mae Broadley she said no, we can’t have that, we need a shout cover rather than a story point cover. So over the course of three days we came up with issue #1’s final cover, the orange cover with He-Man and Battle Cat, which we took mainly from style guide materials. But the design that ended up being the cover of issue #2 was always meant to be my issue #1 cover because I wanted to show my main characters in some conflict. So what ended up as the cover of issue #1 was really last-minute; Thursday you find your cover’s been rejected but the comic’s going to print on Monday. That’s why it’s got full mechanical tints rather than the artworks. The reason why our colouring gets so patchy in places is the way we did our production the artist would do the black line and then the colourers in Spain would take that, turn it over, put it on a light box, then do the colour on the back. So our colour was always separate to that. So we did it where with the way we applied the colour, the black lines would not weaken. If we coloured over the blackline you’d get little bits of red or yellow or blue in there, whereas we’d want to preserve a strong black line. But it does mean that I was never happy with our colouring. But if you compare issue #2’s cover to issue #1’s, you’ll see that issue #1 uses mechanical tints.

issue1 sharpened.jpg

The covers of issues #1 and #2 of the MOTU comic; issue #2's cover having initially been intended as the cover to issue #1, hence the differences in colouring style.

Was there ever any chance of the POP comic being relaunched after it vanished from the shelves? About a year after its discontinuation we got a one-off POP special, featuring a story with a guest appearance by Evil-Lyn…

We did have some archive stories left when the She-Ra comic ended. We were dealing with artists in Spain, I’d do all my approvals by fax, I’d send them a fax, send them my amends to it, and then they would physically send the artwork to us. That meant I was always at risk of that artwork being delayed, or worse, just going missing. So on all the titles I worked on, I always had a spare issue ready. Usually when we knew the title was coming to an end, I’d take the opportunity to use up my inventory material. But it was always sat there, it would always be stories that didn’t matter where they appeared, they wouldn’t move the continuity forward, they’d be completely standalone, so it’s quite possible that the POP special was put out to use up our inventory stories, since we’d paid for the artwork etc.

Were there any more stories written for the POP comic that never got published, or were converted to MOTU ones like Mike Wild’s “The Nowhere Bomb”?

I’m pretty certain they didn’t. I think it was a mixture of the fact that that particular story felt more like a He-Man one, so I think I was saving Mike’s script by saying, the She-Ra comic’s ending, but if you redo this, I can use it in the He-Man one.

Mike Wild’s story is distinctive for being the only story ever in the MOTU comic where She-Ra makes a guest appearance, though even here it isn’t really her, it’s a hologram being used by the villains to trick He-Man. Was there a reason why She-Ra never made a proper guest appearance in the MOTU comic?

There were separate licenses and they went to separate people for approval. With Mattel, you had the boys’ action line, and you had the girls’ line, and there were different people approving the stories. So we had to avoid too much She-Ra in MOTU to avoid having to go to both departments for approval. We solved it with Twins of Power, but if I’d brought She-Ra into the MOTU comic itself the approval time would have been doubled because they may have said, yes I’m happy with that but I’ll have to check with the girls’ division. So it’s just the way in which Mattel was set up.

What I would have liked to have done is, when we were launching the She-Ra comic, to have had a She-Ra story in MOTU. Instead we had the first She-Ra comic as a free giveaway with issue #12 of MOTU. That was a late decision; that was purely marketing, and we knew we wanted a gift anyway somewhere around then, so we thought, why don’t we launch the She-Ra comic as a free gift with the MOTU one. It seemed a nice idea.

 

The one-off ‘Twins of Power’ special is a very notable publication by London Editions, with its memorable adventure starring both He-Man and She-Ra along with most of the supporting cast from both comics. It is notable for being the first comic to show us Horde Prime’s appearance, and for coining the term ‘Twins of Power’ which has been embraced by Mattel in their recent MOTU Classics line. Were there plans for any more Twins of Power specials? The cover of the comic has ‘No. 1’ printed on it, implying there may have been plans for more.

 

I think the ‘No. 1’ is mainly just because in the news trade, if you did a special, you got less rebate or less money from them than if you did a continuous series. So by putting ‘No. 1’ on it, we got more money back from the news trade. So that was purely a commercial decision. But the Twins of Power special, it was written by myself and Tom Sweetman, and at that time we were living in Whalley Range in a small block of flats. He was at number 5 and I was at number 6, literally across the hallway, and we went to the pub on Friday and bashed out the plot over a few pints. On the Saturday morning I wrote the first chapter, then Tom wrote the second part, and there was a bit where I phoned Tom and told him, the bit you’re working on now, you’re going to have to make sure it ends in the Batmex Factory, because I’m going to carry on my story from there. So it really was this double-handed deal where he would do this chapter, I’d do that chapter, and then we’d put them together.

So we wrote it on the Saturday, and we read through it on the Sunday, made any necessary amendments to it, and I brought it into the office on the Monday. It was done very very quickly, and I think this meant we kept it all in our heads and had a really tight idea on it.

 

We had to fight for the splash page in this comic, which had a single image of Horde Prime on the left and separate panels showing Skeletor and Hordak’s reactions to him down the right, over which Horde Prime’s speech bubbles appeared pointing to the large image of Horde Prime, indicating a continuous flow of dialogue. The bosses thought children would not understand this and would think all of Horde Prime’s speech was supposed to come before the panels on the right. Our logic was that of course they would understand it properly, if you’re 12 or 15, you’ll know this is him speaking, and where these bubbles come in, that’s where they fit. But we had a huge internal fight with people saying no, it won’t work. But it was dramatic, and I wanted this reaction from Skeletor and Hordak in there… because we were setting up status here, Horde Prime as master and Skeletor and Hordak as servants, and we needed Horde Prime to come in in a powerful way.

Horde Prime, whose appearance was never actually shown in the Filmation cartoon series, was shown in full form in the POP and MOTU comics, with a distinctive appearance. Do you remember who designed him?

The way we did our scripts, it would say, ‘Page 5, panel 1, action’ and we would describe what was in the image. So we would have said, ‘Horde Prime stands here’ and we would have given a rough indication of the way we saw him. Our agreement with the artists was that they were the experts at visual interpretation, so we were just giving them a starting point which they could run with any way they wanted. So I think we would have gone for a description mentioning the cloak and the metallic appearance, and he needs to look battle-ready and powerful, and then the artists would have come up with his appearance.

What would never happen, was the artist would never send us his drawing and say ‘Here’s my sketch of Horde Prime, what do you think’. We would get back the page you see. Sometimes we’d say, well he needs to have a belt, or can he have a sword, or something similar to that, but we relied a lot on the artists coming up with something that looked strong and dramatic and appropriate to the stories. We’d just do a thumbnail word sketch, i.e. ‘Looks late 40s, skinny character, always furtive, looking around’ and then the artist would interpret that.

 

The Twins of Power special was a summer release and did pretty well.

After about a year of the regular fortnightly comic series being on the shelves, the MOTU Adventure Magazine series was launched as a companion comic, featuring epic new stories alongside reprints of stories from the early issues of the regular comic. How did this magazine come about?


I remember being at one of our Monday meetings, and the thought was put out that there was probably space for a higher priced MOTU comic, so why don’t we do something. I came up with the name Adventure Magazine and took the opportunity that because we now had 48 pages, it meant we could do these longer stories in there.

Quite an amusing story about it is: we had these wraparound covers. I remember when I went to one of the meetings a few weeks later, and said, here’s our idea for the covers. And I showed them this wraparound cover, and they absolutely loved the idea of it because they thought no-one had ever done it before. But I said, no, in comics, wraparound covers have been around for decades! They’re not done often in British comics, because you need to have the back page reserved in case you sell an ad.

Then I went to a presentation we were making to all the heads at Egmont, and from the stage, Robin Judd, who was our MD, said ‘I’d like to say, Brian Clarke has come up with this new idea of the wraparound cover!’ But people know it’s not new, and he’d just put my name to it! We got a lot of fan response to the wraparound covers, saying ‘Can we have that separate with a poster in the middle to take out?’

Several times on the letters page, Scrollos stated there would be a story coming about Hordak and Skeletor as children, titled ‘Kids of Chaos’. However, this story never materialized… did it ever go into development?

I remember we were discussing whether we’d do it as a Twins of Power special or whether we’d do it as a continued story over three issues. But this was roughly around the time when our sales were beginning to drop to about 40,000 or something, and Robin Judd returned from an Egmont meeting in Denmark with copies of the Ehapa MOTU comic in Germany. He said ‘Ehapa are now doing MOTU, so we can either cancel our comic, or we can save money by going for reprints of the German stories’. That meant we pulled back on the Kids story, but I’ll wait until later to tell you what happened with the switch to Ehapa reprints.

© Aidan Cross, 2017.

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