Interview with Brian Clarke
The regular MOTU comic series finally folded after an impressive 72 issues, following which the Adventure Magazine became monthly. How did the end of the regular comic series come about?
It came about at a period of expansion, actually. At that time, we’d brought in another two editors- we had the Warner Bros. deal, so we were doing comics like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, we’d expanded our Disney titles and we were doing titles like Centurions, Red Dwarf etc., also Mr Men, Rainbow, Sooty… we’d gone from about 8 or 9 titles to maybe 30 or 40. So it was just a question of, is it viable to keep the MOTU comic going. There’s also the issue that, when you go into a newsagents, or a supermarket like Asda, just because you are producing 30 or 40 titles it doesn’t mean they’ll take them. So they’ll say to you, which are your 5 or 10 best-sellers, and they’ll take those. And He-Man by now was getting further and further down the bottom, so there weren’t as many places that’d take it. W H Smiths would usually try to take as many comics as they could, but even they found that with more publishers coming into the comics market, their childrens’ section was becoming overflowed. And we were just moving into an era of having cover-mounted free gifts rather than inside-the-comic gifts as had previously been the norm, so that was making the shelves bulky and meant there was less space for comics. So there was a constant fight over which comics they wanted there.
And sometimes our sales reps would go into, say John Menzies, and they’d say, ‘This is our new comic launch, we’re bringing out Centurions/Bravestarr/whatever’, and the buyer would say, ‘Okay looks good, tell me what’s going on with it’, and our reps would say ‘Well it’s got a TV series, toys etc.’ and they’d say ‘Okay we like it, we’re excited- so tell me which of your comics we should remove from the shelves’. And we’re looking at what’s selling, and what’s dropping in sales, and they’d say, ‘Well, this has got TV support, we’d rather have Centurions in there than MOTU’, and with Centurions being a boys’ action line, that replaces MOTU on the comic shelves.
From issue #19 onwards of the Adventure Magazine, the comics moved on from the MOTU saga and were now based around Mattel’s new ‘He-Man’ toy line (known among fans as the ‘New Adventures’ after its accompanying cartoon series), in which He-Man and Skeletor travelled to the depths of space to continue their battle on the futuristic worlds of Primus and Denebria. (The NA stories were still reprints of the German Ehapa comics.) What was your opinion on the New Adventures stories in comparison to the original MOTU?
Well, obviously, I had a paternal relationship with MOTU, so I preferred our world, our version of Eternia. I was becoming professionally more remote from MOTU now because we were doing so many more titles and I was Managing Editor of these. By this time the Editor role for MOTU Adventure Magazine had moved from Mike Butcher to Greg Rayner. He was the editor in the final days, so you can say he killed He-Man! But he knew it wasn’t a challenging title to do, it was a reprint of a German title, just with a few additional features added, and he was kind of just holding its hand as it died really. So there wasn’t a great emotional attachment to it by this point, my heart was in the earlier period of the comics. And of course, by this time I wasn’t Scrollos anymore, I think that would have been Greg by this stage.
After just six issues, the New Adventures comics (still reprints of the German Ehapa series) came to an end, and we got a very memorable and epic closing story in the final issue. The story was titled “The End of He-Man” (presumably not directly translated from the original German title?) so it was clear you knew this would be the last new story to be published in the comics. The story pretty much ended the saga on a very dramatic and hard-hitting note, with an emotionally heavy story in which the character of Hydron was reunited with his long-dead daughter Hydrania, who turned out tragically to be the villain Brakk in disguise. The story also had a darker tone than most, with Brakk openly stating ‘I haven’t killed anyone in ages’ before making an attempt on Vizar’s life. Although the story didn’t exactly end the saga fully (i.e. Skeletor wasn’t defeated for good or anything) it ended on a very ‘final’ note, with He-Man and his comrades choosing to take a long holiday; the final panel describing He-Man standing alone looking out over the ocean, remembering his former life on Eternia before he begins his holiday. I would imagine this was not directly translated from the German original; what are your recollections of this story?
I do remember working on that one, and we wanted to reference the point that the series was coming to an end, and not just end without any indication of it or imply that he might be returning in another format. If you got hold of the German story and read that compared to ours, you would see that we were talking about very different themes, that we wanted to put this coda to it and say, our part in this is done now. Like I mentioned before, I felt we’d made a promise to our readers that we were obliged to keep, and I felt bad about the She-Ra comic ending so suddenly. So here, by doing that, we gave the reader the idea that the end was coming. On the script side of things, we didn’t have to write a script, have the script approved, have the artwork approved, send it off like in early days- with this we had the artwork, so our time frame was much shorter. So knowing that was coming to an end, we had the time to get our rewriting of the dialogue done, so by dropping dialogue in like that, we got our message through. A normal script for the fortnightly comic went from script to print in about 12 weeks. For the reprinted ones it could be just 4 weeks. So knowing the end was coming, it was just our way of saying yep, here it is.
After the New Adventures stories came to an end, four further issues followed titled “The Best of He-Man Adventure”. These reprinted old stories from the regular MOTU comic series, framed in the context of He-Man looking back on his old life on Eternia and reminiscing. This was an interesting move, with the new stories having come to an end, and with MOTU having largely faded from the public eye at this time (the final issue was published in February 1991, long after most MOTU media had ceased). The magazine could so easily have just folded after the final New Adventures issue, so does this mean there was still reasonable demand for MOTU comics at this time?
Well 1991, now this was the time of the move to London, the time when London Editions ceased to be, and became a new company, Fleetway Editions – we joined with Fleetway Comics. So we had moved to the London office and I’d become International Project Director for all sorts of international projects. But we had a small team of London Editions people who moved down- Martin Gray, Judy Laverty etc. on the editorial side, and a couple of Fleetway people as well, so these teams were being joined together. What Fleetway wanted to do was make sure they dominated the news stand. So lots of comics- even the Roy of the Rovers stuff- we were asked to put out as much material as possible. So those Best of He-Man issues, that was the Fleetway team working with our London Editions people to put that out there and make sure we filled the comic shelves. I believe Martin Grey was the editor – he also looked after the DC line of reprints. We moved down to London in December 1990 I believe, and I worked in London until May 1991, and then with Alan Young who was our Production Director, I formed Newsstand Publishing Services back in Manchester. We would package a number of comics at that time for Fleetway, and also launched our own titles and began to work with other companies. Then ten years later, Newsstand applied for the licence for the new MOTU comics, which they got, by showing them the old London Editions material.
That brings me nicely to my next question. The UK got another series of MOTU magazines in 2003-2005 to accompany Mattel’s new MOTU toy line and the cartoon series by Mike Young Productions. These featured reprints of the US comics by MV Creations, and the magazines were aimed at a young audience although the MVC stories themselves were quite dark. I am aware that these comics, like the London Editions ones, were published in Manchester, and wondered if there was a connection?
That’s right, Newsstand said to Mattel, we have a history, and because I’d left by this point- I went into teaching for a while- James Hill, who’d written a couple of stories in the original MOTU, was able to say to them, look, I actually wrote some stories for the previous MOTU comic, I’ll be the editor because I know this stuff. And that’s how they got the licence, and why the comics were published from Manchester, because they were by Newsstand.
I didn’t like the editorial stance for the new comics. I thought there was a mismatch- the comic strip material was aimed at quite an older audience, it was more for 14-year-olds and above, but the magazine still had these little features like ‘Solve the maze’ type puzzles! I thought that was a complete editorial mismatch. So I wasn’t surprised when that comic didn’t catch on. I had no involvement with these, because I’d left Newsstand by then. That was purely James’ project, and I’m not sure if it would have been James or Alan who said to Mattel, ‘This is the market we’re aiming at’. Design would have been by Rob Sharp. But yes, I saw it on the news stand, and I thought, I don’t know who would buy this. And also, as a TV series and toy line, that relaunch of MOTU didn’t really take off.
What have you been doing since the London Editions comics folded, and would you be interested in working on another MOTU comic series if asked?
I’d love to do another He-Man comic! There are still so many stories to be told in the UK universe. I found it a very creative period, and I think especially with the way that the fandom’s evolved, it would be great fun to do! As for what I’ve been doing since, well I’ve mentioned I started the company Newsstand in 1991, which I left in 2001 to go into teaching, but I didn’t stay in teaching long. From there I went into theatre, I worked at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre for 5 years, I’ve been a playwright, got 4 plays done, one just about to go into production and one I’m just writing, and I do nearly all of them with Tom Sweetman. I teach scriptwriting at Manchester Metropolitan University as well as lecturing of a few other courses. I’ve also been working as a freelance writer and researcher, which has led me mostly into commercial writing, such as writing business plans, corporate plans, strategies and all that. I’ve been in a couple of very, very low budget films, I mean really low budget- Myth, and Sleep, both directed by John Aldridge. I work with John Jackson, who used to work on our Postman Pat comics, with Bullet Productions, and we are creating a whole series of intellectual properties, for which we are doing proof of concepts in animation. So we’ve done a couple of animations online, which feature a Manchester superhero called Mancunian!- and his sidekick Impact, so we’re just looking at other ways to develop things and see if anything else comes along. So it’s a very fragmented lifestyle, but that’s the way the market’s gone.
Out of all my friends who were employed in the comic business, there’s probably only about 3 or 4 who are still active in it. Nearly everyone else does comics plus.
But yes, if another He-Man comic came along, or any way to be involved in He-Man- yes, it’d be terrific!
Finally, the London Editions comics will be (NB: HAVE been, as the book has been released since this interview was done!) commemorated in the upcoming book published by Dark Horse “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: A Character Guide and World Compendium” which features bios of all characters, weapons/artefacts, locations, beasts, spells and vehicles as portrayed in the UK comics (all such bios written by myself) alongside coverage of other media. Dark Horse have published a variety of MOTU books including collections of the Mattel minicomics and the US newspaper strips- would you be up for seeing the UK comics published collectively in a book volume? (It’s not on the cards at the moment but many fans worldwide have expressed interest!)
It’s really nice to know my work is known internationally, and the wider fanbase is interested! So yes, very much so- and depending on where you’d be sourcing the images from, I still have a full set of everything, so if they need scanning, or if people have good mint copies to scan from, I’d definitely be up for getting involved in any way I can. And I’m very interested in the idea of a Scrollos action figure!
Thank you Brian for taking the time to chat and give such detailed responses! And thank you from myself and the rest of the MOTU fan base for giving us so many years of entertainment through the comics medium!
© Aidan Cross, 2017.