Most collectors don’t realize that outside of the online communities there is a giant world of books about toys. I hope to highlight some of these books from time to time, since for the most part they are not readily noticable at your local bookstore.
Today we’re going to look at Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea. This book was written by long-time Mattel employee Roger Sweet. While sadly offering not a single picture (most likely because the book already tempts the wrath of Mattel), Mastering the Universe offers a rare glimpse into the cut throat world of toy design. You wouldn’t think it, but Mattel is apparently one of the most politically charged places to work, where everyone steals your ideas or is constantly jockeying for position while clueless executives pass good ideas by and rise to the top based on their warddrobes and ability to stab each other in the back. Just like life!
Seriously, though, Sweet comes off as having a major axe to grind. Which is why I enjoyed the book immensely. I’ve worked in similar situations and I’ve seen how easy it is for people to not only claim your ideas, but for people to actually think they worked on it because they worked on other aspects of the project or even were just in the room when it was presented! It’s not often that you get an unvarnished look at the interactions of a major toy line, especially one where multiple parties claim credit for the creation of the concept.
If we take Sweet at his word (and honestly, there is no reason not to), he was a designer who figured out what kids might want and how that should stand out from the other toy lines, but didn’t stand up for all of his work and let others claim they did the work. Until now, where it has obviously gnawed at him all these years. Still, there is no reason why he should be lying and the book (while somewhat repetitive in places) has a number of interesting nuggets for the fans of He-man: the original prototypes were 9" tall bulked out Big Jim figures; the line went from $400 million in sales to $7 million in ONE YEAR; and that He-Man was originally going to have three universes- fantasy, modern military, and space adventure!
All in all, I highly recommend this book since it’s pretty cheap and does have a few nifty things like a checklist where Sweet tells trivia about every figure, vehicle, and playset in the line. And if anyone has any suggestions for future reviews, send them along!