JAMES EATOCK: The Mark Searby Interview
Leonard Sultana: “Do you want to know what becoming a fan will get you? I have been asked a couple of times, over the last few weeks, what can be the end goal for a fan – what roads an intense embrace of a section of pop culture can lead you down, and whether you can make a career out of such fandom, or even circle back round and make an quantitative impact on the original property.
James Eatock is a testament to the evolution of a passion – James has transformed that deep love over the years into not only a career but also towards a position where he has become a major resource and influencer on the subject itself: HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE! Another fan with a deep love for the show is AEISD Contributor Mark Searby who, thanks to the release of James’ COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE ANIMATED ADVENTURES, was lucky enough to talk with James about his fandom and his subsequent work on HE-MAN, from the very beginning…”
MARK SEARBY: When did your love of HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE start? And how did you come to writing such a mammoth book for Dark Horse?
JAMES EATOCK: Oh man! I’ve been working on the brand, on and off, officially since 2001, I guess? When I first got the internet, which was about late ’95, at the time I didn’t have any kind of love for HE-MAN and SHE-RA because I was seventeen, eighteen and I was “Oh, that was in my childhood.” I still had videos and figures but they weren’t exactly brought out and celebrated!
I searched [on the internet] for MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and there was one website and it was one guy talking about when he used to play with the figures. By the end of the year, what would eventually become He-Man.org was set up. It was a tiny little website that people would contribute their memories to.
At the beginning of 1996, I decided to start my own HE-MAN website about the cartoon and it very quickly became that I was ‘the Cartoon Guy’. I was the one who still had like seventy episodes recorded off children’s television and a bunch of video releases! Then, this New York farmboy called Zadoc Angell turned up online and he says, “I’d really like to create a website with you,” and he really pushed me and eventually, I was like, “Oh, alright then!”
So August 1997, we started this HE-MAN & SHE-RA episodes website: every week, we reviewed an episode. It was a lot of fun. Working with Zadoc on the website, I grew to love writing. Zadoc would encourage me to write and he was at Harvard… I love this, he was in the same literary class as Natalie Portman, believe it or not! Zadoc would encourage me to and I got gooder and gooder at writing – I got well good at writing! [laughs].
The pair of us had the website up and running for about five years and during that time, people got in touch. One of the first to do so was Robert Lamb, who had worked on HE-MAN; he also worked on WIDGET THE WORLD WATCHER and WILD WEST C.O.W.BOYS OF MOO MESA. He had searched his name online and found us praising his work on an episode, and Robert sent this really lovely email to Zadoc and I. We replied to say “Oh, thank you so much! Your episodes were really great!” He said, “Sit tight, I’ll send you both a package.” This package arrives and it has the HE-MAN Show Bible and storyboards and story sheets and behind the scenes stuff… We were dying! This was incredible stuff! We had never seen a storyboard… to us, the Series Bible was the be-all and end-all. To this day, the HE-MAN Series Bible that is online is the one Rob gave us twenty years ago.
As the website progressed, another person from the show messaged us, and then another and another and another… the pair of us had become this reputable source of knowledge. In 2001, I go over to America to meet Zadoc and, in a weird twist of reality, we find that we didn’t really get on that well in the real world. So, we both come away being burnt out from the website and we knew it was no fun when the website became a chore, so we both walked away from it. We eventually merged it with the He-Man.org site and they took all our reviews.
About a month after we decide to kill the website, Mattel gets in touch with us and they say, “Hey, we are working on this new HE-MAN cartoon toyline. Do you want to write a huge back-story, like a Filmation guide for the writers of the new show?” So, we said “Okay!” Zadoc took Season Two and I took Season One and we wrote this encyclopedia for Mattel. Then the show goes out and we don’t get a credit. So, after that, we come away from that totally burnt out. Zadoc and I pretty much go our separate ways at this point. It’s a shame but he went on to be a big agent in Hollywood and I went into DVD production.
About a year later, a UK company called Contender got the rights to release HE-MAN on DVD. This was the first time HE-MAN was on DVD – I meet with the guy [from Contender], we chat, and he asks “What ideas do you have for these DVD’s?” I said, jokingly, “We could do DVD commentaries!”, and he was like “Oh, that’s a great idea.” I said, “I have this friend from Birmingham, Dave Newman, he’s quite the talker so we should get him down and we’ll both do a really good commentary for you.” We get hired, we go into a recording studio and record a few commentaries for Volume 1 and then, a few months later do volume 2, 3, 4, 5… By Volume 5, the series wasn’t selling well on DVD unfortunately so the rest of the release series got cancelled.
MS: It’s funny you mention that because I was buying those DVD’s and then was mystified why they stopped. I searched for months for the next DVD but never found Volume 6.
JE: It got to Volume 5…? I want to say, it was the one with the women on the cover. That volume came out but it was really weird during that time: the studio where we were doing the recording was like a DVD production house and I was walking round the building, thinking, “Wow! This place is really nice.” A few months later, the producer of the DVD’s gets in contact and says “They are looking for a DVD QC-er.” I asked what that was and he said, “You basically watch DVD’s all day and report on errors.” I ended up working there for two years straight and for four years afterwards as a freelancer. At one point during that time I was getting paid to listen to my own DVD commentaries and I was getting paid to watch HE-MAN. I watched, I think, thirty episodes and I was thinking “This is brilliant. I’m getting paid to watch He-Man!”
I left that job because a company in the U.S. got the rights to HE-MAN and SHE-RA DVD’s and I was offered a job working on those, [doing] more writing and editing content. That was amazing! Two years after that, it was SHE-RA. Then, a year after that, it was the 2002 HE-MAN cartoon. Then that was it.
I went to Sony for a few years, then left there and Classic Media got in touch – it’s all about connections. When I was at Sony, this guy from Classic Media comes in to talk about some shows on DVD and people at Sony were like “Oh, Eatock is the HE-MAN guy, talk to him.” So, they say they are about to launch the HE-MAN YouTube channel and said, “We might be in touch if you want some work.” A year goes by and they finally get in touch.
I go to meetings and tell them what I want to do with the channel. They tell me what they want from the channel: “We want a million subscribers within a year!” I’m sat there, thinking, “It’s HE-MAN, not Justin Bieber!” If it was Justin Bieber’s HE-MAN channel… very different story [laughs]! I started to do the channel and it got a lot of support from the HE-MAN and SHE-RA fans. I was doing that channel pretty much by myself. I was coming up with the ideas, recording the audio and doing all the editing. My friend in Serbia, Dusan, was recreating the music tracks, piecing it all together to create instrumentals. Classic Media weren’t doing anything.
After a while it got to 2015 and I was burnt out by the channel and then Dark Horse got in touch. They were doing THE ART OF HE-MAN book at the time and they asked if I wanted to contribute and I said, “Yeah, sure.” When they sent over the PDF of the Filmation chapter, I was like, “Oh my God!” It wasn’t bad but it was very inaccurate. I went into that Filmation section, which was twenty something pages at that point, and I started from scratch. Dark Horse were, at the time, saying, “This [has ended up becoming] probably one of the best sections of the book!”
Then, the mini-comic book happened and I said to Dark Horse, “I’ve got this unpublished mini-comic, I don’t know if you would be interested in publishing it in the book.” They were like, “Yeah, sure.” So, the mini-comic book came out and based on my willingness to help, Val Staples [comic book and toy artist] said to me, “You should pitch a book about the cartoon.” I created this pitch and sent it to Dark Horse and they were like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” It could have been at least another hundred pages because, once I had done it, I found out even more. Just a month after I finished the book I got another thousand pieces of artwork and would have loved to have used those.
MS: How long did it take you to write HE-MAN AND SHE-RA: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE CLASSIC ANIMATED ADVENTURES?
JE: Well, I always wanted to do a guide like this. In 2009, I’m sitting there and decide to do an unofficial guide to the HE-MAN episodes. So I start off and I just wrote for half a year. It was all text. I checked with Mattel and they said, “As long as He-Man is not on the cover!” I sent them the cover, with He-Man shown in silhouette, and they said, “That’s fine!”
I self-publish the book and it sells about four thousand copies in the space of about half a year: even to this day, people still buy the unofficial one. So, that was one of my selling points to Mattel, and they asked, “How long will it take you to write an official book?” I said, “Well, most of it is written, but I do need to rewrite some bits…” I went through my Unofficial Guide, page by page, and I’m making corrections, rewriting a few things, and it became this [the official guide]. They [Dark Horse] were like “Hey, you can include the artwork in this one, y’know!”, so I started to scan [the screencaps] in by each episode and, by this time, I had all this wealth of material and just threw it all in the book. There is so much more that could have been included but most of it is in there.
MS: How did you acquire the artwork?
JE: I started collecting animation art in ’97. When I went to meet Zadoc in America, Zadoc was hanging out with a guy called Lee. Lee had been going into the warehouse where all the Filmation artwork was and was friends with Lou Scheimer. All the artwork that comprised of the HE-MAN shows, and other Filmation shows, were in these boxes in Los Angeles. So Lee had started going there in about ’99 I think. A few cells had been made available to the public – I managed to get one and it cost me a fortune.
Lee comes along and says “Look, if you want a specific cell from a certain episode, then I can get them.” I was like “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” I’d heard people say that shit like this before. Lee starts showing me his collection and I was like, “Oh my God!” He had a lot of key scenes especially from THE SECRET OF THE SWORD [episode]. As I would find out a few years later, you would go to this warehouse they were all in boxes, all in order. It was four or five boxes per episode.
So you would go through all these cells – hose days are long gone now, that collection has gone from L.A. to San Diego and back to L.A. and, during that time, it has been rinsed. The last time I saw the collection was in a warehouse in San Diego and it was such a mess. You would be going through cells of HE-MAN and there would be cells of M.A.S.K. in there and THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS…!
MS: Why was this all taking place in San Diego?
JE: Because the guy who bought it lived in San Diego. I messaged him a month or two ago and said, “Hey, where’s the collection these days?” He’s said “It’s now in Los Angeles again.” A lot of it got damaged in transport. A lot of the SHE-RA stuff got damaged.
So, in 2001 when I went to meet Zadoc, I met Lee. Me and Lee went to the warehouse twice. It’s so funny to look back at it, I spent a fortune on animation cells. Then, as the years went on, I was buying cells for $250 each, but I was getting the choice cells. So I went there in 2001, 2005 and the last time I was in San Diego which was 2013 and by then that was pretty much all I could get.
As I said, by then, it was pretty much a mess – nothing was in order, loads of it was getting damaged. It was left on the floor! Cells were being ripped apart, there were idiots in that warehouse in San Diego that were graffiti-ing the cells. There was one… it was a drawing of the Sorceress sat down on her throne and someone had rubbed out her throne and drawn a toilet seat! The stupid thing is these idiots could have sold that and made $20 or $30.
When I was there in 2013, seeing all that shit, the owner of the warehouse said, “Look, I’m trying to get rid of this stuff. You can buy it off me, any piece of art for $2.” I think I bought like a thousand during that visit! Then, the last two acquisitions, I got another eight thousand.
When I was working at Classic Media, they said, “We have a bunch of stills from the show and they are in a warehouse out in the countryside.” Me and the guys go to this warehouse and they get these boxes out and I said, “These are the boxes that were in San Diego.” Basically, Classic Media had said to the warehouse in San Diego, “We own all this stuff now.” And they said, “Oh sure, we will send it to you.” Turns out it’s only about one percent of the boxes from San Diego. Classic Media think they’ve reclaimed the art and I said “No. You’ve reclaimed about 1% of it.” These people that owned just didn’t know.
I got to a warehouse in 2015, just outside London, and we go through boxes and I found a bunch of new pieces. I sold those at Orbital Comics. I went back to the warehouse in February of this year and they got the same boxes out and a few of the ones that were missing from last time. I said “Right, this is the last time I’m going to be doing this!” So I acquired more and will start selling it over the next few months… long story short, that’s how I acquired the artwork!
MS: There is a chapter about abandoned episodes. How did you find out about these?
JE: Again: everything is connected. Years ago, I bought the Filmation series guide, it was when the show was called HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, because the Masters Of The Universe were the villains, that was Skeletor’s ‘crew’. I always thought that was great. It was like He-Man AND the baddies, and I loved the idea that the villains were calling themselves the masters of the universe.
So I had this series guide and it had maybe five or six abandoned episodes. I thought that was interesting and made a note about them. Then, when we did the DVD’s, we got a bunch of material from Robby London who, along with Paul Dini, was one of the first people to sit down and type out synopsis for each episode. They were like three line synopsis and we had about seventy pages of abandoned episodes – some didn’t have titles. Rob Lamb, when he sent that first package, had a list of nine SHE-RA episode premises that he came up with and they were all really amazing. There is probably more out there because you could go to any writer of that show… I’ve never heard Larry DiTillio talk about abandoned episodes but I’m sure, if I went to him, he would find some.
MS: One of the last pages in the book is where you write about meeting Lou Scheimer. What was he like when you met him?
JE: He was awesome, he was so humble, he was one of the most humble human beings you could meet. I met him either four or five times. The first time was on the trip when I first met Zadoc and Lee. As I said, Lee was friends with him. Lee had gone to Filmation when they were closing their doors in 1989 – he had gone in their building by literally walking in their back door as they were putting shit in their dumpster. Lee just walks in and suddenly he is sitting in front of Lou, and Lou starts talking to him about the cartoons. Lee asked him, “Well, what’s going on now?”, and Lou said, “Filmation are gone. That’s it!”
Lee and Lou stayed in touch and thanks to that connection, when I went to L.A., we go to visit Lou Scheimer Animation Studios. It was a company that wanted to do stuff but wasn’t in the right place to do stuff. They did something called ROBIN AND THE DREAMWEAVERS, which if you ever see it will say “Ohhhhh, that’s… unique!” [laughs]. We saw a screening of [ROBIN] at Lou Scheimer Productions, watching this preview and they said, “We aren’t sure who we are targeting with this.” Mainly because there were scenes with Care Bear cuteness mixed with hardcore sex! They had people having sex in this apocalyptic America but yet, you have Care Bears and Robin trying to save the day for this Shadoweaver ripoff called Triple X, who is standing atop of a giant penis! They couldn’t sell that, nobody would buy it because it was, like, who do you target?? If it didn’t have the Care Bears, then you could perhaps target the teenagers and if it didn’t have the hardcore sex, you could target the kids. It was such a mixture, it was a mess.
So, we go to meet Lou in 2001 and as we walk in, he is walking out saying, “I’ve got a meeting”, and signs a poster – fleeting glance! We spent about five minutes talking to Erica Scheimer and then we leave. Then, when BIC did the huge HE-MAN DVD launch at San Diego Comic-Con in 2005, they kindly said they would fly me out – they did so two years in a row and I met Lou both those years.
The next time I met him, I was in L.A. working on some REAL GHOSTBUSTERS cartoon DVD’s and I went to Lou’s house – it was the most amazing house I’d ever been in. I think he said something along the lines of, “It was the house SUGAR SUGAR built!”, because he owned the rights to the old Archies record, which did very well and he made a lot of money off it. Subsequently, HE-MAN and SHE-RA made him even more money, so his house was amazing, in the valley of Los Angeles, and you drove up this hill – it was a giant mansion with three levels and the view of the entire valley. Lou was there and so personable and he remembered me from before. We went to lunch, it was such a lovely experience – he was such a normal man.
MS: Let’s wrap this up with a couple of quick-fire questions: what’s your favourite episode of HE-MAN?
JE: Easy. THE PROBLEM WITH POWER.
MS: Who is your favourite character?
JE: That’s a bit more tricky! It’s a toss-up between He-Man and Skeletor, after all – the series revolves around them. But, visually and design wise and the voice, I’m going to choose Trapjaw!
Find out more about James’ book, HE-MAN AND SHE-RA: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE CLASSIC ANIMATED ADVENTURES, and pick up your copy, here!