For those just tuning in I have had the great pleasure of talking with one of the most talented forces in the toy industry. Justine Dantzer is an inventor, illustrator, and toy designer who has had a part in creating and shaping the landscape of toys with a variety of lines. She is full of history and inside scoop on the toy industry and she is finally ready to come forward and share this information for us all to enjoy. I have already completed a first article where I shared a bit of our conversations with her early beginnings in the toy world as well as her time at Kenner. (If you are interested in reading that first article please click here.) This second article is going to take focus on one toy line and how it came to be: Princess of Power.
Before I begin I have to say what an emotional experience this has been for me. I never thought in my entire life that I would be given an opportunity to get to know a person who was responsible for bringing the ideas and images of She-Ra to life. Justine had something very special inside her that she was able to share with the world and it became more than just a toy line. What could have been a line of toys that made kids happy for a brief moment in time before fading away into obscurity took root in our hearts. She-Ra and her friends have traveled through generations and provided magic for countless devoted fans, fans that still continue to collect and celebrate a toy line that empowered women and men alike to aspire to be their own heroes. Magic is certainly the recurring theme for me as I have started this process of sharing her stories.
To truly understand where She-Ra came from, we must first take a step back and look at Justine's time at Kenner for a brief moment. Long having been a fan of super heroes and powerful women, Justine had begun drawing images of her own for a line she was conceptualizing. Her name for this line was Andromeda. It was to be a very empowered line of toys for girls. All that exists of this early concept are two pencil sketches along with three slides of full color art taken in-house at Kenner. Justine informed me that no other art existed of this line. (More details of this line will be discussed, so keep reading!)
Sadly the line was not supported by Kenner as so much money was already going towards Strawberry Shortcake and Glamour Gals. The proposed line died an early death but the idea of strong empowered women as the basis for a toy line still burned inside of Justine.
After her time at Kenner Justine found herself returning to Mattel, this time at the Barbie Preliminary department. (She has a wealth of stories regarding Barbie, but I will be sharing that in another article.) During this time at Mattel, Masters of the Universe and Barbie were the big sellers. Masters of the Universe was selling so well in fact that Mattel took notice of a high velocity of one particular figure flying off shelves. The popularity of the Teela figure sparked an idea with Mattel. Justine informed me that Mattel wanted to create a flanker brand, a brand that would help increase sales of both Masters of the Universe and Barbie. It would be a powerhouse idea. Since Mattel had already viewed Justine's portfolio consisting of her work on Kenner's DC Super Powers featuring Lois Lane, Super Girl, and Wonder Woman as well as seeing her sketches from the Andromoda line, they felt Justine would be the perfect fit for creating images and designs of powerful women for a brand new line of female action dolls. Justine stressed that this marketing plan of creating a toy line that would help bridge the gap between boy and girl toy lines was very new and ahead of its time. It was a risk that Mattel was ready to take.
What I find so interesting about the role the Princess of Power line was going to make is that certain fans who are not fond of She-Ra are quick to point out that she was meant to be a spin off to make a quick buck as He-Man's leftovers when in reality Mattel was placing a great deal of faith in this line to increase a crossover of sales for their two most popular lines at the time. Princess of Power was an effort to create a whole new market of toy collectors that would be interested in He-Man and Barbie. That is quite remarkable and shows just how powerful that toy line was. They knew there was a market for a line of strong women that would appeal to girls just as much as it would boys. That's very rare.
As I mentioned in the first article, I want to stress that Justine did not name She-Ra. She was given the freedom to design and create the characters for the toy line though. This was a huge opportunity for Justine. She was one of only two women (the other being Jenny Kiernan) that were working in the Mattel prelim department so the amount of work that both these women created was amazing. As Justine expressed to me, "We were the only two women in Barbie Preliminary Design, although there was a female boss, and we did Princess of Power while we were busy working on the Barbie line." The first design of She-Ra shared some similarities with Teela, which is what Mattel wanted. Mattel's marketing directive was to make this new female character very Teela-like. Hence her more tribal warrior goddess look. (I personally feel that Mattel wanted this direction originally because it would utilize the reuse of parts which was a hallmark of the Masters of the Universe toy line.)
I am only sharing certain images at the permission of Justine. Toward the end of the article there will be images that fully capture what her designs looked like. These images are on t-shirts that Justine also has for sale.
She-Ra's look did evolve and change as it went through the process of going from prelim to the prototype stage, but Justine's second drawing of She-Ra was much more closer to what fans would see in stores. There was a sense of relief and pride that the items she drew and created were able to make it mostly unscathed to the final stages. As she had mentioned before, seeing a toy line from creation to completion was an important thing. Many toy lines never got the chance to see the light of day.
One question I asked Justine that was very important was which toy line came first, Princess of Power or Golden Girl? Many of you may recall that a couple years ago I learned of a rumor that Galoob's Golden Girl had been the toy line that Mattel wanted to emulate with She-Ra. Justine cleared this rumor up quickly, "She-Ra was always first. Princess of Power spawned a few toy lines that were similar, but She-Ra was always there first. I should know, I created her!" Whew! At long last a question finally answered!
Justine also had designs for a steed. She-Ra had to get around somehow right? While we all know She-Ra had Swiftwind, the original idea was far more interesting. Justine had originally envisioned She-Ra riding along with a white flying stag named Noble.
Bow was another one of her creations. She was responsible for naming him Bow as well. Bow was created as a wounded hero in Justine's mind.
|My original Bow as a point of reference, notice the gold glove?|
While Justine designed a stag for She-Ra, she also had a pet for Catra named Tinx. Tinx was a cross between a saber tooth tiger and a lynx.
Glimmer was another one of Justine's creations. The first design for Glimmer though was a stark difference from what we would eventually see as the guide who lights the way for She-Ra and her friends. Check out the images below,
We're missing one last figure from that first wave of Princess of Power toys. Justine informed me that she created the name and design of Castaspella. I must say Castaspella goes down in history for having one of the most fun and inventive names ever. I do not have any images of Castaspella at this time because Justine is planning on unveiling more images of her designs for Princess of Power down the line.
The Crystal Castle was also something that Justine was responsible for though her original concept for the castle was quite edgy and a perfect complement to Castle Grayskull. Her vision for the Crystal Castle was to be shaped like an eagle's head with the bird's mouth being able to drop down like a drawbridge. Why the choice for an eagle's head on the castle? Justine has been asked about the eagle motif with her designs for PoP before and her reply reminded her of a story when she worked at Lanard Toys. She was sitting at a table during a Lanard company dinner. Bored, she and the guy sitting next to her began to play the game 'if you could be any animal, what animal would you be?' Her reply was an eagle. Her answer simply reinforced why she used so much eagle motifs in her early PoP designs, it was her preference.
During a line review meeting presided over by the head Mattel sculptor at the time, Aldo Favilli, there was a rough clay version of the Crystal Castle on display. Marketing people were in the room as was Justine. Looking over the rough clay version of the Crystal Castle, Justine felt that something was off with the Castle's direction. Justine voiced her concerns with how the castle was turning out. Aldo Favilli handed Justine a sculpting tool in front of everyone at the meeting and said, "Go at it." That is just what she did. This was highly unusual as Justine was not a part of the sculpting department. She felt it was a huge honor being shown to her during this meeting. I find this story to be simply divine.
Being a woman in the toy industry with so many men around her was a challenge. She had thoughts and ideas for the Princess of Power line that were not always given the kind of attention and respect that they deserved. Some of her drawings for the Princess of Power characters were scoffed at for being too strong and powerful looking. Justine was ridiculed for her ideas that were quite ahead of their time. It was not always easy. The women were not paid as much as their male colleagues. In fact Justine was given little to no credit for her work on the Princess of Power line. There was no bonus, she was barely making a living wage and yet here she was, the woman who created a toy line that was highly successful. Mattel should have allowed her to flourish and thrive there, this is a woman with so much talent and wonderful ideas.
After the way things unfolded with her work on the Princess of Power line, Justine would eventually leave Mattel and move on to other toy lines. While Justine left, other talented folks would take over the remaining waves of the Princess of Power toy line. This would not be the end of Justine and her connection to She-Ra though.
Earlier this past month, Justine had the opportunity to attend and speak at Power-Con the ultimate convention for He-Man and She-Ra fans. This was her first time attending and she was very happy to go. The goal had been for myself to also attend Power-Con and actually have the wonderful chance to meet Justine in person. Sadly I was unable to make that happen this year. Luckily my friend Daniel Benedict was able to make sure she had people helping her. Justine was not only speaking at the event but she also had a table set up with her images and t-shirts for sale. (More on that in a second, I promise!)
Even though I wasn't there, I did have the chance to talk with her and hear just how powerful attending this convention had actually been. Justine started with explaining how she had actually arrived a little late to the event due to an unusual amount of fog that had come in as well as a fire. Accidents abounded, but Justine made it to the Con which was in Torrance, California.
Once settled in Justine remarked at how much had changed in Torrance. It had been many years since Justine had last been there and while looking out over her hotel room view, she couldn't believe how much the city had grown. It was a surreal moment. She described the cold ocean air meeting the hot earth creating this incredible fog that looked like something from a movie. She couldn't believe she was there, attending an event devoted to a property that Justine was an integral part of.
With her table set up featuring shirts for sale with her original images of She-Ra, Catra, and Bow, Justine expressed to the con attendees that no one aside those from Mattel had seen these images. She continued to share that on the basis of these images, had Mattel not liked them, She-Ra and the Princess of Power toy line would not have gone forward.
Once people began to talk and visit her table, Justine found that so many people had nothing but thanks for her work in creating She-Ra. Fans vocalized their amazement at being able to speak and take photos with the woman who created such a special figure in their lives. People signed up to her email list serve wherein they will be able to receive a special story about the toy industry once a month in their inbox. (details below) Justine was touched that so many people were excited to meet her. She quickly expressed her own excitement with having met them.
She recounted her experiences and joys watching attendees both young and old participating in He-Man and She-Ra cosplay. A nice conversation was shared with a Canadian man dressed in an impeccable He-Man costume. Justine was also able to sit and talk with the actors who voiced She-Ra and Skeletor from the animated series. Justine also spoke of the awe she had for the magic that was kept alive by so many fans all varying in ages. From other artists sharing their own take on She-Ra to toy sellers offering up a slew of She-Ra merchandise for sale, Justine had so much to take in and enjoy.
During the weekend Justine was also able to catch the special Mattel booth that featured the 2016 San Diego Comic Con She-Ra doll exclusive. The designers (the Sander brothers) of that doll were there showing off the details of the upcoming exclusive collectible as well as other fun and exciting pieces of She-Ra history. (They even had the original Star Sister prototypes on display!) Justine was thrilled to see this new doll and remarked at how beautiful yet strong and intense the doll looked. The Mattel designers were stoked that Justine liked it so much. Take that in for just a second, the woman who designed She-Ra was able to reflect and comment on what these designers had made. What a special moment!
Other special moments included getting the chance to reconnect with Mark Taylor, the man who created He-Man. She was invited to his 75th birthday party. These two talented people had worked together at three different toy companies in their careers. They have a very wonderful friendship. While at the party Justine and Mark discussed the true origins of He-Man. There has been controversy over who created He-Man, and Justine put to rest decades long rumors that many of us have wanted to know. Justine stated simply, "Mark Taylor created He-Man. He even told me at his party that he had been sketching He-Man when he was 12." For those not aware of what I am referring to, there was a long standing legal battle wherein the creator of Conan the Barbarian had sued Mattel explaining that He-Man was a rip off of Conan. He-Man was never a rip off of Conan. Of course Mattel would end up winning the law suit, however Justine wanted to bring any rumor to rest, Mark Taylor created He-Man and she created She-Ra.
Of course the main moment that would be one of the most defining ones of the weekend for Justine was her speech. She practiced what she planned to say the night before. Justine had a great deal of emotions wrapped in this speech because it was not just a fond work memory. This was a part of her life and she was going to share something incredibly personal with an audience of She-Ra fans. Telling herself to get a grip, Justine found herself eventually facing a crowd, interested to hear what she had to say. What she had to say, and what she had told me, was that this was a story of healing, something good coming out of something bad.
Justine opened, "I believe we have all felt the magic, either consciously or unconsciously of a really good toy, or we wouldn't be here. Today we will talk about such a toy." Justine proceeded to share some of her history with how she arrived at Mattel. She described already having an empowering female line in her portfolio that helped Mattel hand over the Princess of Power project to her. Sharing the various Princess of Power slides that were of her original illustrations, the audience began to cheer and gasp in excitement. Justine posed the question, "What draws a person to buy a doll? It is first and foremost the face." Justine wanted to have expression and attitude in the faces of the PoP figures. When Bow's face came up on the slide show many in the audience sighed. "How could Mattel get his face so wrong, it was perfect in this image!" In reference to Bow's handsome face, Justine replied, "Well if you're going to do it, do it right." The audience laughed. They were finding out stories they never knew existed. Especially about Justine's personal life.
One of five siblings growing up in Toledo, Ohio she was the third girl with a father that worked and a mom who stayed at home. Justine described herself as, well, a nerd. Whatever allowance that she earned was used to buy comics. Comics made her feel better. they were her escape, mainly because she couldn't consciously process at the time that she was looking for a hero. Superman was her favorite, because as she put it, "I figured I needed the most super being to save me." She was also a fan of Zorro. What she needed to be saved from was not the taunting and teasing received by her siblings who were irritated and did not understand her love for super heroes and comics. No. Justine needed saving from her mother.
Justine endured numerous forms of abuse at the hands of her mother. What would seem an idyllic family life was something quite different. There were a few instances where Justine was physically injured by her mom. One instance contained a blocked memory where Justine had to be saved by her aunt and grandmother. Other painful events involved having surgeon scissors pointed at her throat and another time where she was choked. Justine explained having throat issues her whole life, which contains some irony in that for so long she could never voice how this had all affected her.
Throughout the years Justine had entered into psychoanalysis to process and work on her life. This past story of her abuse at the hands of her mother never came up. Meditation had even been a very important tool for her life. Many years ago while working she had also taken time to immerse herself with the practice of intense meditation. She had studied with a master in Los Angeles, "Those two years were trans-formative and empowering." It was a Buddhist based meditation that saw her and her group sitting with the Dali Lama, "It was his immense capacity to see the world positively, to take life 'lightly' that comes forth in his laughter, truly an amazing being." Justine explained that our lives seem to go backward and forward. Meditation has continued to be an important part of her life. Now was the time for her to share this story.
It's a story with some pain for sure, but Justine had talked with a fellow confidant (I am honoring not to share this person's name out of privacy) but they inspired her to rethink and look back at how everything with creating She-Ra came to happen. Looking back and processing this part of her life helped her to be strong and share what she has been through. "This is a story of healing, something good coming out of something bad," Justine simply stated.
As I mentioned before, when Justine was at Kenner, she had moments to present her own ideas. This is when she sat down to draw the Andromeda line. During this time it was her first real experience to be living away from her family. With the added meditation, it helped to bring forth this image of an empowering female character. Justine felt a need to create a strong doll with strength and power as well as the ability to communicate with a horse named Pegasus.
|Early sketch of Andromeda line|
|A nice larger image of Pegasus|
|Images of one of the powerful women from Andromeda: Nova|
However they needed a second design and Justine's next sketch of She-Ra was more based on her own personal designs. (This second sketch of She-Ra looks more like what ended up being produced.) Justine illuminated further on this second design, "I went through all the steps for Mattel and when I had a second chance to draw She-Ra, she was there. I didn't need a redo. She was there the whole time and what ended up becoming the final product." A rare event for sure, this second image of She-Ra was the hero within Justine that had empowered her to survive the painful experiences she went through with her mom.
All of the negative energy she had gone through helped to create something so positive and magical. Places in the Heart, the 1984 film starring Sally Field featured a quote that Justine felt resonated with her throughout these years, "Places in the heart would not exist if pain had not been there first." If She-Ra was the empowering hero within Justine, Bow was meant to be the hero she hoped her father could have been. Bow could feel She-Ra was in trouble by the beating of his heart, he'd then be there for her. Justine had hoped that her dad could have stepped in to save her, to make the abuse stop. Looking back though Justine explained that her dad just did not know how to step in and stop in a helpful way, "There was one time where he even helped her abuse me." Justine sadly stated, "My parents were like children, they shouldn't have had children of their own."
She still loves her mom to this day even though both her parents have passed away. There was some closure after Justine's mom passed by way of a letter. During the final stages of her father's life, Justine was able to have some sort of relationship with him that provided some healing. Justine sighed, "I was raised strict Catholic, our church was right in front of the house. I'd look out my window and think, why can't God see this? God can't see what is happening across the street." What came out of child abuse was something very powerful though. The process, either consciously or unconsciously, was energy that was meant to be. The timing was perfect at Mattel. The Princess of Power toy line went on to influence as many people as it did. "We go through painful things in order to experience great things," Justine continued, "In the end you look back at and realize that it all worked out and led up to this." Telling her story now has been like a weight being lifted.
Eventually Mattel took the Princess of Power line away from Justine, which affected her a great deal. As a result Justine would leave Mattel and find work at Tomy as the Director of the Fashion Doll department. Her work at Tomy was so great that Matchbox found her and made a very good offer to leave Tomy and go under contract for Matchbox to design and oversee the entire girl's product line of the reintroduction to the American market of Robotech, and she did that entire line. Everyone was completely enthralled by what Justine shared. She received standing ovations, particularly as she opened up about the impact that super heroes and particularly the characters she designed for PoP had on her life.
Speaking to the audience was powerful for her. She further shared her thoughts about the appeal of an action super hero, "Where we can have strength and find our strength." There were numerous questions and personal experiences shared with the audience. Justine was moved by this and could truly feel something magical in the air. Many fans came to thank her and upon accepting their thanks she expressed, "I want to thank all of you who have come up and thanked me. I will accept your thanks, not just for myself, but for all the wonderful talented people, some of who are now dead that worked long hours, often for not great pay and sometimes for crazy bosses and sat in difficult meetings fighting with costing and engineering over a tenth of a cent so that kids could get the best toys possible. For them I accept your thanks." The whole process had been one she had never anticipated but was so honored to have been a part of. I only wish that I had been there.
This speech at Power-Con has not been the only opportunity Justine has experienced recently with sharing her stories. At the end of July of this year the film crew behind the Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters documentary arrived to interview Justine on film. Randall Lobb and Robert McCallum (writers and directors of the film) were joined with the director of photography Isaac Elliott-Fisher inside Justine's home. From 10 am until around 2 pm the documentary crew captured many of Justine's experiences while working at Mattel.
Justine shared how she lives with color that she loves color all around her like with furniture or fashion. She further explained that during her years in the toy industry she was known to be very great with color and textiles. She'd get many requests for picking colors from managers and other designers. Justine is a tetrachromat and is part of 1% of the population that experiences this phenomenon. A tetrachromat has more receptors in their eyes and can therefore absorb more color. The guys in the model shop at Mattel would bring samples to her with hopes that Justine would color correct them. She would offer her advice and even began teaching about color and what makes things cute for the toy lines that they were all working on. Had she not found herself working in the toy industry she would have gotten into the field of textile design with fashion design as a second choice. (She was able to design Barbie fashions though so part of that dream got to be fulfilled.)
Esoteric questions were brought up about symbolism with She-Ra. The crew wanted to know if Justine had utilized symbolism with She-Ra. Justine emphasized that there was symbolism that spoke to the collective unconscious with her images. She had studied dream analysis and wanted to tap into symbols that would work on an unconscious level, which she believes has led to the enduring love and success of She-Ra. Justine also was pleased to have the interview go in that direction.
Her drawing process was also shared in the interview. Justine described her way of illustrating as drawing her lines repeatedly over each other and in the process looking through the blur until she'd find what she was looking for. Once the image would appear to her, she'd grab an eraser and fade the lines away that were no longer needed until what she wanted to see would be there. She declined to draw She-Ra for them as well as sharing the second set of images featuring her second She-Ra and Castaspella.
Talk of a She-Ra reboot was addressed in the interview and Justine gladly expressed how she would enjoy being a part of that if it were to ever happen. She also shared her views on what she would do differently with a rebooted She-Ra line. "The world is different now, they'd be able to handle a more edgy doll line and I'd want her to be bigger, like in a six inch scale." Justine has long been a passionate supporter of female figures and dolls having a positive impact on girls.
This led to the part in the interview where Justine opened up about being a woman in the toy industry. More of this will be discussed in the next article when we tackle Barbie, but needless to say Justine reported on a variety of harsh criticisms regarding her images of She-Ra. She-Ra's legs were picked apart by her male colleagues. "The point of She-Ra was for her to have a strong capable body." Justine wanted She-Ra to provide creativity for children and to think outside of the box. Sadly once She-Ra went to the engineering stage of the toy process there was so much out of her control. (In terms of the features being more feminized and not as strong.)
Other points of discussion were capturing Justine's thoughts on certain fans who have felt that She-Ra was something that ruined He-Man. "Mark Taylor was the father of He-Man and I was the mother of She-Ra. It was always meant to be a family. She-Ra was never meant to take away from He-Man, she was there to help support Masters of the Universe." Justine also shared her personal experiences involving her family like she did at Power-Con. Tears were shed as well as some great laughs providing a really wonderful experience for Justine. For more information on the Power of Grayskull documentary please head to their website.
The magic that has lived on thanks to She-Ra has inspired me and others in so many ways and to hear Justine share these accounts for so many of us who have been touched by this creation is absolutely remarkable. Of course I am also thrilled that Justine shared her personal family story, one that is painful yet ultimately beautiful in what was able to come out of that. She-Ra is more than just a toy, she is a beacon of hope and strength; a true hero for multiple generations.
Want a piece of all this She-Ra awesomeness? Well the images from the slide show featuring never before seen illustrations of She-Ra, Catra, and Bow were printed on shirts that Justine has for sale. I want to stress what Justine has mentioned, this art was done 32 years ago. Justine faithfully recreated these images for Power-Con so that fans could get a chance to see the attitude and the character of the original drawings, which only the Mattel higher-ups had seen! Details on the sizes and pricing below.
PrincessofPowerGenesis.com is the upcoming website by Justine that will feature these shirts for sale. For now though you can purchase these shirts in size Large for $29.99 free shipping on eBay, follow the links to view each one:
She-Ra Princess of Power Shirt
Catra Princess of Power Shirt
Bow Princess of Power Shirt
During the Power-Con show people were able to sign up to read a monthly story from Justine about the toy business called ToyExposed.com. If you would like to be added to this list please feel free to email Justine and sign up at email@example.com. This is a very cool and exciting way to learn more about the toy industry, believe me, she has amazing stories.
One final reminder for those reading, I want to stress again the work she is doing with her business You As Art. You As Art is her exciting way to put you right into the action of your favorite character. Her designs for this new venture not only consist of hand drawn and colored illustrations, but she can also add materials to the item to provide a 3D effect. For example the man below is a dear friend of Justine's (Randy.) Randy wanted her to draw him as one of his favorite characters: the Jolly Green Giant.
Here is the finished product showing Randy as the Jolly Green Giant holding one of his favorite characters a Reddy Kilowatt figure. Very inventive and I feel like she has something special on her hands. Who wouldn't want one of the greatest toy designers and creators to draw something like this? Please email her with any interest or questions.
I want to once again thank Justine for sharing her stories and experiences with us. Her story is a powerful one and one that she did not have to ultimately share, but I am so glad she did. This has truly been an honor to take part in conversations with a woman who has impacted many of our lives. Never in my entire life would I have expected to be talking with Justine and hearing these wonderful stories while also having the chance to write them. Thank you Justine. You have created some magic in the universe and we are all very grateful. There is certainly more though! Never go too far because next time I share Justine's experiences working with Barbie at Mattel. Truly something not to be missed. I hope you are all doing well, thank you for sticking with me as I know this article was supposed to be completed a long time ago. Keep it here though, there's always something new and exciting going on!