He-Man Tales

 

Truth, Lies & Minicomics: A Conversation with Gary Cohn, Part 2

After nearly a year of delays by everything from staff changes to legal preparation, the ground-breaking interview with the most influential Mineternian creator, GARY COHN, is back!  Here, he reveals the secret of his connection to SHE-RA .. and how a popular 80s comic revolutionized the world of girls' toys!

GC:  I can't say for sure that we *created the 'two swords' idea, but the duality of it appealed to me.  Good versus evil.

* In the Mineternian period, Skeletor wielded a mystical sword much like He-Man's Sword of Power. At the time of this interview, neither Mr. Cohn or HMT knew the 'two swords' idea had been created by Donald F. Glut in 1981.

HMT:  For me, it exemplified the Masters of the Universe concept in many respects -- the idea that this power everyone's after isn't inherently good.  Who are He-Man, the Goddess and Skeletor as you originally envisioned them?

GC:  [Chuckles.] They're exactly who they appear to be.  The names tell the story.

HMT:  I don't think you ever worked with Zodac [my next question].  He was this cool space character, something like Jack Kirby's Silver Surfer in red and white armor.

GC:  Jack Kirby is in everything.  Were the similarities [to the Surfer and other Kirby legends] conscious?  No.

HMT:  In "The Power of Point Dread", Skeletor uses the Crystal of the Caverns to capture Point Dread and the Talon Fighter.  After he's done this, he accidentally shatters the Crystal .. from which a purple mist escapes.  Was this purple mist actually the goddess Evil-Lyn released from her genii-like prison?

GC:  Who's Evil-Lyn?

HMT:  Evil-Lyn was the Goddess's opposite number.  She was like a wicked witch.  And yellow.  Bright yellow.  On TV, she was Chinese.  I think.

GC:  Never heard of her.

YES, I actually asked another full-grown man this geeky, spock-eared question.  Yes, I have no life.

Thankfully, the conversation turned to the comics Gary Cohn had worked on, most of which I was fondly familiar.  Blue Devil, Barren Earth, Green Lantern, (all for DC Comics), Ghost Rider (at Marvel), Shi, Demon Gun (Image/Crusade Entertainment) and finally, Countess Vladimira (Peregrine Entertainment) -- just to name a few.

Then, one name stopped the presses cold.  Dead cold.

GC:  Do you remember Amethyst?

HMTAmethyst: Princess of Gemworld?  It was the first DC [Comics] maxi-series, wasn't it?  It was like twelve issue series.

GC:  Dan Miskin and I created Amethyst, while we were still at Bolling Green.

HMT:  I remember this scene, where Dark Opal [Amethyst's archenemy] stabs his nephew in the eye with his sword, and it's like I couldn't believe I had just seen that .. in a comic book.  I had to turn the page back over and read it again!

GC:  We were pushing the envelope a bit.

HMT:  There was also this bad guy with ram's horns -- Sardonyx, I think.  They were all named for gems, weren't they?  Each character hailed from a house or kingdom representing a birthstone.

GC:  Each of the characters had a power or characteristic representing a sign in the Zodiac.  Amethyst's parents [before they died] were the rulers of House Amethyst.  There was House Opal, and so on and so forth.

HMT:  Kind of reminded me of Dune, when I read it the first time.  Did your popular culture studies background influence Amethyst's creation at all?

GC:  You ask certain questions.  There was already the Flash, Superman, Green Lantern -- there were fewer [comic book heroes] for girls.  So, what do little girls like to do?

HMT:  Uh-hh -- eat cookies.  Bake cookies.

GC:  What else do little girls like to do?

HMT:  Play dress up?  Oh, I get it.  Little girls like to wear their mother's jewelry, right?  [Diamonds are a girl's best friend, y'know.]

GC:  They like jewelry.  Wonder Woman has her tiara and her golden lasso.  They also like fairytales and magic.  Gemworld is a magical place, where Amethyst is a princess.

HMT:  Like Snow White.  Cinderella.  The story of the girl, who discovers she is royalty in some faraway place.  Can you explain the part about her being a child, who transforms into an adult?  I think I remember some of it.

GC:  The time flows differently on Gemworld.  Here, she's a thirteen year old girl named Amy Winston.  There, she's a grown up princess.  Another fantasy -- the child, who dreams of being an adult.  Having power and being important.

HMT:  Sort of like Captain Marvel changing from a boy into an adult superhero.

GC:  Sure.  She had mystical powers, a magic sword.  A unicorn.  We had several meetings with [editors and executives] about Amethyst -- what the possibilities were for this character.  There was even the discussion of toys -- dolls.

The tabloid-aholic in me salivated, .. and while I could sorta' see where this was headed, a part of me just flat out couldn't believe what this man was about to tell me.

That, in the mid-eighties, DC Comics was in talks with a couple of toy manufacturers.  One of them, as familiar to MOTU fans, as pie.  At the time, Mr. Cohn and his associate, Dan Mishkin, had introduced the idea to DC's execs, the proposed Amethyst toyline stood to revolutionize how little girls related to their toys.  The idea of a line of girls' fashion dolls armed with combs AND swords had never been done before.

GC:  It hadn't been done before and, had the Amethyst dolls been successful, [the percentage of sales profits legally entitled to Mr. Cohn, through his agreement with DC] would have made me millions.  It would have completely changed my life.

HMT:  This was like 1984?  '85?  Right?  Oh, God.  What happened?

In 1985, sales of Masters of the Universe toys had leveled off at $450 million dollars -- Mattel, reportedly looking for some way to expand their commercial juggernaut into new toy markets.

GC:  [Toymaker X] came out with the [Warrior Princess] dolls.

HMT:  [Warrior Princess] is a rip-off of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld?!

GC:  No one could prove it, but we knew.

HMT:  Geez!  It's so obvious.  The whole gem thing.  The costumes.  The blonde hair!  Did you think about suing them?  Couldn't DC [Comics] have sued?

GC:  Sure, they could have, but [DC's legal people] didn't believe a similarity between the toys could be proven.

HMT:  Are you kidding me?  Each of the dolls had this little jewel in their chests, right?  [Warrior Princess] had a diamond.  Another had a sapphire .. or a ruby.

Just like the characters in Amethyst, .. each of whom wielded a mystical and emblematic gem that gave them mystical powers.

GC:  [Warrior Princess] rode a winged unicorn.  Amethyst rode a winged unicorn.

HMT:  There was even a crystal castle playset!  Man.  It's just so brazen.  It's like [Toymaker X] wasn't even trying to hide it.

GC:  Well, they weren't.  They didn't feel the need to, .. and DC let it go.

HMT:  Did the fact that [Warrior Princess] never turned out to be a huge, commercial success have anything to do with DC's decision not to sue?

GC:  Couldn't prove anything.  So, they let it go.

HMT:  And that was the end of it?

GC:  That was the end of it.  Had the Amethyst toys been even modestly successful [commercially], I'd never have needed to work again.  My life would have completely changed.

From the steely finality in Mr. Cohn's voice, I had to conclude that had, indeed, been the end of it .. and left it alone.  He didn't rave or giggle nervously, .. all of which a lesser, more bitter man might have done.  You had to respect that, .. even if the injustice he endured burned you a little.

The conversation turned to the here.  The now.

HMT:  You've written for quite a few comics, since the 1980s.  Any novels in the works?

GC:  Right now, when I'm not teaching at Long Island University or the City College of New York, I'm working on my dissertation for a PHD in History.

HMT:  Really?  What's it about?

GC:  It's about America's move from steam engine ships to steel ships -- the industrial, political ramifications of it.  How the military sold the importance of American "sea power" to the public in the 1890s.

HMT:  Sounds huge.  Interesting.  How do you even begin to research something like that?

Not too active in martial arts right now, Gary Cohn still fences for fun and rides a motorcycle.  He's an all-around badass and still writing smart comics in a world that's getting dumber by the second.  He rocks.

Check out Cohn's latest jam, Countess Vladimira, or timewarp back to the 80s with a mondo cool deconstruction of Amethyst.

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