All images are courtesy of Wayne Barlowe’s official site.
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INTERVIEW BY ISRAEL RAMIREZ
PowerLordsReturns Asks: You’ve had an amazing career that has taken you from the forests of Pandora (doing concept art for Avatar) to the depths of Hell (your books exploring the nature of Hades). You’ve also designed characters for the Harry Potter and Hellboy Movies, as well as many others. Where does the creation of Power Lords fit in your long and storied career?
Wayne Barlowe: Thanks for the very kind words. My career has had an arc that I could have never predicted way back when I was starting out. Of course, one should never expect that the career you set out to follow as a young person will unfold exactly as you expect. I’d bet it rarely ever does. I set out to try to conquer the paperback world. It didn’t happen, though I did a lot of very popular covers and also learned a lot along the way. So, after many years in the bullpen of illustration I decided to expand my horizons and do my own books. The funny thing about that is that I created Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials very early in my career and now, looking back, I really ponder why I just didn’t follow that path from the start. The book was successful for its time; there was every indicator that I should have done another straightaway. That didn’t happen but its odd descendants were the Power Lords. When toy-packagers Ned Strongin and Len Mayem contacted me, they were looking for a line that replicated what was in the book. Due to rights issues, I could not agree to that but I could provide them with designs that were similar.
PLR: What was it like working on the concept art for Power Lords? Were you involved in other aspects of creating the toy line like designing the action features or creating the back stories for the characters?
WB: Obviously, it was new and fun for me. I really do like branching out and trying new forms of design and this was a blast. I love toys – still collect a lot of them – but this was extra rich in that I was designing aliens. I love aliens and the kick here was that I’d actually get to hold the designs and put them on my shelf. Ned and Len were really agreeable fellows and they enjoyed seeing the reams of paper come off my desk. I did dozens of potential designs – each with an eye towards some kind of mechanical action that would translate into a fun toy. We discussed many of the possible actions and, yes, they did have some guidelines – target concepts that they wanted to see integrated into the line. I had very little to do with the back-stories. If memory serves me, those were created by people at Revell. Same with the Adam Power’s volcano base, Volcan Rock. That must have been done at Revell or elsewhere.
PLR: One of the things that makes Power Lords such a unique toy line, is the fact that all of the characters are so incredibly alien. Even Adam and Shaya who have humanoid forms transform into something wholly other. Some toy fans report that their parents wouldn’t buy them some of the toys because the parents felt they were too bizarre and would give their children nightmares. How were you able to get such a weird, wild line marketed and distributed to major retailers worldwide?
WB: Ha – well, as I said, I love toys and wanted to make these guys exceptional. And we all wanted these toys to have cutting edge features that our competitors did not have in their lines. A tough request as Masters of the Universe were going strong and were really well made and creative. And, why not have weird stuff in alien figures? They’re ALIENS! Too bad if parents couldn’t get it. That certainly wasn’t anything I was concerned about. Not my department! That was for Ned and Len and maybe Richard Zien who doing the marketing for Revell to worry about. Adam and Shaya, who were both characters that Ned and Len wanted in the line, were pretty bizarre. Incidentally, I think the only character I named was Sydot – a nod to my parents, Sy and Dot.
PLR: Even though many alterations were made between your original designs and the final Power Lords product, the characters all still seem so unmistakably “Barlowe.” When you were getting these made, did you have to deal with kid-testing and committee approval to get these made or did they just take your vision and run with it?
WB: My “vision” remained pretty much intact throughout the process. It may be a strength that only one person designed the line. There is an innate homogeneity that naturally occurs when a single designer is responsible for building characters or a world, be in in toys or in film. One needs look only towards H.R. Giger (ALIEN) or Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER) to understand that. I do know that kid-testing occurred but I had nothing to do with that. Same with committee approval. Ned and Len were in on those facets of creation.
PLR: We know that it was 30 years ago when these toys were released, and even longer than that since you designed them, but what do you remember about what inspired you when creating the original Power Lords character designs?
WB: I was and am a huge SF reader. Less now than back then but I still love the genre. I was inspired only by the notion of doing designs that I would like to see realized. And, as I mentioned earlier, a “same but different” aspect that arose from the initial request from Ned and Len to acquire the aliens from BGtE. It also bears mentioning that I wanted to see a real degree of variation in the line. I wanted to have an exoskeletal figure, a reptilian one, a really bizarre one, etc. for the sake of keeping kids’ imaginations on the move.