20th Century Toy Collector

"The Job of the Artist Is Always to Deepen the Mystery."

Archive for the 'Blackstar' Category

David B. Mattingly interview (Blackstar artwork)

Today’s post is rather special to me. I’ve often expressed my fondness for the amazing artwork that is featured on 1980’s toy packaging. Looking back at the years ever since there is no doubt in my mind that toy packaging from the 1980’s was the coolest ever created! One of my absolute favourites of the era are those that were created for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line in 1983. I managed to track down the talented artist who was responsible for the amazing Blackstar artwork. His name is David B. Mattingly and it turns out he’s a really nice guy! He was so kind to grant me the honour of doing a short interview, which I will proudly share with you today.

“The Job of the Artist Is Always to Deepen the Mystery.”

The quote above is by artist Francis Bacon. It is a quote that is part of David’s email signature and I guess there are several ways you could interpret that quote. I cannot help but notice that this is exactly what the artwork on the Blackstar packaging does for me. It evokes a feeling of wonder and mystery within me that I find fascinating. It fleshes out the mysterious and mythical world of Blackstar and leaves enough room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. There is an almost magical quality to it.

Trobbit Wind Machine artwork – David B. Mattingly

I had wondered for a while who had done the amazing artwork on the Ice Castle and Blackstar Space Ship, because there was no signature anywhere on the packaging. However when I finally recently acquired a mint-in-box Trobbit Wind Machine for my collection I spotted David’s signature on the packaging and that’s when I finally had a name! After a quick Google search I had managed to get in touch with David. We had a pleasant email conversation and shortly after that he agreed to do a small interview! Here it is:


20TC: Your mentor was the talented Jack Leynnwood. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him?

David: I wouldn’t describe Jack as my mentor–he was an excellent teacher at Art Center College of Design, and I had one class with him.  I don’t remember exactly what the class was, but he was famous for his facility with gouache paint, and that is what he painted all of his model box covers with. He had an amazing ability to paint clouds in gauche, and I remember his demonstrations were mind blowing–everyone was trying to copy what he did, but with mixed results. I still like to paint in gouache when I do physical painting.  Most people aren’t familiar with the medium, but it is a finely ground tempera, and can be handled both opaquely, and like watercolor.For the record, the man I consider to be my “mentor” is Harrison Ellenshaw, my boss at Walt Disney studios.  He probably did more than anyone else to mold me as an artist.

Blackstar Space Ship artwork – David B. Mattingly

20TC: For which Blackstar toys did you do the art work?

David: I did the flyers, the balloon (The Trobbit Wind Machine -20TC), the castle (The Ice Castle -20TC) and the main logo that was used for the action figures. (David also did the Blackstar Space Ship -20TC)

20TC: How were you approached to do the art work for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line?

David: It’s kind of a funny story.  I was called out of the blue by them, and I went in to talk to them.  Sadly, the names of the designers I met with are lost in the mists of my memory.  They had a short deadline on the project, and asked if I could paint like Boris Vallejo.  I love Boris’s work, but I don’t think my work resembles it much.  I had Boris’s telephone number, so I gave it to them, and suggested they call him.  I went away, and figured I had talked myself out of the job. A day later, they called me back and said they wanted me to do it, in my style.  I guess Boris was too busy, or couldn’t make the short deadline, so I agreed to do it. I worked really hard to meet their deadline, and that’s about all I can remember about the project.

Ice Castle artwork – David B. Mattingly

20TC: Can you tell us a little bit about the actual process of creating the various art works? E.g. what did you have to go by when creating the artwork? Was it the actual toys themselves and did the cartoon influence you at all? And how long did it take you to create the various works?

David: I was unfamiliar with the cartoon when I got the job, and I think I did see a couple of the shows.  This was before I owned a VCR if memory serves.  I got print outs of the animation, and they also gave me 2 resin maquettes of the dwarfs to use as reference, and I have kept them over the years. I’ll attach a photo of them in a follow up e-mail.  I figured they must be valuable, since they are one of a kind.  I think this is what the designers got from the manufacturer for approval, and they are unpainted.

Blackstar Trobbits – preproduction maquettes

20TC: What happened to the original paintings? Do you own them or does (the current owner of) Galoob?

David: To be frank, I don’t know what happened to the paintings. I think Galoob bought them, but I don’t own them any more.

The Digital Matte Painting Handbook – David B. Mattingly

20TC: What are you up to these days and what plans do you have for the future?

David: I continue to do book covers–I’ve now done several thousand covers over the course of my career. I also teach digital matte painting at School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute in Manhattan, New York. I am the author of a how to book on digital matte painting, called “The Digital Matte Painting Handbook”, available on Amazon, or through the web site for the book:

I also do training videos on Lynda.com on digital matte painting.  I have a new series that just went up, called “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting”.  Here is a link to it.

You can look at the first couple of them for free.

Thanks for your interest!  It was a fun project.


I hope you enjoyed this short interview with David as it has given us some nice little insights into how his work for Galoob came to be. I can heartily recommend checking out The Digital Matte Painting Handbook if you are even remotely interested in the art of matte paintings, and while you’re at it check out the first free chapters at Lynda.com of his “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting” !!

My sincerest thanks to David for the opportunity and his time to do this interview!

“More Blackstar”

I will be doing an article on the Trobbit Wind Machine in the near future. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in reading about the wonderful Ice Castle (and see some more photos of David’s artwork for the Ice Castle packaging) you can check out post number 97. Have a great weekend!

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Blackstar – Ice Castle

Nearly every 1980’s toy line had that one item that was on top of every kid’s wish list. Most often that would be some kind of playset like G.I. Joe’s “USS Flagg” carrier or Masters of the Universe’s “Eternia” playset. Today I would like to discuss another fine example of such playset über coolness, which is a playset from Galoob’s Blackstar toy line: The Ice Castle!!!

Blackstar – Ice Castle (1983) Galoob

It is by far the coolest item of the Blackstar toy line and it’s really tough to find. There are some photos online of the Ice Castle, but nowhere have I ever found a very detailed look at all the parts it consists of and what it looks like assembled from the inside. If you’re interested in a detailed look at the Ice Castle, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s go!

“John Blackstar”

Blackstar was a toy line that debuted in the US in 1983. It was based on a cartoon series created by animation studio Filmation, which premiered two years earlier (in 1981) on American network CBS. The Blackstar cartoon also started airing in some European countries from the fall of 1985 through satellite broadcaster Sky Channel. I loved the Blackstar cartoon. It was a lot like the He-Man cartoon, but somehow darker and more mystical!

Assorted Blackstar toys from my collection

I never even knew a Blackstar toy line ever existed until much later in my adult life. When I learned of the toy line’s existence I was blown away by the awesome design of the packaging and realized straight away I would want to collect those! Over the past couple of years I’ve added quite a few Blackstar action figures to my collection along with some cool “vehicles” like Triton and Blackstar’s Space Ship. I never really actively pursued any of these items, but picked them up here and there whenever they crossed my path and when the price was right.

“Cool as Ice”

Of all the items in the Blackstar toy line, the gigantic Ice Castle is really the most fascinating one. It’s just a drop dead awesome playset and has some of the coolest 1980’s toy packaging artwork I’ve ever seen. It is also one of the hardest to track down inside its original packaging, complete and undamaged. I certainly did not expect to find one any time soon and at an affordable price at that.

Awesome, awesome, awesome!

I happened to be on vacation in Florida with my girlfriend late last year when I stumbled upon a Blackstar Ice Castle that was for sale back in the Netherlands. One of the reasons I had refrained from from buying an Ice Castle internationally was because of the frailty of the plastic that the Ice Castle is made of. If you were lucky to find an intact Ice Castle online you would run a realistic risk of having it break in transit. The irony was not lost on me. I finally found an Ice Castle in the Netherlands and here I was on vacation in the US, unable to pick it up myself. I decided to risk an overnight domestic shipment and after a few sweaty hours I managed to strike a deal with the seller, which also included a couple of carded Blackstar action figures and a carded G.I. Joe action figure. It felt awesome to finally have bagged this amazing gem! I got a great deal on the castle considering its condition, because the going rate for a Blackstar Ice Castle was probably at least 4 times as much as I paid.

Awesome, awesomer, awesomest!

When I got back from vacation another couple of sweaty moments followed after I picked up the package from my parents’ house. Thankfully the Ice Castle box and its contents were still in unused A-number-1 condition! The box looks so much bigger in real life than I had expected and the artwork is just stunning. We see the Ice Caste depicted against the signature dark orange Blackstar sky in the background with a mountain range surrounded by clouds.

Blackstar Ice Castle packaging (front)

We see Overlord at the castle’s entrance waving his Power Sword angrily in the air, while on the far left we see an awesome depiction of Neptul holding his shield and trident, with a goblin next to him. What an amazing scene. I just can’t find enough superlatives to describe how cool this artwork is. Wow.

“Production info”

If we turn the box around we can find some simple assembly instructions on the back of the box, including some manufacturing info. Apparently the Ice Castle was not made entirely in Hong Kong like the rest of the Blackstar toy line. The main body of the castle itself was manufactured in the US, while the remaining smaller parts, including the gun assembly, were manufactured in Hong Kong.

Blackstar Ice Castle packaging (back)

The stock number of the Ice Castle is 5507 as is evident from both the back and the front of the box. This number is also found on a smaller box inside the packaging, which seems to contain the parts that were manufactured in Hong Kong.

Ice Castle – SKU # 5507

Ice Castle – SKU # 5507

Enough of looking at the packaging. Let’s see what’s inside the box and what the assembled castle looks like!

“The Towering Ice Castle”

So what does it look like in real life? Well, it looks bloody amazing, that’s what! One of the first things you’ll notice if you see one of these in person is just how tall it is. Blackstar action figures are not small to begin with. They’re approximately 14 centimeters tall (5.5 inches), so just imagine how high the Ice Castle towers above them. This must have been one awesome playset for any lucky kid who owned one back in the day.

That’s one big castle!

“Glow in the Dark”

The front of the castle looks impressive. It has a working door that functions as the main (and only) entrance to the castle. It is surrounded by three green demons attached to the front of the castle, which glow in the dark!

Entrance to the Ice Castle

“Gun Tower”

Another key feature of the Ice Castle is the gun tower, which is the tower on the left. The gun assembly uses a spring mechanism to fire an arrow with one of those safety suction cups for a head. I was curious whether the gun assembly would still work. Although the Ice Castle looks like it is completely unused and brand new, you can’t help the fact that this is a toy that is almost 30 years old! Well, I am pleased to say that the gun tower was still alive and kicking. The arrow flew out of the gun like a bat out of hell and landed 3 meters (10 feet) away from the castle!

The awesome Gun Tower

The front of the castle also has a spot right in front of the right tower with space for one action figure. I placed Neptul, Lord of Aquaria here as you can see from the photo below. It only seemed befitting to include Neptul in this little scene, because he adorns the Ice Castle packaging.

Neptul on guard duty

“Inside the Castle”

Now let’s turn the castle around and see what we can find there! As you can see it looks pretty cool from the inside too. I decided not to apply the stickers in order to keep everything as untouched as possible, but you get the basic picture.

The Ice Castle on the inside

“Overlord’s Throne”

As you can see the Ice Castle comes with a throne for Overlord. It looks kind of weird, because the action figure is supposed to stand inside the throne and not sit, but that’s probably because the Blackstar action figures aren’t really able to sit down without looking totally ridiculous (or break apart) so an understandable move there from Galoob.

Overlord’s throne

“Weapons rack”

To the right we can find another accessory, which is the weapon rack. Most of the Blackstar action figure weapons will fit inside this rack, like Neptul’s trident. Notice also the very cool floor board that comes with Ice Castle. Next to the weapon rack in the photo below we can see what looks to be some sort of cellar door, no doubt used to hold enemies of the evil Overlord!

Weapon rack and cellar door

“Vizir the Wizard”

Inside the right tower (shown on the left in the photo below) we can see none other than Overlord’s right hand man Vizir -the evil Ice Castle Wizard- just chilling out the only way he knows how: by looking paranoid.

Vizir – the Ice Castle Wizard

“The Balcony”

The last noteworthy feature from inside the castle is the balcony. It holds what looks like a mega super advanced computer console, with all kinds of controls, levers and dials and a big screen, which is no doubt used by Overlord to track his enemies and hey, what a surprise! We can spot Blackstar on the main screen atop his dragon Warlock! If only Blackstar knew! Look out Blackstar! :-)

The Ice Castle balcony


All joking aside, this is one very cool playset and is definitely somewhere in my top 10 list of coolest toys of the 1980’s! This playset embodies what was so frickin’ cool about 1980’s toys. It’s big, it’s cool looking, it’s got lots of ways for the action figures to interact with the playset and best of all, it stimulates imagination! It is without a doubt the coolest item from the Blackstar toy line. You will not regret picking one up if you’re a Blackstar collector. The Ice Castle can be hard to track down, but it’s not impossible to find. Just watch out for any broken parts on the castle itself. Stay tuned for more Blackstar stuff in the near future! I’m working on an article on the wacky way that Blackstar was introduced in the Netherlands, which is going to be a cool read. Have a great weekend!

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Blackstar Space Ship

Blackstar was a very cool Filmation cartoon that was originally broadcast in 1981 in the U.S. Unfortunately it lasted for just one season of 13 episodes, which is way too short! It was only in 1983 that Galoob released an action figure toy line based on the property, spurred by the outrageous success of the similiarly themed Masters of the Universe toyline by competitor Mattel.

I recently obtained a nice, unassembled and stickers unapplied Blackstar Space Ship. Just look at that brilliant box artwork! You can spot Overlord’s Ice Castle on the left there. All of the boxed items of the Blackstar toyline came with fantastic artwork and are a sight to see if you dig that sort of thing.

Aside from the Space Ship I currently only have a carded Overlord and John Blackstar in my collection, but although the line doesn’t have the highest collection priority for me right now I’m sure it will steadily increase in size. More Blackstar stuff to follow soon!

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Spring 2010 Collectors’ Convention

Last weekend my girlfriend and me visited the Spring 2010 Collectors’ Convention in Utrecht, the Netherlands (a.k.a. Verzamelaarsjaarbeurs). It’s arguably the biggest collectors convention of the Benelux countries and is held twice a year. One of the many halls occupied by this convention is dedicated to vintage toys and is a real treat to peruse. This was my second visit to the Verzamelaarsjaarbeurs and I walked away with lots of goodies for a relatively low sum. I have already spent way more on my vintage toy collection this month than I had planned to, so I went in with a modest budget. I was pleased to have walked away with a very nice haul.

So what did I get? Well, I managed to expand my Hasbro WWF action figure collection with 2 new action figures, being Yokozuna and the Big Boss Man! I also got a MISB (mint-in-sealed-box) Skullwalker for my BraveStarr collection, a Blackstar action figure, a Mr. Freeze action figure from the Batman: Animated Series toy line and a Rambo action figure! I got most of this stuff dirt cheap, which is really nice.

Besides all the action figures, I also got myself a big stack of European comic strips; a host of Robert & Bertrand strips from Belgian master Willy Vandersteen and a couple of Paling & Ko strips (Dutch translations of the Spanish Mortadelo y Filemon strip by Francisco Ibanez). All in all a very nice haul. Stay tuned for more photographs, because I added lots of Transformers to my collection this month!!

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