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Yla Eason Interview – Sun-Man: Masters of the Universe

For Black History Month Mattel announced that Sun-Man will be making his long-awaited debut in the Masters of the Universe Origins line. Last year, Sun-Man was released on Matty Creations and sold out within minutes but that wasn’t the first time the character would be sold to collectors and retailers. Back in 1985, Yla Eason created Sun-Man and the Rulers of the Sun as an answer to the lack of diversity found the the toy market in the 80’s.

Screen Rant had the opportunity to talk to Eason about her incredible journey to being a trailblazer in the toy industry in the days before 3-D printers and how her perseverance and passion helped Sun-Man become reality.


Related: Masters of the Universe Gives An Original He-Man Toy the Credit It Deserves

Screen Rant: First of all, congratulations Sun-Man coming to the Masters of the Universe Origins line. I know that Sun-Man was released last year and he immediately sold out on Matty Creations. The story of Sun-Man is so intriguing to me and fascinating to me because this is the era that I grew up in. 

I grew up with the Masters of the Universe brand much like your son and also much like your son, I very much felt the same thing as your son being a young minority with the character Superman. Not being a white kid with the same color skin, I always said the same thing as I never saw myself in that character. Can you just talk to me about the origins of little bit of Sun-Man?

Yla Eason: What happened was my son, we were out on the beach in Jamaica on vacation with my son and my former husband. My son was a big He-Man fan, he loved. While he’s playing with the toy, I think we said, “Oh, you can be a superhero,” he looked up and us with just the dead pan face at age three and said, “No, I can’t because I’m not white. I can’t be a superhero because I’m not white.” We both were stunned to hear a three year old kid say that.

We we’re like, “Oh, when we get back to New York, we’ll buy you a superhero toy, your skin color’s not going to stop you from being anything you want to be.” We went into that parent spiel and he just looked at us kind of side eye, okay, folks.

Got back to New York, started looking for toys, couldn’t find anything, started talking to other mothers of color who were also trying to find how their son fit into this universe. Then I had the honor and privilege of meeting with Dr. Kenneth Clark, who with his wife Maney, did the black doll study that led to the Brown versus Board of Education decision.

He told me about how toys representation, way back then, how it mattered to children and how not seeing yourself makes you think you’re not that important or not that worthy and it could affect your self image. He encouraged me to, yes, make the toy. Then I started working with the Census Bureau and back then you could literally get them on the phone and they’d answer any questions that you had. I was like, “Let’s take a look at the future of America at age three, with the data that we have today.”

We looked at the data from, if you draw a line at age three, back in ’85, what’s Black, Hispanic, Asian, what does that look like? They were pointing to the fact that by 2030 America would be a majority minority country and that the country was Browning up. Now, that was 37 years ago. I was like, “Okay, so there’s a trend going,” then I looked at the toy industry and saw the billions in the toy industry and said, “There’s a market here. Let’s make this toy and get it out there because we’ll satisfy the need of the kids who can’t see themselves and will also have a business.” We ended up doing Black, Hispanic, Asian, and white character in our line.

You essentially made a toy line without a 3D printer and it didn’t seem to me like you had any interest in making toys. I know that you’re teaching at Rutgers now. That’s crazy to me that all that came about. Another question I had for you, this is 1986 roughly, did the Renco warlord line help Sun-Man get made due to their legal battle with Kenner?

Yla Eason: I wasn’t even aware of that battle with Renco and Kenner, I can’t say it had any effect and it may have somewhere out in the universe, but you are asking, how did I do it? It’s that whole concept of A, ignorance is bliss, you don’t know that you can’t do anything you think you can. B, prior to getting into my last job, before when he said that I was working as a financial editor.

Did the fact that I had an MBA from Harvard and had been to Harvard and had learned about business, make me think I could do anything and that business wasn’t that difficult? Yes. I got lucky or the universe worked with me, my lawyer had a toy client who was not a competitor and he told me, “You talk about CAD.” He said, “Okay, you’re going to need an artist to do design from the head, the bottom, the left side, the right side, the back, the front, in other words, recreate 3D on grid paper.”

That’s how artists were trained back then, artists knew how to not work with computer animated design. You also had people who knew how to work in the world we were in back then. It wasn’t that difficult, the process wasn’t difficult, I did not encounter difficulties until I got to the big box stores and realized this was a considered a radical concept to them.

Masters of the Universe Origins line

That’s so fascinating to me because I know that the toys sold pretty well, from some of the stuff that I read, I think that they did $120,000 worth of product. You guys really moved some numbers and also if I’m not mistaken, retailers were a little bit hesitant, they were a little shy at first carry carrying the product, right?

Yla Eason: Extremely shy. You’ve got to understand the world we walked into in ’85, A, there was no internet, but B, the only form of multicultural marketing that was being done were dark panty hose to match your skin color, darker makeup, again to match your skin color, and hair products, to match your type of hair. That was it and it all lived in the kind of the female world.

Razor bump product hadn’t been created for black men, or there were some creams out there. Then you move this over to the toy aisle, those buyers were just absolutely clueless and said to me things like, “Black people don’t want Black toys and if they want a doll for their girl, they may want a Black doll, but they don’t really want a Black toy. By the way, if you really had an idea, Mattel, would’ve already done it.”

It was basically, “Shue, getaway. You don’t know what you’re doing.” It wasn’t until we took out a full page ad in Ebony magazine, which in 1985/1986 cost us $25,000, which is a monumental amount of money. Think about it, back then, one page buy in Ebony got you 80% of three black person in the country.

Yeah. That’s pre-internet days.

Yla Eason: That was the Bible if you were African-American.  That’s what helped us with our sales, because we did go out and sell at first to montage stores, bodegas, street vendors, barber shops, beauty shops, churches, post office, organizations. That’s how we built it up because the major stores did not want us, would not take us.

We got our first big order from Toy”R”Us, because Mike Goldstein understood what we were talking about with demographics and saw, “Oh, this is really where the future is coming in America, so let’s give this person an opportunity.” It was a very hard struggle in the beginning, retailers just did not get it.

That’s crazy. I’m going to talk about Sun-Man’s powers for a second. He has a sword and a vest, he harnesses the power of the sun to protect his beautiful brown skin. He didn’t fight evil, but more so turned it into an illusion and he traveled outside of his body to do this. It was a less aggressive approach than He-Man, a more peaceful origin. How did that come about?

Yla Eason: Probably because I wasn’t speeched in comic book law, and was coming from this as a female and a mother. It was basically knowing that if I’m using this sun as a part of his energy force, the sun has no evil attached to it. The sun is very powerful, it can go away, it can create cold, it can do a lot that will harm you without, think of climate change today, without a weapon ever being fired.

Back then, I just used the power of the universe and the sun as a way to introduce the character. That’s why it was not visa-vi, whatever was out there.

Can you talk to me about Ed Duncan, reaching out to you about Sun-Man and him wanting to bring this out into the mainstream line of Masters of the Universe?

Yla Eason: It was pretty much an organic, innocent, if you will, conversation through LinkedIn. He sent me a note, “Hi, I’ve been reading about you. I think what you did was fabulous. I know we didn’t really have anything in this multicultural era when you were doing this, but I think it’s great what you did. I am the head of boy’s toys.” He told me a little bit about his extensive background in the toy industry. “I want you to know how proud I am of you, and by the way, I’m African American.” I was like, “Wow, that was a nice little message.” I reached back out to him, we started talking and that’s really how it evolved.

Ruler of the Sun Masters of the Universe

Wow. That’s amazing. Then it comes full circle. Now this another question I have for you, Sun-Man and the Ruler of the Sun. Now that they’re officially in the Masters of the Universe Line, would you like to see their stories explored more in other mediums? Right now, currently there’s two Netflix, different Netflix Masters of the Universe series. Would you like to see Sun-Man’s story explored in there? Sun-Man and all those other characters?

Yla Eason: It would be wonderful to have more exposure to Sun-Man and everything that the characters represent. Yes, that would be wonderful.

That’s amazing. Can you talk to me about some of the other characters in the line that we’re going to be seeing? Space-Sumo, Pig-Head, those are also characters you created for this line as well, right?

Yla Eason: Right. As I said, when we were looking at all the different characters and looking at the demographics, Digitino is one of the characters in the whole Sun-Man line, and he is meant, as you can figure out from the name Digitino, he is a Latino character. What is significant about him is he has technology powers, that was also where the chino and the techno comes from as a part of the powers that he has.

That’s one of the ways in which he comes into the line and the way that he actually fights some of the characters or brings his imagery into everything that we’re talking about, that’s one of the characters.

Then there is Space-Sumo and Space-Sumo actually is an Asian character who gets a lot of his powers from not the sun, but he is gifted with fighting type of powers.  Boatman is a native American character who, again, harnesses electronic energy in terms of the battles in which he fights. Space-Sumo he’s telekinetic, so that he can make objects move in front of him basically, that’s one of his. Boatman, his powers are he’s a molecular regenerator, he can create life force if you will.

Again, back to Digitino, he’s a numerical genius. I was trying to also give them characteristics that spoke to brain power more than brawn power in terms of where they actually are coming from in the universe.

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