Friday, December 10, 2021

Remembering Christos Achilleos

David J Howe with Chris Achilleos and Peter Capaldi at the Cartoon Museum in London, 2016

I grew up with Chris Achilleos! One of the earliest items of Doctor Who merchandise that I bought with my own money was a copy of the Target novelisation of The Curse of Peladon. It was also the first Target book that I owned ... and that cover!  From the elegant black block logo, to the painting of the Doctor, an Ice Warrior, Alpha Centauri and Aggedor, it drew me and entranced me.

I found other books with art by the same guy ... all of them perfect recreations of those television adventures. And closer inspection gave the artist a name. Chris Achilleos.

The Curse of Peladon cover art
As time passed – I bought The Curse of Peladon in 1974 – I got more of those iconic Target books. And in 1977 I started my own fanzine – initially called The Surbiton Doctor Who Appreciation Society Magazine but which morphed quickly in to the much easier to digest Oracle – and printed Target news therein, gleaned from catalogues and press releases and, of course, the Target Book Club (Sandy Lessiter – whatever happened to him/her?).

When time came for the final edition of Oracle, published at the end of 1981, I wanted to fill it with special things ... and none more special than an interview with the legendary Chris Achilleos. But how to find him?

It was in the London telephone book of all places (the same way I found the phone number for Terrance Dicks!). Luckily there weren’t many Achilleoses in the phone book – in fact I think there was only one – and I found myself speaking to Chris.

We arranged to meet, and I spent a happy afternoon (2 May 1981 in fact) at his house in North London, looking at artwork originals and having my mind blown at the size, the colours, the detail – much of which was lost in the translation to a small paperback reproduction.

Chris in his studio, 1981
We talked and the resultant interview went into that final edition of Oracle along with the photographs I took of some of his amazing originals. There was no digital scanning here ... it was all old-school!

I stayed in contact with Chris, and, as he was willing to part with them, managed to buy some of the Doctor Who original artworks, some of which I still have to this day.

By 1983 I was running the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s Reference Department, and had the idea to do a special ‘Making of’ magazine about the show’s 20th Anniversary story, ‘The Five Doctors’. And who did I want to do the cover. Yes, of course it was Chris.

So we met and discussed and planned. I sorted out photographs, and art edited the cover (I wanted to do it as a poster as well as using it on the magazine, and so needed to foil stamp the title on the cover (so it wasn’t on the poster)) ... things like that were tricky and fiddly back then!

The Making of The Five Doctors artwork
Chris duly delivered the art and it was massive! Easily three times bigger than any of his other Doctor Who paintings, but we managed to get it photographed to provide the transparency for the printers to create the printing plates from.

Time went on, and Chris released books of his magnificent art ... Amazons and fantasy and Doctor Who and Star Trek and everything in between ... he was so prolific!

We talked about the business, the industry, artwork and ideas ... He would often call me for advice on various elements, or for help with reference materials – Chris was not native of the UK, and as he readily admitted, was not good with certain aspects of the business, and so I helped as and where I could.

King Kung Fu cover
I recently penned an article about some of his non-Doctor Who cover work, extolling the genius of his layout and design training and skills, which he applied to Kung Fu and Fistful of Dollars book ranges, as well as the Doctor Who titles ... and he was gracious enough to add in background details and to explain finer points where I had gone astray. You can read it here: Design Classics

The last time we spoke, he called to ask my advice on a new Doctor Who Calendar he wanted to do: what should he call it? Ideas for how to present it ... Of course we had a natter and a laugh as always ... 

And now he is no longer with us. 

His art and genius will live on in those covers, ideas and concepts. His work has always been the benchmark for excellence and imagination, and in the eyes of his fans, he was unmatched.

I truly hope that his more recent forays into the world of conventions: meeting the fans, setting up and selling prints and posters and books; all helped him to see how loved he was, and how influential his art was, not just to those who bought the books as a result of seeing it gracing the cover, but to artists who followed in his wake: inspired to try and create work which would move people, which would sum up a story or a concept, and which would push at the boundaries of what commercial art and illustration was capable of.

I’m going to miss Chris. I can still hear his distinctively accented voice telling me about how he created his covers ...

RIP Christos Achilleos. 26 September 1947 – 6 December 2001.

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