In Memoriam: Artist Chris Achilléos

Chris Achilléos and Peter Capaldi. Photo via Chris Achilléos on Facebook

We’re very sorry to report the sudden passing of British illustrator, painter and conceptual artist Chris Achilléos, a creative powerhouse best known for his hugely influential work creating memorable Doctor Who book covers, his work for Heavy Metal, and his illustrations for the Fighting Fantasy books in the 1980s. He was 74.

“My wonderful, and exceptional Uncle, Christos Achilléos left us suddenly on Monday afternoon,” his nephew Billie Fingers announced in a Facebook post. “It’s been so strange and surreal to think that you’re not on this Earth anymore. You lived your life to the full and touched the heart and soul of every person lucky enough to be part of it.

“You were an inspiration to me and many of my friends growing up… You were above all Unique and Loved.”

An Unmatched Creator and Career

A recent reprint edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks” featuring the cover art first used in the 1970s created by Chris Achilléos
A recent reprint edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks” featuring the cover art first used in the 1970s created by Chris Achilléos

A hugely-influential and much-appreciated artist, Chris Achilléos was much loved by Doctor Who fans worldwide for his covers for the Target Books novelisations of the BBC science fiction adventure series, from the 1970s onwards. He also created work for Radio Times.

Over a career spanning some 50 years, he created some of the best-loved fantasy and glamour art, and was, and is, rightfully, acknowledged by many as one of the top fantasy artists of the modern world.

Candy Jar Books published a limited edition collection of his Who work, Kklak!: The Doctor Who Art of Chris Achilléos, last year, which is currently being reprinted.

“His artwork had a seminal influence on the science fiction and fantasy genres,” noted the Candy Jar team, “and throughout a career spanning five decades, he consistently remained one of the most respected and in demand artists in his field. We will miss him.”

In addition to his Who work, Chris, described by fellow artist Jim Burns as “hugely talented, kindly, big-hearted”, and “legendary” by artist Joe Jusko, is also known for his unique interpretation of “stunning amazons, epic dragons and paintings inspired by ancient civilizations and mythology”.

The Old Crusader by Chris Achilléos (1970)
The Old Crusader by Chris Achilléos (1970)
Swords of Shahrazar by Robert E. Howard (1976). Cover art by Chris Achilleos
Swords of Shahrazar by Robert E. Howard (1976). Cover art by Chris Achilleos
Mermaid and Friends by Chris Achilléos
Mermaid and Friends by Chris Achilléos
Elric by Chris Achilléos
Elric by Chris Achilléos
“Red Hell” by Chris Achilléos
“Red Hell” by Chris Achilléos
2000AD Prog 1252 “Durham Red” cover by Chris Achilléos, cover dated 25th July 2001

Christos Achilleos grew up in a rural village near the town of Famagusta in Cyprus, “a hot place – perfect for a boy fond of the outdoors,” his official web site notes. After his father passed away in the late 1950s, his mother moved to London with her four children, and Chris began drawing shortly after.

When he left school in 1966, he knew he wanted to become a professional artist and attended Hornsey College of Art. There, he studied technical illustration and learned about various drawing disciplines, airbrushing and perspective. During his last year at college, Chris became proficient with the airbrush – a skill that proved very useful in his later career as a professional illustrator.

His works adorned hundreds of fantasy book covers in the 1970s and 80s, including novels by Robert E Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Moorcock, and the Fighting Fantasy books created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

“Chris was a master of his art and provided several painted covers for the Fighting Fantasy books during the 1980s,” noted the team on the book range, ahead of a longer tribute. “He will be dearly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Ian Livingstone’s Temple of Terror, cover by Chris Achilléos
Ian Livingstone’s Temple of Terror, cover by Chris Achilléos

“It was Chris’ art that first pulled me too FF books,” acknowledges fan Rod Bell. “We’d regularly get the Puffin Book club leaflet at school and one day there was this book, that stood out amongst the rest. Before I’d even read the title, I knew I had to have it thanks to Chris and his artist talents.”

He also worked as a conceptual/costume artist for the adult animation cult film, Heavy Metal, and is best know for his famous painting of the heroine Taarna, commissioned for the film poster in 1980.

Heavy Metal 1983 - cover by Chris Achilléos
Heavy Metal 1983 – cover by Chris Achilléos
Heavy Metal art by Chris Achilléos

“With heavy heart, we are saddened to learn of the passing of Achilléos,” the team at Heavy Metal magazine commented on the news. “His contributions to Heavy Metal and our universe are immeasurable and will continue to live on. All of us here at Heavy Metal offer our condolences to his friends and family. Your presence will forever remain with us.”

Other film work included the American fantasy film Willow, produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, and the historical dramas, King Arthur and The Last Legion. He also created a proposed cover for Blade Runner.

“The Once and Future King”, commissioned by the musician Gary Hughes for the wraparound and booklet artwork for his musical version of the Arthurian legend, which came in two parts and two separate boxes. This is the second painting of the two. “The final battle shows the death of Arthur and his son, a son begotten by Arthur's incestuous union with his sister Morgana,” noted Chris himself. “As Morgana was the principal character behind Arthur's fall, I chose her image to loom over the battle's carnage, surrounded by the mystic runes to suggest her dark powers.”
“The Once and Future King”, commissioned by the musician Gary Hughes for the wraparound and booklet artwork for his musical version of the Arthurian legend, which came in two parts and two separate boxes. This is the second painting of the two. “The final battle shows the death of Arthur and his son, a son begotten by Arthur’s incestuous union with his sister Morgana,” noted Chris himself. “As Morgana was the principal character behind Arthur’s fall, I chose her image to loom over the battle’s carnage, surrounded by the mystic runes to suggest her dark powers.”

His art has been collected in four books over the years; the first, Beauty and the Beast, sold over 100,000 copies, a significant number for any art book by anyone, and was translated into four languages.

On his official web site, reflecting his skills as an innovator and creator Achilléos himself declared “I am constantly on the move, creatively, I have learned to use all kinds of mediums and materials in my work, from airbrushing with inks and acrylics, to watercolour and gouache, to oils. I have even painted with fabric dyes.”

Just Some of Many Tributes

His description of his approach to his art, that constant innovation, and his kindness to those he encountered, more than explain the impact he had on fellow artists, in some cases influencing their own work, and his lasting popularity among his many fans across the globe.

“Every Doctor Who artist owes a debt of gratitude to Chris Achilléos,” feels comic artist, writer, editor, letterer and publisher Richard Starkings. “He drew together Frank Bellamy and Jack Kirby and created a style that still dominates Doctor Who book cover illustrations today. And such a nice fella too. Thanks again Chris for the illustrations that inspired me as a young Doctor Who fan with a felt tip and tracing paper.”

“I am so saddened to hear this and feel for Tasha, his wife, in particular,” commented fellow Doctor Who artist Andrew Skilleter, who also noted “news like that is hard to compute…you hear but it doesn’t seem real.”

“I first met him at the Brighton Who convention in the 1980s where we were both guests,” he recalled. “…He was a great pro and in the 1970s, battled for us artists to retain our copyright and have our original art returned. He’ll be terribly missed.”

“It’s an incredibly sad day for me,” says Doctor Who artist Colin Howard. For him, Chris was “my Art Hero I idolised as a child and who’s work made me decide what I wanted to do with my life.

“Michelle and I were lucky to meet Christos and his lovely wife, Tasha, at the Capitol Doctor Who Appreciation Society Convention three years ago, and he was just a kind, brilliant and wonderful as I could ever have hoped he’d be. So much so that I wanted to grab a photo opportunity with Chris and Jeff Cummings, I call ‘The Art Amigos’ such a shame our paths never crossed before, but I will always treasure that weekend and the laughs we had.”

Doctor Who artists and partners at Capitol IV. From left to right, Michelle and Colin Howard, artist Jeff Cummins and Chris (Christos) Achilleos and Partner Tasha Cornelius. Photo courtesy Colin Howard

“Many people I know and indeed within my industry were quite rightly and hugely inspired by Chris’s talent but I’d like to take a moment and remember what a hugely nice man he was too,” notes Doctor Who artist Pete Wallbank. “I had the great fortune of meeting and guesting with him at a big Memorabilia show in Birmingham a few years ago now.

“It wasn’t one of talking incessantly about artwork a professional field we both worked in but more about life in general – growing up, marriage and children, etc. I took my then very young son to meet Chris and because of the connection the two of us had struck up he immediately fell in love with my little boy – indeed very touching.His artistry was amazing but he was amazing too.”

“I found Chris Achilleos brilliant work by his Doctor Who stuff but he did lots more, author and comics writer Andrew Donkin acknowledges. “My mum, Jean, helped Chris with his research for some Star Trek book covers. He was as kind and entertaining as he was talented. A legend to Who fans everywhere.”

“The story was that Chris got the commission to do the new covers for a re-issue of the Start Trek books by James Blish, the ones that were first out with big numbers on the cover. He needed lots of reference and they asked STAG (Star Trek Action Group) for help and they pointed him to my mum, who was a fan.

“He came to our house and looked through magazines and her collected stuff and took loads for reference. He was ever so nice. He returned them all ages later. Like 18 months of something. Again coming round and taking time to show us the now completed artwork. He gave her some sketches, I think, as a thank you. They stayed in occasional touch for years afterwards.”

“Chris was such a big part of my childhood and teen years, firstly as the creator of so many iconic Target Doctor Who book covers and then as a leading fantasy artist,” acknowledged comic artist and illustrator David Roach. “…Like many fans I suspect, I mostly bought the [Target Doctor Who] books for the covers. I was visiting a friend not so long ago and was staggered to see a succession of Achilleos’ best covers decorating his staircase all the way up to his first floor- quite a sight I can tell you!”

“I got to spend a few days hanging out with him when he visited a comic art company I worked for in the early 1990s, along with Linnea X. Johnston, and Jeff Kuns,” recalls artist Ugo Serrano. “He was so fun and playful and offered me some tips, he has always been with me in every drawing I do in some way.

“So thankful I got to meet him and for him to be so kind … and devilish.”

“This world has lost another true talent,” notes fantasy artist Linda Ravenscroft. “… Terribly sad to have lost this lovely human being so suddenly, he was an amazing talent and a true inspiration to so many.

“I remember the first time I met him, I was quite awestruck, soon to realise he was just such a lovely person and a really great guy… I still can’t believe this happened, so very sad.”

“I was a frustrated twenty-something when Chris first came into my life,” recalls writer and the artist’s long-time friend, Michael Friedlander, who is publisher at FPG. “At that time, I was thinking that I had come up with this great idea to put fantasy art on trading cards. But, in reality, I was seemingly the only one that thought so. Except for one other person: Chris Achilleos.

“This is the way my friendship with Chris began; with the production of what would stand the test of time as the most popular trading card series that FPG had ever produced… In truth, Chris helped me stay strong through times when I wanted to just collapse and hide from the world. But, there was no way Chris would allow that to happen. He was the best kind of friend. Always there, through thick and thin. Really. He was a kind, gentle, and greatly caring man.”

“…The world has lost an amazingly gifted artist. It is hard for me to imagine no new pictures coming from his wonderful imagination. But, it is far harder for me to imagine a life where the sound of his voice is not just a phone call away.

“…Know that you have done something incredibly rare. You have entertained thousands and thousands of people with your creativity. And, you have brought so much joy to so many others.”

A Personal Thank You

It was a pleasure, like Colin Howard, to finally meet Chris at the Doctor Who Capitol IV in 2019, and talk to him about his work. It was a privilege to have had the chance to meet him. His work on the Doctor Who novelisations for Target Books back in the 1970s captured my imagination, particularly when as a household, we didn’t have a TV.

A genuinely good man, a fantastic artist, whose work was a huge influence on so many and brought the imagined worlds of Doctor Who to life at a time when revisiting the character’s past adventures was largely only through Target Books.

Thank you, Christos. For all your much admired, much loved work. My sympathies to his wife, Tasha, his daughters and grandsons, and friends, at this time.

Chris Achilléos, illustrator, painter and conceptual artist, born 1947 – 9th December 2021

Chris Achilléos Official Site: chrisachilleos.co.uk

Candy Jar Books: Kklak!: The Doctor Who Art of Chris Achilléos

This book collects the entirety of Achilléos’ Doctor Who artwork in chronological order, along with commentary from Achilléos himself (as well as some fans) – presenting the definitive guide to his seminal work. The book also includes a small contribution from Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and a foreword from Achilléos’ long-time friend and collaborator, the late Terrance Dicks. It also features four brand new covers by Chris and contributions from Jon Culshaw, Gary Russell, Colin Howard, David Howe, Shaun Russell, and lots of other fans

• On Target: The Changing Face of Doctor Who (Archived web site)

• Gallery: Doctor Who TV Novelisations (Armada, Dragon, Target, Virgin and BBC) in order of publication date but not all Target books – as some were not TV novelisations

• Gallery: Other Doctor Who Books and More

Buy The Target Book: A History of the Target Doctor Who Books by David Howe (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

Tributes

Doctor Who News

“The signature Achilléos style combined vivid colours, minute detailing, and an innovative blend of historical, psychedelic, and comic book influences. Although much of his work was produced on commission, to be miniaturised and serve as book covers, album covers, and film posters, Achilléos produced all his canvasses at largescale, which allowed him to showcase his rare technical skill, refined during his studies of Scientific and Technical Drawing.”

Fighting Fantasy

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Art and Illustration, Books, Doctor Who, downthetubes News, Features, Obituaries, Other Worlds

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