Christos Achilleos was born in Cyprus and grew up in rural countryside. It was in 1960 when his family left Cyprus to come to England when his father died. His mother thought she could provide better for him and his three sisters in Britain. The new country seemed alien and hostile to young Chris. Not only was the weather a startling contrast to sunny Cyprus, but London's brick and concrete seemed like a nightmare after the countryside of Cyprus.
They lived in a two-bedroomed flat and Chris went to a vast Comprehensive school where he was given baby books to help teach him English. There was one consolation, though, television and comics offered a wide visual experience where language hardly mattered. He ended up doing art A level at school, and applied to art college. However he had too few academic qualifications to stand much of a chance. But he was called for an interview, unfortunately his school portfolio was away with another application so he could only take what he had done at home. This included comic heros and cutaways of aeroplanes and ships, usually pained on wall-paper due to a lack of art materials. This work won him a place at Hornsey, in 1965, which had a high reputation at the time.
He did a broadly based vocational course which lasted a year and at the end he chose to specialise in Scientific and Technical drawing because it seemed the only course that might teach him how to apply line and colour to a surface in order to create realistic images. This would fulfil his central ambition, to be a good illustrator rather than an 'artist'. He was always suspicious of Fine Art, and still is. During this time his interest in drawing cut-away pictures of gearboxes and the like waned and he spent much of his time on drawing comic-style illustrations for his own amusement. However, he did graduate with honours.
When he left college in 1969 he had a couple of prospective technical drawing jobs lined up but some failed to appear and the freelance work was in short supply. It was then that his ambition to paint book-jackets re-surfaced. He was put in contact with Brian Boyle Associates who did the covers for Tandem Books. On the strength of his portfolio, Chris won a commission for a short series of covers. He had a long association with Brian Boyle both as an employee and later as a freelance artist.
Around this time he married Angie, and they had a daughter, Esther. He wanted slightly more security in 1972 and he joined Arts of Gold studio in Covent Garden. He still freelanced for Brian Boyle (work included a series of Dr. Who covers and Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar) but Arts of Gold got him his first work in Men Only. In 1975 there were two disasters at Arts of Gold. First there was a fire which destroyed most of Chris's original artwork, and the founder of the studio died in a motorcycle accident. The studio shut down soon after this. Chris went freelance and has stayed freelance ever since.
In the late seventies he did work including the Scorpio series by Alan Burt Akers (Kenneth Bulmer), two trilogies by Robert E. Howard, the Gor and Raven series and a few unconnected Michael Moorcock books. But his main work was with the Dr. Who books which were appearing monthly and took up a full quarter of his time.
In 1977 Roger Dean approached him about collecting his works into a book for Dragon's World. Beauty and the Beast was the result. However no new work came after the publishing of the book in fact his work was drying up. Chris now thinks that some of the reason for this was that he tended to put too much into his work, taking longer and ending up with a beautiful picture which the client was not expecting. Only the Men Only work remained.
In 1984 he started doing work for Games Workshop, doing covers for White Dwarf and the gaming books.
Chris has two main early influences on his style, especially in the early years; Frank Bellamy and Frank Frazetta. Contemporary favourites include Kaluta, Moebius, Bial, Alan Lee, Jack Kirby and Syd Mead.
Dr. Who & Star Trek
Chris has produced over thirty book covers for Dr. Who novelisations, and his work became very popular with the fans. In fact he was commissioned to paint a commemorative print for the Dr. Who Appreciation Society in 1983. The formula for these covers were very precise, but Chris managed to bend the rules on a couple of occasions to liven up the series, much to the horror of the publishers. He managed to miss out the good Doctor on one cover and to add comic style lettering on one to indicate the croak of a pterodactyl.
Taking on a series of Star Trek covers was terrifying as he knew that any mistake in the detail would be noticed by fans and he had to get everything exactly right. He had help in this from Jean Donkin, a Star Trek fan, who lent him armfulls of videos and research material.
In 1980 he worked on some of the covers for the Clint Eastwood Dollar series ofbooks, then he got a commission to contribute to the design of the characters in the Heavy Metal animated film.
While he was working at Arts of Gold, Ray Harryhausen asked Chris to work as his assistant while he was working on Sinbad. However, the studio wanted to keep all original artwork and Chris could not accept this stipulation. Years later when Ray Harryhausen was working on Clash of the Titans, he asked Chris for a poster for the film. Chris produced a rough concept drawing after seeing a rush at Pinewood studios. It met with approval from everyone except the main man from America who said it would be too frightening to children. Chris was baffled by this until he saw the American poster which was not unlike his idea!
Blade Runner was a film which did not do too well in America and Achilleos was brought in by Warner Brothers Distribution to give it a new image, something bright, clean and striking. He came up with two concepts according to the guidelines laid down. In the end the distributors used the American poster; a montage poster which was exactly what Chris was briefed to avoid!