I was sad to hear of artist Chris Achilleos’ passing yesterday at the age of 74. Chris was a renowned science fiction and fantasy artist, but most famous for his Doctor Who novelisation covers of the “Target” books in the 1970s. Chris’ distinctive cover art inspired a generation, perfectly encapsulating the stories, the essence of the show and the era.
My personal favourite is Planet of the Daleks. I first saw it in the junior school library when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I’d never seen a Dalek on the cover of a book before, and it blew me away. Not only was this a way into a story I had never seen (and at that time, there was no way of re-watching older stories), but studying that cover taught me how to draw Daleks and also taught me about creative composition and framing a piece. After seeing that artwork, even at the young age I was, I thought about drawing differently.
Until then, I had no idea there were Doctor Who books in the school library(!)… others followed! Chris’ covers were a way into the stories you hadn’t seen, and in the age before BBC Video releases were a regular thing, they were your only way of discovering past stories. They were also fantastic pieces of artwork in their own right.
Chris’ work continued to inspire me in my own science fiction artwork, decades later. Generations of fans felt a closeness to his work, because of everything those Target books meant to them as young fans, again growing up in the age before video or DVD releases and long before the internet. His absence will leave a dark hole in the worlds of fandom and SF&F art. Still working and as good as ever, it had been a pleasure to follow Chris online in recent years. He will be missed.
I have written a guest blog post for the Indie Music Bus website. “Taking Stock” is a personal overview of some of my favourite musical output and some of the challenges faced by independent musicians like myself.
Delving back into the worlds of Doctor Who, I’m pleased to announce Up Close, another free digital publication exploring the various aspects of fandom. Up Close contains personal recollections, photos and nostalgia from Doctor Who conventions, exhibitions and events from the past two decades. It also takes a look at collecting, alongside a couple of exclusive guest contributions. More details to follow…
I recently completed the cover art for Alice Sabo’s new book, Circuit Breaker. It’s the second title in her Children of a Changed World series, and follows the map-based design established with the first book, Willow’s Run.
The main different with this cover was I decided to draw the original map element in ink, rather than digitally.
I was recently lucky to visit Neil Cole’s Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, tucked away in the rolling hills of the Northumbrian countryside. I was blown away by the sheer amount of screen-used props, costumes and production models in Neil’s collection, and most of all his impressive ‘archive’ of classic Doctor Who items.
While the Doctor Who section makes up the bulk of the museum, you’ll also see a vast range of items from films and series such as the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Alien, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes, Babylon 5, The Tripods, Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica and the Marvel films.
I have reviewed my visit in the new edition of Shoreline of Infinity magazine, which is out today. See the link below for more details!
My free digital publication chronicling the creation of Alice Sabo’s cover art has been updated.
The newly revised edition of The Art of A Changed World, and now includes the artwork for Alice’s recent books, Shattered Landing, Willow’s Run and Entangled, alongside the creative process behind each cover.
Click the cover image below to download The Art of A Changed World (revised edition) in PDF format.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Colin Spencer who has premiered three of my tracks on his show Electrocurated over on Artefaktor Radio over the last three weekends.
Electrocurated show #151 included the title track from The Ministry of Machine Building played in it’s eight-minute entirety; show #152 featured Undisturbed (also from Ministry) as the penultimate track and this weekend, show #153 saw the exclusive first airing of Glacier Heart, my first track with vocalist Ren Faye (we’re currently working on more material for an EP release; watch this space…).
From classics to underground acts and emerging artists, Colin’s show brings together a vibrant mix of electronic music including synth pop, synth wave, instrumentals and dance/trance. I couldn’t ask for my music to be in better company.
The Ministry of Machine Building can be found on major streaming platforms and is available for download on Bandcamp.
Blackpool Revisited is here… John Collier’s follow-up to last year’s hugely popular Blackpool Remembered delves even deeper into the history of Doctor Who exhibitions in Blackpool from the 1970s to present day, with lots of stuff in between.
I’ve really enjoyed helping John realise this project, as well as writing numerous pieces and providing illustrations. With contributions from over 90 fans, here are over 600 pages of memories and nostalgia, all free to download.
Every artist has their own sources of inspiration. As a science fiction artist, I have always cited names from that iconic era of space and sci-fi art in the 1970s and 80s as a major influence, which captivated me from a young age. But as an illustrator and Doctor Who fan, I have always adored the very visual side of the show – the book covers, toy packaging, posters, etc – you name it. The various visions of the show as depicted by numerous artists over the years clearly had a profound effect on me.
For one of my contributions to the upcoming Blackpool Revisited book, I wanted to talk to some of the artists associated with the show, in particular those with a connection to the Blackpool exhibition.
Andrew Skilleter is arguably one of the best-known names in Doctor Who circles and is regarded the leading artist of the show in the 1980s and beyond. What I’ve always loved about Andrew’s work is his use of colour and texture; his shading and reflections on the metallic surfaces of Daleks and Cybermen or the slimy, lumpy reptilian visage of a Sea Devil – he captured these things perfectly and this really made his artwork so atmospheric. I still remember getting his 1986 Doctor Who calendar, which remained on my bedroom wall long after the year had passed. Although I was always excited to see what the following month’s artwork would be, there was always a reluctance to have to turn the previous page over! His work featured heavily in the exhibition shop, on numerous pieces of merchandise or book covers, and the 1985 season poster.
Leafing through his 1995 book Blacklight, it occurred to me, to get in touch and see if he would be willing to contribute to the project. I never thought I would find myself interviewing Andrew, and that has been such a pleasure, and I’ve rediscovered his work all over again.
Andrew’s interview took us back over a long and illustrious career, which produced some of the best-known Doctor Who pieces by anyone – and he’s still at it today.
All that remains of the Dalek t-shirt that I bought at the exhibition in 1985, is the printed front section, which at some point, I had cut out and stuck in a photo album. Fortunately, I still have it – though it has clearly seen better days. But as a seven-year-old, I loved that t-shirt. I wore my Daleks with pride, and really adored the illustration on it. I no doubt attempted top copy it countless times, as I learned to draw Daleks.
The Blackpool and Longleat exhibitions sold three specially designed t-shirts, featuring the Daleks, the Cybermen and Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor. Looking at the remains of my own t-shirt recently, I noticed the artist’s signature – Rod Vass.
I thought it was time to talk to Rod about that t-shirt. Tracking him down was surprisingly easy. However, I thought I was going to find a jobbing illustrator, whereas it turned out Rod was one half of the company Imagineering Ltd, to whom the BBC subcontracted prop and costume building both for the television series and the exhibitions. Fantastic!
Beyond just the three t-shirts, Imagineering Ltd had also produced all manner of merchandise for the exhibitions, as well as replica latex masks, as regularly advertised by The Movie Store in the 1980s. Rod still works in film and TV through his company Armordillo, which produces armour, costumes and sets. If you’ve seen Gladiator, then you’ve seen his work in action.
Rod was generous with his time and responses, especially given that I’m asking him about work from around 40 years ago, that he has long since moved on from.
One of the other items I bought from the Blackpool exhibition was the most amazing poster of a cutaway Dalek – a dramatic painting of a Dalek before a burning cityscape, but with all of its workings on show. That piece of artwork fascinated me, due to the intricacy and detail of the circuitry, machinery, wires and tubes all crammed inside the Dalek, as well as the bubbling, pulsating Kaled mutant housed in the top section. I remember comparing this poster with the drawing of a similar Dalek anatomy in the Doctor Who Technical Manual.
Digging the poster out, I noticed a name in the credits at the bottom – Graham Potts. But despite Google’s best efforts, no website for Graham turned up. Nothing on Facebook either and only a brief reference to him in Telos Publishing’s Target book. I started to fear he may no longer be with us.
As a last resort, I tried searching on LinkedIn, and found a listing for an illustrator by that name, but with little other information. One private message later and as luck would have it, I’d found the right Graham Potts.
Graham only had a brief involvement in the Doctor Who world, having illustrated a few pieces of cover art including the novelisation of The Celestial Toymaker and Peter Haining’s popular 1983 book, A Celebration. Again, I was asking Graham about a piece of work from 36 years ago, but he happily obliged, and it was great to hear more about the background to that piece and his way of working back then.
As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed talking to other artists, and it is especially rewarding to be able to speak with those whose work inspired me. I can’t thank Andrew, Rod and Graham enough for their time, generosity and interest in the project.
All of these conversations have not only left me feeling enriched and inspired, but they’re absolutely fantastic contributions to the book.
I recently wrote a guest post for the “Felt Trips” section of Bob Fischer’s Haunted Generationwebsite. This involved unearthing childhood drawings I hadn’t seen in decades, and in most cases, forgot even existed! Enjoy…