Chris was approached in 1991 by American publisher Michael Friedlander and his company FPG. Initially interested in publishing a new Achilléos book, Michael quickly realised there was a better opportunity in the burgeoning trading card market. A card series of the fantasy art of Christos Achilléos proved to be a big hit and exposed him to a different group of fans. This single decision was to change his life and lead Chris to where he is today.
Trading card paintings made up the bulk of Chris’s work in the early nineties. His favourite subject was detailed, figurative paintings of strong, beautiful females epitomised in pieces such as ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘Paws & Claws’.
Alltogether Michael Friedlander published two ninety-card sets and one ‘colossal’ (large format) set of fifty, whilst Chris made a couple of contributions to other sets. For the first time, with all his images under the same banner, Chris’s fans were able to fully appreciate the diversity of his artistic output, and could put a name to his distinctive trademark logo, the ‘A’ in a circle, which appears on all his paintings instead of his signature.
The history of Chris Achilleos’ trading cards and related projects goes back nearly 20 years. I had moved out of my parent’s house a couple of years earlier and my mother called me one day and asked me if I could come over to their home and “clean up my stuff that was still cluttering up their house.” She put it very nicely of course. My mother was never a demanding mom. Anyway, I went over to their house and began to box up my “stuff.” As I went through boxes and boxes of my old art books, I happily flipped through books on Chris (Achilleos), Boris, Frazetta, Jeff Jones, Rowena and many others. While at the same time I started to box up stacks of old trading cards that I had collected over the years. Old trading cards that pictured scenes from Batman, Green Hornet, Planet of the Apes, and so on. I never was a collector of the sports cards..., I loved the movie and TV related cards. So as I sat there and looked happily through these old trading cards that I have had since I was a child, I looked over at my art books and thought: “Huh, wouldn’t it be cool to put the art on trading cards?”
That was the start of my idea to put fantasy art on trading cards. Give credit to my wonderful mom! Unfortunately it was a long time after that before I actually had the honor of producing such cards.
My problems were twofold. First, I couldn’t get any of the artists that I had known to agree to the idea of putting their art out at the size of trading cards. They simply couldn’t see it. I don’t blame them, it was a tough concept to grasp at the time. I should point out that at this time I had not contacted Chris about doing them. I didn’t know how to get in touch with him in those pre-internet days. But the artists that I had contacted were very negative about it. So I went on and started to publish art books instead, but that’s another story.
The second thing going against me was that when I ran my idea past a couple of distributors, no one could see it being a success. They just didn’t feel that it would work. “Who would want to see fantasy or science fiction paintings as baseball card sized reproductions?” were their comments.
It wasn’t until a year or two later that I started seeing fantasy art cards coming out from a different publishing company. I was shocked. Stunned. Obviously it was not as bad of an idea as I had been told. At about this same time, In a very strange twist of fate, Chris actually called me. I was shocked to hear Chris Achilleos on the other end of the phone. He actually called me with an original art related question, due to my acquiring several of his original paintings, through his then agent, for my art gallery.
Well, the art gallery didn’t last very long, but my relationship with Chris did. I had Chris on the phone and I happily pitched my idea for the trading cards to him. He didn’t flinch. He believed in the idea and my vision for going all the way with them. And this must have taken a lot of faith on his part. Remember that these were new to the marketplace at the time, and when I mentioned things such as buying an original painting from him, and 20 original drawings, all for the sake of being given away as randomly inserted ‘WINNER” cards in the series, and randomly inserted autographed cards, and oh yes, I would like him to grant interviews and then we would also give away free promotional cards... etc etc. Well I could see how all of my ideas could have easily scared Chris off... But it didn’t. In fact, just the opposite happened. Chris was excited about it. REALLY excited. He was thrilled to finally see a lot of his art collected in one place... One collection. And both of us never looked back.
There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that Chris’ first card series was the best selling of the approximately 60 series that FPG published. The first person that believed in my ideas was also the focus of the best selling trading card series that I would ever publish. Those were very exciting days. I remember calling Chris all of the time to give him updates on the sales. We literally spoke 4 to 5 times a week. And again, this was pre-internet days and not such an easy thing to do when I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Chris was in London, England!
But those were wonderfully exciting days. Very special. I remember the day that I gave Chris the call to tell him that his series had officially sold out. It was a truly magical phone conversation. I could tell that it meant the world to Chris. As it did to me.
Since that day, a long 16+ years ago, Chris and I have become the best of friends. We refer to each other as brothers for many reasons. What we’ve been through together, separate, and in between.
I have incredibly fond memories of working with Chris from day one..., from the first phone call that he made to me on that extremely rainy, dreary day in Pittsburgh way back in 1992. Magic...pure magic!
Michael Friedlander, November 2008