Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Paperback Venus: Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

As a teenager Agent Triple P was never a fantasy fiction reader preferring, on the whole, hard SF.   He was, however, in 1978 very interested in young women and illustration.  Illustrations of young women were, therefore, particularly interesting.  So he bought the novel Raven: Swordsmistress of Chaos on the basis of the cover picture alone, as the publishers no doubt intended.

The novel was a sort of sub-Red Sonja effort (although we hadn't read any Red Sonja novels at that point), commissioned at a time when a new series of Conan books had been successfully published in the UK.  Unlike Conan, however, Raven contained, excitingly, lashings of sex which you certainly didn't get in the science fiction we were reading at the time.  Author Richard Kirk was actually a pen name for two authors: Angus Wells (1943-2006) and the better-known Robert Holdstock (1948-2009).

Wells would go on to write the second novel in the series (also with Holdstock) and the third and fifth Raven novel on his own.  Holdstock would pen the fourth.  All had covers featuring their enticingly clad fantasy heroine by Chris Achilleos.  Despite producing five books in the series the story was left unfinished. 

Raven, was described breathlessly in the first book's introduction (the story is told in flashback):

"She was a woman, Raven! There are none like her today. Tall, she was; her hair as golden soft as the sun on a late summer evening. And her eyes blue as a mist-kissed sea pool, blue and green and grey mingled together in a manner that could suck the soul out of a man, if she chose. Though I’ve seen them red with blood and cold as the wind from the northern ice wastes. She was a woman you whelps might dream about, damping your blankets with the thought. She smiled as she killed, and if she chose a man, he went to the furs ready to die for sheer pleasure."

The full version of Raven: Lords of the Shadows demonstrates how Achilleos would sometimes paint more than the brief required to satisfy his own artistic standards.  In this case, regarding what he felt would be the most visually harmonious composition

Cover artist Chris Achilleos was born in Cyprus in 1947 but moved, with his family, to the UK in 1960 and started at Hornsey College of art in 1965, beginning to work in book illustration at the end of the sixties.  He produced all the other covers for the Raven books.

This version of the painting for Raven: A Time of Dying had to be altered in 1984 to cover up all the bare skin for a jigsaw puzzle version

These illustration appeared at the height of his book cover work from 1977-1978.  Unfortunately, despite the positive critical reaction to his work. commissions dried up from UK book publishers due to a slump in the SF and fantasy paperback market and partly because his very detailed paintings took a long time to produce). Achilleos kept himself employed by doing pin up paintings for Paul Raymond's Men Only.

Here is Achilleos' first attempt at a cover for Raven: A Time of Ghosts.  Maybe the publishers thought that the static pose was too similar to the cover of the first book and so asked for something featuring more action.

It eventually saw the light of day as the cover for the Uriah Heap album Fallen Angel in 1978.  The sleeve was a gatefold one with the image, unusually, being in a vertical, not horizontal, format.

Anyway, we thought of these Raven illustrations when we heard on the radio yesterday that Kate Bush was embarking on her first tour for thirty five years.  Just one year after her last concerts in 1979 the video for her single Babooshka contained this reinterpretation by Pamela Keats of the costume Achilleos featured in his original painting.

Agent Triple P remembers watching the video at the time and thinking "that's the Raven costume!"  Achilleos wasn't involved in the video but it is noticeable that he gets a credit for the design when the video is discussed today.  We suspect he wasn't contacted about it at the time!

When Roger Dean contacted Achilleos about producing a book of his illustrations in 1978 it was the first Raven image which was used on the cover, although poor Raven's bust was censored by a black star.

1 comment:

  1. I,myself are a huge fan of his work. Have you read the later art books of his? The books contain a lot more biographical than is typical for this genre of books.