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There was once a time in Sri Lanka, when a merry lot of comic fans looked forward to reading there favorite strips on the newspaper every week.

About a few decades, dozens of Hollywood movies, millions of television purchases and the aftermath of the Internet later, here we are- all fantasizing about what it must have been like to read Sinhala comics or Chithra Katha (lit. “picture stories”) as the locals call them.

But guess what, you can stop fantasizing now. If you have been interested in the Sri Lankan comic scene for the past two years, it would have been impossible to miss the hilarious and wonderful comic, Sakkai Muniyai by Achinthya Amarakoon AKA Papadamn.

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Here’s the artist behind it all – Achinthya Amarakoon

I certainly was able to catch it and once gotten hold of, it was impossible to put down. The story of Sakkai Muniyai captivates you on the first page itself and there on out it’s a wittily crafted tale with brilliant social commentary and satire. And recently I was able to reach out to the talented and lovely lady behind it all, Achinthya Amarakoon, a leading comic artist and storyteller in Sri Lanka’s modern comic industry. And since she’s basically revived the medium and given it a new form that suits this era, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to seize this opportunity to inspire aspiring young Sri Lankan comic artists.

So here’s hoping you find your inspiration- my interview with Papadamn:

Q:

Before getting into anything else, I want to ask you, how does it feel to be able to draw your own comic series, bring characters to life and to have people love it?

I think it is a dream come true and something I never thought would happen. I’m so thankful that many people love my boys as much as I love them.

Q:

Sakkai Muniyai” is a comic that you’re publishing on Facebook. For my readers who are not familiar with the series, could you give out the premise of the story?

Sakka is the son of the ruler of gods. But he does not possess godly virtues such as charm and grace. He is brash, rude, and a bit of a brat. Muniya is the son of the ruler of demons. But he too does not possess the violent and sadistic tendencies of demons. Instead, he’s naive, kind, and a bit of an airhead. Their fathers send them off to the human realm to “fix themselves” and they end up sharing the same shabby boarding house! 

Sakkai Muniyai follows their misadventures showing how they grow as individuals, how they bond, and how they fit in with an overlaying narrative of a cold war between gods and demons.

Q:

Is there anything in particular that inspired you to start drawing a series like this?

I was always a comic fan and a storyteller. However, my interest in creating a series began after I got exposed to Japanese Comics, aka Manga. I used to read a lot of them, especially shounen-ai/ BL (Boys’ Love). I was fascinated by how people fell in love with characters and the subtle techniques mangaka (manga artists) used in their art and storytelling to bring out the character personalities.

Q:

Comics used to be huge in Sri Lanka back in the day, when newspapers that were dedicated to comics like ‘Sathuta’ and ‘Siththara’ were popular. They’ve had a huge impact on our entertainment culture, some even being adapted into the big screen. 

What does the future of the industry look like to you? Do you see promise?

There was a time when the comic scene was more or less dead. However, with the rise of geek culture in Sri Lanka (Including massive Geek conventions, meetups, and Geek themed shops), I feel like comics have started getting some attention again. I see a lot of indie artists trying their hand at comics and a few of them have reached out to me for advice as well.

That being said, the industry still has a long way to go. There are no proper pipelines, procedures or an “industry” so to speak, and we have to do our promotions and marketing by ourselves. So it’s a bit of a challenge. I do hope that bigger players with more resources will see the potential in the industry and invest in it, which will result in more creators joining in.

Q:

Your central publishing platform is Facebook.

What are the challenges and perks of this platform when it comes to reaching readers and keeping them updated?

If I was doing a comic in English for foreign readers, I usually go for a specialized site like Tapas or WEBTOON. Since Sakkai Muniyai is mainly targeted towards Sri Lankans, Facebook works better in terms of reach and accessibility. 

Facebook comes with a number of challenges, the biggest one being that it’s not specialized for comics. Navigation is clunky and the readers don’t get the optimal user experience. 

However, Facebook allows sharing and we can notify the readers whenever we have an update, which makes it easier to reach out to fans. Most people spend at least a few minutes on Facebook daily, which means that they never miss an update. There’s also the ability for the readers to express their appreciation via reactions and comments.

Q:

From initially drafting to finally publishing a chapter, the process involved must be really complicated. But I’m very curious to get an idea about how everything goes down. I’m sure the readers are too. 

Can you walk me through the basic process of starting work on a chapter to getting its final version completed before publishing?

My process is divided into writing and drawing. I usually start with a concept which I jot down on a Google Doc. This is usually written similar to a movie synopsis that you’ll read on a Wikipedia article. After I get a solid story, I write down the dialogues similar to a drama/ film script. 

My drawing process starts with sketching. The sketching stage is divided into three:

  • Basic Sketch– Where I lay out the characters and concept.
  • Anatomical Sketch– Which allows me to get the poses and perspectives right, and finally the…
  • Detailed sketch– Where I draw the facial expressions and clothes. 

After the sketching is complete, I add the line art, fill them out, and add a little bit of shading. I usually refer to this step as rendering.

Once the illustrations are fully rendered, I add the dialogues and SFX, after which I show the pages to my capable editor for last minute fixes before uploading.

Q:

Although Sakkai Muniyai is a well-established work, you still balance it with your day job.

Do you see yourself turning comics into your full time profession in the near future?

That is my ultimate goal and dream for sure! However, the local comic industry is still in its infancy and doesn’t generate much of a revenue. Besides this, I am based in Canada, and thus it might not be a viable source of income for me.

However, once the industry shapes up, I can see other Sri Lanka based artists making comics into their full time gig.

Q:

Do you have any special fond memories involved with the creation of your amazing characters including “Sakka” and “Muniya”?

I sure do! I remember being super hyped when I started receiving fanart for Sakkai Muniyai. There were times when I would look at them when I was going through art blocks. I made a lot of awesome new friends as well! A few characters, including Wanamali, Alexander, and another upcoming character were all named by my readers.

Another fun memory was when a few other pages stole an Awurudu Picture of Sakka in drag to advertise their Awurudu Kumari pageants (a beauty pageant held as a part of the Sinhala-Tamil New Year celebrations). It was such a great inside joke among the fandom. 

When Sakka was almost killed by Vaima, I got a lot of messages and comments from the readers which made me realize how passionate they are towards the story. 

Sakka and Muniya against the Colombo cityscape

I always get super happy when people fall in love with my boys, and that always brings a smile on my face. I want to create “heartthrobs”, and I get a sense that I just created some. 

Another moment that always makes me happy is when the readers ship my characters. I have left most of them single on purpose which allows readers to freely ship them with each other. It’s interesting to see the theories they come up with and how they interpret the interactions between the characters.

Q:

Scrolling through “Papadamn”’s Facebook page it has become obvious to me that you’re a passionate and talented artist.

How do you interpret art? What does art mean to you?

I think art means a lot to me. It is my primary storytelling medium when words fail me. It has helped me to connect with people ever since I was a primary school kid. It is also a great antidepressant and lifts my spirits up.

Q:

According to your experience when it comes to comics what genres do you think will really take off in Sri Lanka, especially, Colombo?

There’s always a lot of hype around the Superhero genre. Most Sri Lankans are familiar with Marvel and DC comics, and something similar would be a hit. However, the Superhero genre is a bit challenging to draw due to all the action sequences which require a lot of technical illustration knowledge including perspectives, anatomy, and foreshortening. Therefore, the genre should be approached with a lot of care.

Comedy might be popular, and can be adapted to gag format as well as serialized. Even in Sakkai Muniyai, the funnier the page is, the higher the reach is. 

Another less obvious genre with a lot of potential is romance. Back in the day, many chithra katha (Sri Lankan variation of comics, literally translating to, “picture stories”) with romance themes, were adapted to screen. While Sakkai Muniyai does not feature a lot of romance, there’s a lot of “shipping” among characters which further proves that romance as a genre has potential.

Q:

“Sakkai Muniyai” season 2 is soon coming to an end. As a fan of the series myself, this makes me excited and sad at the same time.

Do you plan on continuing the series with a season 3 or do you have a completely new project in mind?

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Season 2 is in the final arc!

Sakkai Muniyai is supposed to span for 3-4 seasons! However, one thing I realized is that the break I took between S1 and S2 was too short and it caused more burnouts during the final stretch. Because of this, I plan to take a longer break before moving onto the next thing.

Q:

Can we get a hint of what other projects to look forward to from you in the future?

I have a couple of projects in mind, but nothing super fleshed out as of now. I do have a dream of creating an action comedy one day!

Q:

For my readers who may be aspiring comic artists in Sri Lanka, what advice do you have?

  • Optimize your workload: Comics are a LOT of work. You need to find the easiest way to tell your story in the most straightforward way possible.
  • Manage your expectations: The whole thing is a grind. It wouldn’t hit off as soon as you upload, but be patient and go at it. 
  • Interact with your readers and appreciate them: They’re the ones who will help your comic get somewhere. 
  • Don’t make your best idea your first comic: I also have a couple of super epic ideas with me, but chances are that I’m still too amateur to tackle something of that scale or scope. It takes time to establish the art style and build up a fan-base. If you release your best idea first, there are chances that it won’t get the reception it deserves.
  • Use a hook in your story: Give your readers a reason to come back and check on your story the moment they read the first five pages. Is that incompatible with how your story flows? Then have a super interesting summary/ synopsis somewhere for them to get a hang of what’s to come and get them interested!
  • Be aware of new techniques and hacks: I have written an article about art and storytelling hacks which you can read here.

Q:

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m super excited to continue working on the Sri Lankan comic scene. If there are any new local comic artists who are trying their hand at this, I hope they’ll contact me. I would love to give them shout-outs through my page, share our audiences and help them in any way possible.

I also thank you for having me for this interview and I’m a huge fan of your blog. Keep being awesome!

That’s what Achinthya had to say…

And to be honest it’s so thrilling to share this interview with you because with Dare to Dream SL, it’s always all about unique people who are doing something outstanding that will change the future of our island. With Sakkai Muniyai, Papadamn has set the foundation to just that: the revival of a new medium of entertainment and storytelling in Sri Lanka. If you haven’t already, please check out this amazing comic right here. I hope that this interview inspired you and showed you that comics can become a well established industry in Sri Lanka soon with the contribution of every aspiring comic artist. For more inspiration check out my other interviews in the Dare to Dream SL series; meet the youngest CEO of Sri Lanka and the first CEO to introduce LegalTech startups to the island.

Thank you for the read! Hope you have an amazing weekend. Don’t forget to follow Snow Tree on Facebook for blog post updates and more! If you liked today’s post, share it with your friends and leave a comment below!

See ya next week!


Anuththara Peiris

Writer, Researcher, Content creator.

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