Thursday, September 21, 2023

Q&A with Sachi Ediriweera




Sachi Ediriweera is the writer and artist of the new young adult graphic novel Enlightened: A Story of the Buddha. He also is the creator of the graphic novel Lionborn. Also a filmmaker, he lives in Sri Lanka and in Dubai.


Q: Why did you decide to create a graphic novel based on the life of the Buddha?


A: Growing up in Sri Lanka, statues of the Buddha are a common sight--displayed inside and Buddhist households. Our house was no different. My parents enrolled me into Sunday school and I remember being fascinated about the stories about the Buddha more than the lessons itself. I was thrilled to be finally learning the backstory, whose image was seen everywhere.


As I developed my interest of making comics many years later, I wondered if the Buddha's story was one that could be adapted in that format. At the time, I had self-published two graphic novels and the world was going through the first few months of the pandemic.


Tucked away in my apartment, I continued my research on the Buddha until I found a story approach that got me excited. If my memory serves right, I developed the full pitch within four to five weeks and shared it with my agent.


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: The mythos and history behind the Buddha is incredibly vast. Apart from the thousands of books that already exist on the subject, new books and journals analyzing the Buddha's teachings see the light of day every year. The Buddha's teachings have also found its way through multiple regions around the world.


And as a result, while the teachings itself were the same, there were many nuances about the Buddha's life found within each culture. Prominent symbols had different interpretations. In some instances, characters originated from different regions depending on which translation of the material you were referring to.


The experience made me reflect how history itself can be faithful, yet subjective at the same time.

Apart from that, some of the reading material I referred to were The Life of the Buddha by Bikkhu Nanamoli, The Buddha: His Life and Teaching by Piyadassi Thera, What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula Thero, and a lot of reading on the website Dhammatalks.


I also sought out the assistance of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia who were kind enough to guide me for certain parts of the story.


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first, or both simultaneously?


A: A rough outline was written first and I moved onto few passes of the script. However, I began thumb-nailing the book in parallel to get a better grasp of page flow and chapter breaks.


Around the fourth draft of the script, the writing and drawing happened simultaneously with all revisions taking place on roughly illustrated pages. Once those were locked in, I inked and finalized the artworks.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from Enlightened?


A: Enlightened is an adaptation of the Buddha’s life, and due to page and format constraints, it only touches the surface in terms of what the Buddha taught and the intriguing events that occurred during his lifetime. Ideally, if someone reads this book and it makes them curious to dwell deeper into the subject, that would be a win for me.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've got a couple of graphic novel scripts in development. However, I spent the last three years making Enlightened, so I'm taking some time in between before jumping into it all over again.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This book is a dream of mine come true and I'm grateful to my agent, Gordon Warnock, for believing in it first, and to the team at Atheneum, including my editor Alyza Liu, for championing it all the way to publication.


The book is available for pre-order with signed bookplates available in a few select stores. The Buddha's life and teachings have been embraced by millions of people around the world and I hope this book continues that tradition in the days to come.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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