We’re excited to have Sachi Ediriweera on here today to talk about his new release. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, Sachi, and then we’ll talk more about Enlightened.
What was your life like growing up in Sri Lanka?
I grew up in the southern part of Sri Lanka, which is quite lush and tropical. And life was even more different for me as our home was in a little village an hour away from the main city. I grew up surrounded by nature, little lakes, rice paddy fields, and calming drizzles which were commonplace in April every year.
Can you tell us a little about how you first learned about the Buddha as a child?
Sri Lanka’s population is primarily Buddhist. It’s hard to miss seeing a statue of the Buddha wherever you go. You’re likely to see one in every Buddhist household, roadside shrines and even miniature ones on top of vehicle dashboards. However, my curiosity about the Buddha’s life began in Sunday school, which I didn’t enjoy attending at first as most of the lessons consisted of memorizing verses. However, the lessons about the Buddha’s life itself–his origins as a prince who had everything fascinated me. Learning about the Buddha became more than just memorizing verses and a challenge of understanding his mythos, which eventually influenced my work as well.
Did you have any childhood dreams for your adult life? If so, did they come true?
I wanted to become a movie director! I loved watching movies and learning how they were made even more. Movie DVDs where they had bonus content about how they made the movie was hard to come by in Sri Lanka and I would go out of my way to find them and spend hours re-watching those clips over and over. Apart from that I was experimenting with graphic design as well at the time. I did get to make my own short movies eventually, which screened in multiple international film festivals. However, I realized my passion was ultimately telling stories and I decided that graphic novels were a better medium to express my creativity. So yes, the dream did come true, for a while.
Did you love to read as a child? If so, can you tell us some favorite stories?
My parents fueled my love for reading. Also going back to growing up in Sri Lanka, the village we lived in had terrible TV transmission reception so there wasn’t much for me to watch on screen. Instead I surrounded myself with books of all sorts. My favorites were Agatha Christie’s detective stories and anything that had to do with comics.
Sounds like not having much TV time turned out to be a big plus later on.
Did you have any early experiences where you learned that written language had power?
When I was 10 or so, our class had a monthly contest where the teacher gave a topic and you had to research and make a zine about it. These mostly revolved around the subjects we were learning. In one particular month, we were asked to make a story book and I remember writing an anthology of sorts with 3 stories. I won that month’s contest and was quite pleased about it.
What was your biggest fear when you were young? Did you get over it?
Being left behind, and I think it was largely due to growing up in a rural village in Sri Lanka. I had to put in extra effort if I wanted to learn anything–the TV air transmission signals were bad, and there was no internet. Eventually I moved to the city, and after that, I leaped at the opportunities–anything that would help me move my passion and career forward. It certainly helped me in the long run as I spent much of my twenties experimenting with my creativity–from film to illustrations.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be passionate about what you do and have faith in yourself.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I wanted to direct movies. As I didn’t know any screenwriters, I had to do it myself.
What other careers have you had besides writing?
Apart from being a former filmmaker, I work in advertising as an experiential design lead.
What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a writer?
The complete freedom you have on the page is probably my favorite part of being a writer. Sometimes you end up discovering a completely unplanned moment in your story, a minor character suddenly becomes a bigger supporting character, you figure out a plot twist that makes everything ten times better! Writing largely happens in solitude and when you suddenly see your story in a completely new angle, it makes that entire process rewarding.
It’s exciting to see words and pictures actually turned into a book. It also can be magical seeing others reading what you’ve written.
And now that we know more about Sachi, let’s find out about more about his book, Enlightened.
What inspired you to write about the Buddha?
Siddhartha’s journey from a young prince to discovering the truths of this world as an enlightened monk is one that has been retold by hundreds of authors through centuries. However, most of these stories approach the Buddha as a God-like figure whereas I knew there was a grounded version of the story in which we get to explore him as a man who wanted to understand the world better. As I was in-between projects and with the world going through a pandemic, I remembered the stories which fascinated me back in Sunday school and wondered if there was a way I could retell the mythos through my own voice.
We’re grateful you made good use of the shut-downs during the pandemic.
Where did you go to do your research?
I referred multiple textbooks which were written about the Buddha and his teachings as well as reached out to a couple of researchers who were well-versed in the subject.
What was one of the most interesting facts you learned while researching?
With the Buddha’s teachings being centuries old and spanning across multiple regions around the world, certain elements of the core mythos had their own interpretations depending on where the material was originating from. It was interesting to compare different versions of the same story elements and how they had shaped those cultures.
Can you tell us a little about how you wrote and designed your graphic novel?
Enlightened was particularly challenging as I was adapting a story which had hundreds of interpretations (including children’s books and movies!) and importantly, as the Buddha’s story is so vast, I had to map out which part of the story I was going to adapt and how it would still be intriguing from a narrative perspective. Of course, the process began with writing a story outline and then doing some character sketches. Once I was happy with those, I created 15-sample art pages which I used for my pitch.
The subtle use of blue and orange in the illustrations give the graphic novel a striking look. What inspired those complimentary colors? And do they have any significance to this story?
My original pages were only in different tones of blue. However, I had used the orange on the pitch cover, as a spot color for the Buddha’s robe. Greg Stadnyk. my wonderful art director at Atheneum came up with the brilliant idea of using it throughout the book. Orange color is often associated with Buddhism as it’s the color of robes worn by Buddhist monks.
What comes first for you—the words or pictures?
Mostly pictures, but I do try to keep it between a balance of both.
How do your filmmaking and design backgrounds influence your graphic novels?
Back when I was doing short films, I spent a lot of time doing pre-production on my own. This included storyboarding scenes, to make sure you have the right shots, which you use to create a shot list for the day of the actual shoot. A crucial part about filmmaking is that you learn to be economical with your shots (because filming things cost a lot of money!). For instance, if you want to show a car exploding, you can film a scene of a car passing a pedestrian and then show his reaction with a loud sound effect, reacting to an explosion, instead of actually blowing-up a car. It’s a similar challenge with sequential storytelling, where you have to figure the best possible way to visually tell the story you want.
It’s fascinating how shooting films and creating graphic novels use many of the same skills. I’m sure it also helped in laying out each picture because those are like framed camera shots.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
The story of the Buddha is much larger than it could be fit within these pages. If someone gets inspired to learn more about the Buddha’s teachings, that would be a win for me. Also, I do hope readers enjoy the story on its own.
I’m sure they will.
Can you tell us about your other books?
My two earlier books were self-published with my debut being a graphic novel called Lionborn, which was the first English language graphic novel published in Sri Lanka.
What are you working on now?
Enlightened took me almost two and a half years to make. So right now, I’m spending time exploring art styles and potential story ideas before diving into what I want to do next.
Thanks ever so much for agreeing to the interview, Sachi! I know our young readers, as well as teachers and librarians will enjoy learning more about you and Enlightened! And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.
Prince Siddhartha lives in a beautiful palace in the heart of Kapilavastu. His father, the king, ensures that he has the best of everything—he just can’t go outside. He is locked up away from the city, away from anything that might cause him pain. He knows nothing of illness, aging, sorrow, or death, yet Siddhartha feels the pain regardless, and it instills a burning curiosity to understand the world outside—and the nature of human suffering.
Based on the life of the real man who was known first as a prince, then as a monk, and now as the Gautama Buddha, Enlightened is about one boy’s quest to learn the truth that underpins our endless struggle against suffering—and in understanding, break the cyclic existence that perpetuates it.
About Sachi Ediriweera
Sachi Ediriweera is an accomplished designer, filmmaker, and comic book artist. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novels Lionborn, which was the first English language graphic novel produced in Sri Lanka, and Enlightened. Apart from his design and illustration work, he has also built a career in filmmaking as a writer, producer, and director of acclaimed short films that have screened in numerous film festivals around the world. When he’s not drawing or writing his third-act plot twist, Sachi enjoys reading art books and comics, eating pizza, and overthinking cosplay ideas for comic cons. He divides his time between Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Dubai.