The legend of Sinhabahu has been rekindled with a twist by Sachi Ediriweera in the form of Lionborn. It is the debut comic by the award winning illustrator, filmmaker and founder of Filmbox. It was his passion for visual storytelling that made him tell this story in comic book form as opposed to a literary novel. “As I saw it, it was the perfect merging where I could bring in visuals and written words together and play around as I wished,” says Sachi.
Lionborn is written and illustrated by Sachi Ediriweera while American colorist Chris Lissman is in charge of colouring duties. It will debut at the Lanka Comic Con, which will be held on August 20 and 21 at the JDA Perera Gallery, Hortons Place. Sachi Ediriweera was the winner of Digital Art (Senior Category), awarded by United Nations Sri Lanka in 2013 and received Best Character Design Award from MEFCC (Middle East Film & Comic Con) in 2012.
He had shortlisted a few storylines when he first started working on Lionborn. There were original ideas as well as others based on historical legends. “Out of those, the Sinhabahu story was interesting as we have a very specific event that has been a major part of Sri Lankan culture. At the same time, so little is known about it.” Sachi explained that the legend of Sinhabahu is intriguing enough with its own storyline. “The tale of two siblings who escaped from a cave, from their father, and the son who would go on to kill him grasps attention,” he says. He felt there are many unexplored aspects to the story. Combined with a visual narrative he found it an ideal story and setting to work on.
The seven-part miniseries brings out a fusion between the folklore, fiction and detective noir. “I wanted the story to be grounded. Part of that challenge was to create an interesting plot that would serve the new narrative while staying true to the original legend,” shares Sachi. The crime-drama story approach felt natural to him as it brings a lot of plot elements to the table that he could work with. There is a murder, suspects, clues and so on. “Also I am a big fan of the detective genre, especially Agatha Christie’s novels. Her books influenced me during the making of Lionborn,” he says.
The setting of the story is a city called Vanga, the actual setting of the legend. But in the comic, the city mostly takes a fictional context and the surrounding is mostly derived from ancient Persian architecture. The two characters Sheerdas and Sivali are based on Sinhabahu and Sinhasivali of the original legend. The story takes place eight years after the siblings break out of the cave and begins with Sheerdas returning to the city after a long absence to investigate a crime for which Sivali has been wrongfully arrested.
Lionborn is a character-driven story. The two siblings were born and lived inside a cave, trapped, for sixteen years until they escaped with their mother. “I wanted to make Sinhasivali a main character of the story, unlike the legend which pretty much focuses solely on Sinhabahu,” says Sachi. The name Lionborn came from the source material. The original Sinhabahu legend says the character was half man, half lion, his arms made of lion paws, which is why he was named Sinhabahu.
“In Lionborn, the Lion is a man who was once a great warrior. Sinhabahu, who I’ve renamed Sheerdas, wields gauntlets which resembles lion paws, which is how I imagined it could’ve been in reality. The story is about facing consequences of one’s past, a story of legacy and redemption, so the title Lionborn was the perfect fit,” he explains.
He designed the characters in conjunction with writing the initial outline of the story. The approach was to redesign the characters so that it would match the setting and give them a semi comic book ethos at the same time.
“When it comes to illustration, your imagination is the limit. Lionborn is a unique experience where I tried to balance the best of illustration and written word,” he shares. He tries to gear all his projects, may it be a short film or illustrations for international audiences. “This has been a personal choice for me. Creating something that brings Sri Lanka to the spotlight has been immensely satisfying for me as an independent artist,” he concluded.