Captivating the World in Sequential Panels
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Webtoons, or digital comics published on the internet, have become an internet sensation, full of fantastical stories, amazing art and master-class storytelling. In fact, entire publishing companies are formed to publish webtoons, with published artists being able to make an income out of their hard work. One such platform is WEBTOON, a place where thousands of creators can publish their content, whether it be action, romance, comedy, horror or science fiction.
I happened to be browsing over some of my favourite titles available on the platform, when I was recommended a new series on the platform that was rising in popularity. It turned out to be This Fluffy Love, a brand new series written and illustrated by none other than Achinthya Amarakoon from Papadamn, one of the biggest names in Sri Lanka’s comics industry. We spoke with Achinthya to learn more about her new comic series and Papadamn itself.
This Fluffy Love
The story follows Ashen, the school delinquent and son of a powerful politician and Sarith, who just wants to live a peaceful school life. For Sarith, Ashen is someone to be avoided at all costs, but after a series of circumstances, the two build what others may consider an unlikely friendship, which quickly matures into a budding romance.
What’s unique about This Fluffy Love is the portrayal of school life in a Sri Lankan boys’ school in a web-comic that already has gained the attention of international readers, amounting to over 2.4 million views and 70,000 subscribers on WEBTOONS as well as the positive representation of a plus-sized protagonist in a BL (short for ‘Boys’ Love’) series that involves same-sex romance. “I’ve been reading a lot of BL stories, and one thing I realised was that there isn’t a lot of diversity when it comes to characters,” she said, while explaining the concept behind the story.
“You always find these textbook, pretty-boy type of personalities, but there are a few stories that break these stereotypes, and people love them. “I thought I should make a character that can break the stereotypes, that looks good, and is overall, just a good character.” Achinthya believes that although readers from Sri Lanka would enjoy experiencing the local setting and familiar elements, her international fan-base was primarily drawn to the story because of this. Because This Fluffy Love represented of an entire demographic that everyone in popular media seemed to ignore.
How it came about
At day, Achinthya is an IT professional, working as a UX Designer and occasional front-end developer to a Canadian company. It is in her free time that she engages in her creative work, which includes This Fluffy Love. But this wasn’t the only major series that Achinthya has released. While she said there were other comics in the thousands, which have never seen the light of day, others were released and bombed terribly, Achinthya has released a number of comics series before This Fluffly Love, with Sakkai Muniyay, another one of her series which received major success, even being published as an available comic in Sri Lankan comic book stores.
“I also watch a lot of anime and read manga comics,” she said. “And one thing that always intrigued me were storylines about two completely opposing personalities, coming together and putting aside their differences to work together. My desire to bring that element to my own story is what led to Sakkai Muniyai being created.” The series covers the story of the son of the King of Gods and the son of the King of Demons who were banished to earth and end up sharing a shabby boarding house together. Alongside a great character story, Achinthya was able to shed life to Colombo city life itself through the series.
A lover of many genres
A lover of art and pursuing artistic expression from a young age, Achinthya didn’t take long to be introduced to the world of Japanese animation and comics (anime and manga), and found inspiration in a number of genres such as horror and thriller. However, it is shoujo manga, the genre Achinthya first found an interest in which caters mostly to the young women demographic and BL has a massive fanfollowing, where her work continues to shine.
“For some reason, when it comes to my creations, I tend to gravitate to more light-hearted stories for my own creations. I’ve tried my hand at more serious stuff, such as murder mysteries but, they’re horrible,” she shared. Although lighthearted in nature, Achinthya puts a lot of attention to detail in her work, especially in her characters. While reading This Fluffy Love, her dedication towards creating a truly character-driven story with relatable and grounded (sometimes rounded) characters was evident.
WEBTOON and going international
Before, Achinthya primarily posted her comics, artwork and series (including Sakkai Muniyai) on Facebook. Although the social media platform has a massive number of users, she revealed that the platform brings very little benefit to a comic artist, simply because of the format and structure of the platform. However, with dedicated platforms for creators such as WEBTOON, the story is much different. However, there is one caveat. “Because of the language barrier, when you do a comic in Sinhala, you can’t put the comic on platforms such as WEBTOON,” she revealed.
“Lots of Sri Lankans don’t really visit WEBTOON and not many people on WEBTOON understand Sinhala,” she said. However, Achinthya was determined to make an international comic series in English, for people around the world to enjoy, and with a little help from her editors, This Fluffy Love was able to be published online as a web-comic completely in the English language. Subsequently, the reaction by the BL fan community around the world has been unprecedented, with Achinthya’s web-comic not only becoming a massive hit among the platform’s new titles, but also garnering fan translations into over 10 languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and even Arabic, much to her surprise.
Still close to home
Amidst all her success, Achinthya hasn’t stopped thinking of Sri Lanka and its budding new comic artists, whom she believes have the talent needed to create a successful industry, with fans ready to purchase comic publications, and contribute to support artists monthly on platforms such as Patron. However, one of the biggest challenges Sri Lankan comic authors will have to face is the lack of facilities to access such services in the country, which have the potential of bringing foreign exchange into the country.
“I do think that if a bunch of Sri Lankan artists got together and built an online platform like WEBTOONS, to earn ad-revenue out of that might be a very good option for us,” she opined. Achinthya says this because of the rising interest in web-comics within the Sri Lankan audience. “There are a number of rising artists in the country, who don’t go unnoticed as it was back in the day,” she said.
To help build a community of comic artists strong enough to do so in Sri Lanka, Achinthya regularly publishes on Papadamn Learn; a Facebook page dedicated to blog and share tips and tricks for budding artists to improve their skills in the art-form. Not only that, she is also part of a group of independent Sri Lankan artists, running the Facebook page ‘Sri Lanka Comic Updates,’ aimed at promoting up and coming artists in the country.
Not an easy task
As enticing as it may seem, being a comic artist is not easy, let alone balancing a family life and a fulltime job while doing so. However, Achinthya has managed to do just that. “I won’t lie, it’s kind of exhausting,” she admitted, who works up to 20 hours in her week on her comics, especially since This Fluffy Love has a weekly release schedule. “I do have my burnout episodes, once every two months or so,” she agreed. “But with long-running storylines, the story structure is all set, so you are rarely creatively burnt out.” However, Achinthya does sometimes take time off, and never forgets to update her readers when she does so, as a courtesy for those who are eager to read the next chapter as soon as it releases.
Every step of the way
Achinthya doesn’t have to look very hard to find fans of her work, with both family and friends supporting her journey every step of the way. “My husband Rajitha has been the biggest supporter of my comics,” she shared. “He edits and gives me advice on how accurate I depict school life, but he’s shy when it comes to romancerelated stuff. My friend Chrishari is the romance expert and gives me advice on that for my stories instead. My parents are also fans of This Fluffy Love surprisingly, and are really supportive of my work as well.”
Exciting things to come
Having broken into the international scene, gaining a fan following around the world, Achinthya is a living testimony to the fact that Sri Lankan artists have what it takes to compete and be recognised even on international platforms. As for what Papadamn has in store for the future, there are many, but very little that can be revealed for now. Achinthya will continue to work on international platforms, and she also hopes to make work on making the fan-translations of her work officialised.