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Remembering Daya and his inimitable style

19 August 2015 06:01 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Daya Rajapakse, who passed away on July 26, was a younger contemporary of Sinhala comic book pioneers G. S. Fernando and Susil Premaratna. He started with a dip pen and Indian ink, and finished with felt pens. But the popularity of his comic strips remain unwavered despite  changing tastes and technology.


Born in 1941 in Norton Bridge, he spent his childhood in the hills and finished his schooling there. Legend has it that he was once punished for drawing his teacher with cruel accuracy. After leaving school, Daya worked as an assistant at a photographic studio and even at a filling station.


His first comic strip titled ‘Indu’ was published in the Silumina newspaper in 1966. Like the majority of our comic strip and cartoon creators, he was entirely self-taught, though he was very helpful to younger artists such as Bandula Harischandra. When I set about creating a comic strip a decade ago, it was Daya who showed me how to lay it out to fit a newspaper page.
 
Daya’s output was prolific throughout  a career which spanned half a century. At the time of his death, he was drawing four regular comic strips, plus numerous satirical cartoons, no mean feat at his age.  “Kandulu Niwasna ” (House of Tears) Published in the Sunday Lankadeepa had thousands of avid readers. I was a big fan of his since my school days, when the ‘chitra katha’ medium was able to compete with the cinema as an entertainment medium. It peaked in the 1980s and began declining in the 1990s. Though fresh talent has emerged, it has never recovered. The day of the weekly comic strip magazine seems to be over despite periodic attempts to inject fresh life into it, surviving thanks to the newspaper industry.


Daya Rajapakse was able to weather all these storms. G. S. Fernando and Susil Premaratne were the giants of his day and they were  better draughtsmen. But Daya Rapakse was a first rate story teller, able to write his own, very original stories, and this is the key ingredient of his enduring success.


Several of his stories, such as Sakwithi Suwaya, Hulawali, Anupama and Sathveni Dawasa were made into films. Hulawali  won him an award for best film script. From the start, Daya disliked the copying of Western comics, particularly horror stories and thriller-adventure stories which had become a common practice. But he did not want to add to the home-grown historical adventure-romance greatly popularized by artists such as Susil Premaratne and Puravijaya Fonseka in serialized stories such as Ridi Kumari, Landesi Hatana and Sri Wickrema. Many such stories were written by writers such as Dharma Shri Kaldera.

 ''At the time of his death, he was drawing four regular comic strips, plus numerous satirical cartoons, no mean feat at his age''


Instead, he drew upon folk traditions and his own real life observations of lower class life, which provided him with an inexhaustible source of stories. While Hulawali was exotic in its setting, his last stories such as Kandulu Niwansa and Venkata Rangamma had  a cast of all-too-recognizable, down-to-earth characters. Every reader would have met at least one such character while wandering through life. Steering clear from the melodramatic injecting of tension via crime and horror at the heart of the comic strip tradition, he created an art out of seemingly mundane characters engaged in day-to-day situations. The drama lies in their humanism.


It is this realism, brought alive with such assurance and conviction, which makes Daya Rajapakse  a towering figure in the annals of our comic book history. While some of the new generation of artists struggling to keep the medium alive are superb draftsmen, none have his unparalleled story telling ability.
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