Making Magic for The Marvellous Granny Jinks and Me: An Interview with Selom Sunu, Illustrator
by Jackie Lui for Storymix
Were you ever fascinated by magic tricks when you were a kid? I remember watching magicians perform to wide-eyed audiences as they marvelled at the seemingly impossible tricks they had just witnessed (7-year-old me included). This had me running to mess around with my brother’s magic set immediately afterwards, trying to shuffle cards with a grown-up flair that my tiny hands struggled to achieve. I had fun, though, and at least I was a glamourous magician in my own head… Magic is truly something that captures children’s imaginations, which is why all of us here at Storymix are incredibly excited to see The Marvellous Granny Jinks and Me released into the world!
The first book in the Granny Jinks series was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this month, and it is a thing of beauty, if we do say so ourselves! Someone we must thank for a major part in this is Selom Sunu, who illustrated the book exquisitely. He has brought Granny Jinks, Jada, Luna the cat, and the rest of their world a lively vivaciousness in their looks that match perfectly with their written characters. We follow this endearing cast as they discover the magic of family, friendship, and fun — portrayed vibrantly on the cover and throughout the pages. It is fantastic to see a Black family at the centre of such a simply delightful and charming story.
Selom’s drawings are equally charming, and he has very kindly taken the time to speak to me about his work. In this interview, we take a look at his artistic process, what is important to him as an illustrator, and how he came to work on The Marvellous Granny Jinks and Me.
JL: You completed an MA in Character Animation at Central Saint Martins. In what ways do you feel this has influenced your Illustration work? For example, do you think it’s easier to imagine the characters’ movements and ‘act’ with them in the story, even though you’re drawing still images?
SS: That’s a great question! I think the greatest influence my Animation course has on my illustrations is the acting of the characters as you say — not just thinking of their bodies moving from one point to another, but trying to think of sentences they might be saying or thinking that influence their body language and facial expressions. I don’t animate much these days but I remember finding it much easier when it was based on dialogue.
JL: What attracted you about the The Marvellous Granny Jinks and Me brief that enticed you into illustrating it?
SS: To be honest, when I first received the brief I wasn’t sure it was for me as I know absolutely nothing about magic and thought someone else might be better suited. However, when I read through the brief properly and realised it centred around a strong black Grandma and the reignition of her passion, I saw it as an opportunity to pay tribute to my two Grandmas and all the other Grandmas or Grannies out there who have had, or still have, dreams. My maternal Grandma [dreamed] of opening a restaurant which she achieved at the age of 88 and I found that really inspiring. My paternal Grandma gave birth to 8 children and dedicated her life to motherhood, and for that she also has my utmost respect. Jada (Granny Jinks’ granddaughter in the story) had a big part to play in Granny Jinks’ story;this charming element also convinced me that I wanted to illustrate this book.
JL: Your characters are so fun and full of life. Where do you get inspiration for the visual formation of your characters?
SS: Thank you so much! I’m always happy to hear that people think that. Inspiration comes from a wide range of places really: I try to draw real people in everyday situations as much as possible — for example, at cafes, on trains, at parks, at weddings. This is something that was drummed into me and became a habit in 2013 after failing to get on the CSM Animation course at the first attempt. I also learn a lot from studying other artists’ work through Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and in ‘Art of…’ books for movies I like.
I love watching TV and films (both live action and animated). It serves as both relaxation and ‘homework’ as I can’t help but analyse what I see these days and try and see if there’s anything I can incorporate into my own work. I am better at using reference material these days so Pinterest is a good friend of mine too. Some ideas come from my quirky imagination and I’m certain God gives me ideas directly, too, as I wouldn’t have thought of some of them in a million years.
JL: I love how your artistic style shines through in the diverse range of characters you’ve created, without them all looking the same. Why is diversity and inclusion important to you as an artist?
SS: That’s really kind of you to say. I love the subtle nuances between features of people within the same race and even in the same family so I try to translate that into my work when I can. I think the reason I generally draw all types of people is because, as a Londoner, that’s what I see around me in real life. So, in that sense it’s a case of art reflecting life. For example, I think it’s been really important to draw characters in wheelchairs from a representation standpoint even though I personally find wheelchairs very hard to draw. I’ve worked closely with blind people in the past so I’d like to find a respectful way to draw a blind character, too. That’s how it should be in my opinion.
JL: What is your favourite part of the development process when you’re working with books? I imagine it’s satisfying to see the final product with your illustrations on the covers in shops.
SS: My favourite part is seeing the characters come to life, firstly through deciding what they look like and then exploring their acting through facial expressions and body language [as I mentioned above].
As for seeing books I’ve worked on in the shops, it’s definitely satisfying in the sense that you get to see the finished product of something you know you put a lot of work into. It’s also really exciting that it’s out in the world, but I’d be lying if I said I never noticed things in the final copies that I wished I could redraw!
JL: I can see from your website that you’re a busy dad and husband with various projects on the go! What else are you working on that you’d like to share with us?
SS: You can say that again! Last year was relentlessly busy so I’m keen to start this year slowly. However, I can reveal that I am currently working on Granny Jinks book 2 already and it’s even more magical than the first one!
JL: That’s exciting! Speaking of which, I hear you’re now offering workshops to share your skills. Can you tell us a little more about those?
SS: In the last couple of years I’ve been invited to do a few drawing workshops and lectures, and last year I realised how much I like sharing the little I know with others. I’d really like to do it more so I now have a section [on] my website where people can book me for workshops. I want to offer workshops for those who want to draw just for fun, relaxation or to try something new, [as well as] those who are interested in making a career out of drawing. So, my workshops can be for schools, universities, office away days, birthday parties, anything and anyone really! If people are interested, they can find out more and get in touch at selomsunu.co.uk/workshops — I’d love to hear from them.
Thanks so much, Selom! If you’d like to find out more and check out his work, visit https://www.selomsunu.co.uk/, follow him on Instagram @selomsunu86 and on Twitter @MrSunu. Find us @storymixstudio on those channels, too.
The Marvellous Granny Jinks and Me is OUT NOW! Available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. (And hey, guess what — it’s Storymix’s first project to come out in audio format, too! We love to see inclusive accessibility in children’s fiction, so thanks Simon & Schuster for making this happen.) Take a look at Storymix’s other projects here.