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In Conversation With Subi Bosa

last updated 26 March 2024

Interview by Rachel Moffat

This month, we were delighted to chat with Subi Bosa. Subi is an author-illustrator working across picture books and children’s graphic novels.

After studying Architecture Subi realised his passion was in illustration and writing and he became a freelancer, working with self-publishing authors worldwide while studying graphic design at the Academy of Digital Arts in Cape Town. In 2020, Subi was awarded a Mo Siewcharran Publisher’s Prize for Illustration. He is now working on his own author-illustrated ideas, and his debut graphic novel will be published by Graphic Universe, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group in 2025.


Here’s what Subi’s Agent Katie Blagden had to say about working so closely with him:

Subi is such an energetic and exciting author-illustrator. He’s bubbling over with ideas, and always brings colour and fun to his projects, whether picture book or graphic novels. Subi has been incredible at developing his work into different age ranges and genres - he doesn’t shy away from feedback, but instead rises to the challenge and elevates his stories and illustrations to the next level. It’s been such a joy to see him find his authorial voice in young graphic novels, and I’m so excited to see his stories deepen and grow with every project.

What are your first memories of writing?

Since I was really young I’ve always loved drawing and creating characters. My earliest memory of actual writing is from when I used to create comics at boarding school when I was 15 years old. I’d make exaggerated stories based on various shenanigans from the dining hall and hostels. The older kids would ask to read my flip-file full of comics.

What brought you to Bright Literary?

I had been signed as an illustrator already. A year later I shared some picture book and graphic novel story ideas to my agent and began developing ideas with the in-house editor which really encouraged me to create more ideas. After illustrating a book series with Lerner Books, they asked if I had any book ideas and acquired the rights to my first graphic novel. I then signed to Bright Literary.


Where are you from and how does that affect your work?

My parents left Uganda for South Africa where I was born in 1991. My mother worked as a lecturer in Computer Science and my father was a Telecommunications Engineer. I grew up in Pretoria and visited Uganda regularly over the Christmas period. I got to grow up around different cultures in South Africa and that contrasted with my visits to Uganda. I think my stories present as a type of African folklore that mix ideas from my village experiences in Uganda and city-life experiences across South Africa.

How do you translate your thoughts to the page?

I sometimes run comic-making workshops at schools in South Africa where I encourage kids to create a character that looks really ridiculous so that it can inform the story that they will tell. I tell the kids “If you’re giggling while you’re drawing the character, then you’re on the right track.” This is a great opener to let the ideas flow, and I often stumble on some deep, existential comics - by a six year old - about a flying lipstick that is tired of being used. I do the same and use my own experiences and ramp up the elements and challenges to make the story seem wild, whimsical and silly. Hopefully the reader can appreciate the deeper themes that I’m exploring through my silly characters. My writing usually addresses anger, fear, power, consumption, exploitation and how I feel about being a man in society and the world at large. I try to contrast this seriousness with something fun and silly because I enjoy when stories allow two extremes to exist.


What is your favourite part of the writing process?

My favourite part of the process is when I’m on a Zoom call with the editor I’m working with and we’re both listing out the different ways the story could advance now that I’ve worked out all the elements of the story.

”Oh, they could also say…” - “Yes, and it could also go…”

How do you develop your writing skills?

To develop my writing, I do various creative writing online courses - BBC Maestro and any writing exercises that I find. I share my ideas with my partner who is a singer-songwriter and an author, I appreciate her insight. Also lots of reading.


Katie tells me you’ve been working on your first author-illustrator Graphic Novel with Graphic Universe. How are you finding it, and what are you learning from this experience?

Yes, It’s been so much fun working on this. I’m pleased that the editors at Graphic Universe are giving me freedom to create and flesh out the world of Nafu Wants Food. I’ve learned how to listen to what the characters want to say. The best thing I learned is, when I draw the characters at the beginning stage, sometimes, their facial expressions and body language tells me what their arc should be. The characters really do reveal their desires to me the more I sketch them.

What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?

Lots of sparkling flavoured water in a glass with ice (Cape Town is hot right now!). Youtube videos playing in the background while I bounce between my moleskins and my iPad Pro. I make efforts to rest after three hours of work so I can palette cleanse. I’ll then play with my cat Rooney (full name: Bruce Wayne Rooney) if he isn’t fast asleep. In the evenings I’ll usually open my laptop and work on some story ideas. Once a month I work on my podcast “Subi and Kate Circling Back” which I host and produce with my friend Kate Hilson who is a graphic designer. We use the podcast to discuss our experiences as freelance creatives and offer advice.

title Listen to Subi and Kate’s Podcast here

What has it been like working for different audiences, South African, US, UK etc.?

It has been a great privilege. My debut graphic novel is coming soon to an international audience. I am very excited. I think my writing can be universal because I aim to create characters that deal with situations that I have experienced. I’ve only illustrated picture books that have been sold across the UK, USA and South Africa. My editors like the writing so I think my work will translate well across the globe when it releases.

Who/What have been your key influences?

I have some wide reaching influences. Firstly, The Matrix is a movie that truly blew my mind when I rewatched it in 2009. It felt like I was watching a completely different movie from when it first came out in 1999. My mother would tell me about some of the Ugandan folktales and I always enjoyed the cheeky ways that the stories resolved themselves. Other notable influences include Christopher Nolan (I love all of his wild movies), Ray Bradbury because of his descriptive mastery in Fahrenheit 451 and lastly, Molly Ostertag because Girl From The Sea is definitely the greatest graphic novel I’ve ever read (and I’ve read many).


What was it like seeing your work out in the world for the first time?

It actually wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. That’s probably because by the time they’re out on shelves months later, I’ve moved to other projects. I was pleased that I saw people buying the books while I was in a bookstore. My friends would send me photos of my books at various bookstores. That feels great.

I see on your socials that you attend a lot of book-ish events in South Africa, tell me a bit more about those, do you have a favourite?

There’s quite a few book events for sure. I often attend the Kingsmead Book Festival in Johannesburg where I host a comic-making workshop with 7 year olds. I give them a presentation about my work and then teach them how to create a fun character and create a quick comic. It’s very fulfilling and inspiring to watch the kids grow in confidence slowly until they exhibit pride in their work - no matter how silly it is. I also attend Comic Con Africa and Comic Con Cape Town every year. Most of my public book events are school visits to talk about my career.


What advice would you give to a writer that’s just starting out?

I would advise them to write something they would love to read. I would also advise any writer to create a map of the world their characters will inhabit. It helps with thinking of external forces that could take the story in more interesting directions. Share your writing with people. Tell your friends about your ideas.
Find a writing group if you need structure and order to help you reach deadlines.

Do you have any ‘dream projects’ that you’d like to work on someday?

I’d love to create a 5 book afro-fantasy graphic novel series with a new take on creatures and monsters and adventure because I feel like the dragons and elves market is saturated. I’d also love to get a chance to write and illustrate a book with my take on Batman. My biggest dream project would be to create something like Peppa Pig. A global mega-translatable character with scope for animated shows, movies, toys, video games and of course… books!


To work with Subi, get in contact here.

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