I was asked to produce a series of educational illustrations to be used in schools based around the subject of puberty. Titled "What's happening to my Body? It's all going mad!," the target audience would be young teenagers dealing with the onset of puberty.
Sex education can be a complicated topic to navigate in trying explain puberty to children without making them uncomfortable, but I feel it’s important to promote body positivity in teenagers at a time when they are undergoing a lot of rapid physical and emotional changes. To refresh my knowledge, I looked into a few online sources that offer medical advice to find some more written information on the most common changes that male and female bodies go through. That said, one of the most difficult parts of addressing this topic is how differently puberty is experienced by each one of us.
Sexuality and gender is a wide ranging and fluid topic that I don't feel I'm qualified enough to cover in the five panels that the exercise recommends, so I stuck to a generalist approach as much as I could. I decided to target areas that would focus on some of the mutual areas of change for everyone and to be suitable as a first introduction to the topic of puberty that would promote further healthy discussion between children and their parents or guardians.
I had long planned on using a unique medium that would offer some fitting qualities to help relate the topic to children since I first read this brief back at the start of the course. I’ve previously used a program called Bricklink Studio 2.0 to render my own LEGO® creations outside of the course, but haven’t found a way to include it until now. LEGO® is a useful metaphor for growing as the sets become more complicated as we get older and sometimes we lose a few pieces or struggle to understand the instructions, but in the case of an educational tool for children, it's a familiar and comforting product that they can all relate to without needing a deeper meaning.
I thought it fitting to use LEGO®, especially as I already knew my way around the software well enough for it to be accessible for me. The extra advantage of using LEGO® figures to explain bodily changes is that they are reasonably androgynous in nature and easy toys for children to project their own identities onto. I set about planning my comic to be light-hearted, humorous, and inclusive, all while still sending all the right messages as the exercise advised me to not trivialise the purpose of the leaflet.
I planned out a spider diagram that listed off the most common associated changes and feelings that teenagers have about puberty, both positive and negative. I wanted to use language that would be encouraging and reassuring that puberty is a natural process and not something to be afraid of talking about. The key messages that I wanted to put across to see these new developments as something that does not have to be negative.
It was tricky to condense so much information, but I eventually narrowed down my list into a rough script for a small intro and outro for the leaflet and the 5 frames that I wanted to use to give a broad explanation of what to expect during puberty. To be able to include everything I wanted to, I joined some areas together into one panel.
As we get older, our bodies start to grow and change in many different ways. Most of these changes happen when we are teenagers in a natural process called Puberty.
1. Growing (Hair and Growth Spurts)
You may find yourself getting taller more quickly and more hair will appear in new places on your body.
2. Changing (More Spots and Voice Cracking)
You may notice spots appear more often and that your voice starts to sound different, particularly for boys.
3. Body Parts
Boys and girls bodies will change in some ways which are different to each other, especially in our private areas.
As our bodies change, you may notice that you are getting new feelings for other people.
Everyone goes through puberty in different ways and at different times. This is ok as each of our bodies are special and unique.
If you have any questions or are worried about how your body and feelings are changing, you can always talk to a parent or guardian you trust to find out more.
Using these headings as my guide, I roughly sketched out some designs for each frame in my sketchbook. As I wouldn't be taking a traditional route for my final medium, these sketches were only meant to give me some quick visuals on what I could try based on what i knew the software was capable of.
I also made a final guideline for the full set of panels and how I wanted them to be positioned with the text on the page.
This was enough to give me options to play around with in Studio 2.0, which operates much like a bottomless tub of infinite virtual LEGO®. It has an expansive library of parts from official sets, and they neatly snap together in the same way as they do in reality. My experience with the program meant that I knew what to look for to build my props and choose expressions for my figures, so I assembled files full of objects to be used in the frames and cover art.
Each part can be recoloured too, so I took care to stick to a palette that was somewhere between the bright colours of most LEGO® sets for children and the blues and purples that more commonly suit media for teenagers.
Once everything was built, I could then use the virtual camera to export realistic PNG renders for me to position how I wanted to in Photoshop. When everything was placed alongside the text in for which I had chosen the font CCMeanwhile, the comic and cover was complete.
I'm glad I was able to put in all the details that I had envisioned from when I first sketched it all out, but I found the one frame about gender differences to be a difficult one to realise. In my initial ideas, it was a tongue in cheek suggestion that the figures were nude in an "Adam and Eve" style diagram but with little other context. I changed this to an entirely separate swimming pool scene as this is one environment where teenagers start to notice the physical differences between themselves and the opposite sex more often.
Finally, as an extra visual, I put the covers into a premade mock-up to envision how the leaflet would look.
I think this strikes a good balance between humour and a serious topic and I hope that it would be a useful educational tool as a conversation starter to remove some of the stigma that comes with talking about our bodies and to encourage teenagers to discuss and ask questions about puberty.
Goldman, R. (2018) The Stages of Puberty: Development in Girls and Boys At: https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stages-of-puberty (Accessed 13/07/2020)
NHS. (2020) Stages of puberty: what happens to boys and girls. At: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/stages-of-puberty-what-happens-to-boys-and-girls/