Bowdlerization is a comic where a small robot gets revived by an old human friend of his. In this essay, I will discuss the thoughts and processes behind the creation of Bowdlerization, highlighting both plot, story structure, and production process.
I tend to start with plot or world ideas before anything else usually. I try my best to jot down any spur-of-the-moment thoughts, so you'll find my phone is filled with one-line notes of hypothetical situations that I hope to one day get to. Occasionally, some are more non-sensical than others, like: "A polytheistic polyarchy where everyone is polyamorous" or "a pessimistic optimist meets an optimistic pessimist." So, at its start, the idea for Bowdlerization was simple. A story where a man is attempting to rebuild a robotic companion he had lost in his youth.
This idea stemmed from a current collaborative project that I am working on (with the incredible writer Natasha Marie) called Coin Operated Clone. My favorite character within this story is the main character's robotic companion SAI, which stands for Symbiotic Artificial Intelligence. This story takes place in a very distant second post-apocalyptic universe, and every time I draw SAI's character, I can't help but wonder what sort of technology his "ancestors" were. So I often like to imagine more ancient-looking versions of SAI that exist in a not-so-distant future. And because I have such a fond attachment to the character, I want to imagine that someone in the not-so-distant future would have a similar attachment as well.
Character sheet for Guy & SAI from Coin Operated Clone (co-created with Natasha Marie)
Plot & Script:
With my rough story conceptualized, my next step was establishing further details within the story. My main concern being the world, and answering questions like "what was the robot and the man's relationship" and "why is the man rebuilding this robot?" and essentially, I found that the answer to these questions was influenced by the world the story would take place. With this sorted, I was then ready to brainstorm a title and develop a clear longline before attacking the script.
The title is a play on the word Bolderize; definition: to remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), mainly because the text becomes weaker or less effective.
While reminiscing his past, a survivor of a revolutionized technology-free society attempts to rebuild his mechanized childhood friend.
Even though the project scope had a 12-page limit, I went ahead and allowed myself to fluidly write the script for the story as it came to me. Unfortunately, that resulted in a 17-page script. So the next step in my process was to condense and cut out five entire pages of content. Because Manga is a huge influence in my work, reducing is a challenge, but I found it to be an exciting process.
I've attached two examples of pages of my script and how my condensing process looked. I focused on developing scenes that would tell multiple events or actions within one image. This sort of image structuring was outside of my comfort zone. However, I do feel like I managed to grasp the entirety of my original 17-page script within the 12 pages without compromising any events. Before long, my script was down to the required 12 pages, and my next step was thumbnailing.
My experience in comic development until now has been for webcomics. When thumbnailing for webcomics, I became accustomed to thumbing my chapters within the same clip file because the panels are in an infinite scrolling format. I found that using this same method for my Comic allowed me to see the overall layout design of the pages. The panel layouts and their structure became extremely important during this stage. I found myself obsessing to ensure that each page layout created an entirely different feeling without becoming too foreign from the rest of the pages.
With my thumbs completed, I then cropped them apart and placed them side by side in a word doc. This word doc then became my blueprint for production. I always like having the script at hand to allow me to fully tweak an image during penciling without missing the plot points of the images.
With my script essentially drafted, I then began to think about the characters and they're aesthetic. Because I was inspired by SAI from Coin Operated Clone, I started by drafting some more "ancient" looking versions of SAI. The original SAI design derived from the two cameras found on the back of my iPhone 8 plus, but because this was meant to be reminiscent of SAI yet not quite identical, I tried different things out.
These are some of the quick designs for an ancient SAI companion.
I used a similar fast brainstorming process for the Main Character. But because the main appears in the short in both his adult version and child version, I decided it'd be easier to establish his adult version first. I have included an image of my tests below.
I started with very quick and vague figures. Trying out different hairstyles and clothes. I know I wanted his clothing collar to be quite high, so I was using this as a way to figure out exactly what kind of collar I was looking for, and to get a sort of rough idea of and design patterns that would give off a vibe that I was looking for.
Then I drafted out a few facial designs. I was undecided between design 2 and design 4. Design two seemed far too young for the age bracket I want my character to fall into and. Design 4 just doesn't feel empathetic enough for the role the main character has. So I compromised and went with a combination of the two.
In the Final main character design, I went and added some more facial lines to increase his age.
Then came designing his younger self. Of course, I had to have some features cross over to help identify the character as a singular entity, so I made sure to draw his har in a similar pattern but larger, and I added long eye lines handmade a mental note to not give any other characters in my short similar eye lines.
The final design of young version of Protagonist
And finally, for the SAI design, I choose to go with the third draft option and I cleaned it up and gave it a matching color scheme:
Production & Process:
Then I began penciling and digitally inking my first page. In my mind, this first page was going to set the stylistic tone for the whole work so I focused on establishing the kind of inked and colored process it would have. I tried out a few different versions of the ink and still felt slightly frustrated. I found that the thumbnails had far more interesting qualities than the cleaned-up digital inks. It was just clearly bland and lacking character.
The start of my pencils.
Here are the nearly completed digital inks. I normally just use the standard default G pen on clip studio.
I also began experimenting with a different brush to try and attain the aesthetic I was looking for. I brainstormed some possible solutions with my professor on how to maybe achieve the feeling that I had managed to capture in the thumbnails. One suggestion of his was to work at a very small scale and blow the image up, as perhaps that method may have contributed to the rough feel of the thumbs themselves. Another suggestion was to print the pencils out and ink traditionally, I had been undecided on getting a printer to experiment with this but his suggestion confirmed that it was a must. And so I chose to go with the traditional inking over my digital pencils.
So the next step in my process was now to print my digital pencils and experiment with traditional inking techniques. I will use page one from my comic as an example. I hadn't drawn or worked traditionally in years so I was simultaneously terrified and excited at the prospect. When printing my pencils out I chose to go with 35% light draft color blue, and in fact found that the grayscale or B&W scan setting on my scanner was able to effectively eliminate the blues from my final inked scans. Which is quite lucky as most modern printers can pick that up.
My blue digital pencils.
The traditional inks over the pencils scanned through at 1200 dpi.
Increased contrast and cleaned up any smudges or errors that had occurred in the inking process. I also went ahead and added a few digital lines to the facade of the house and the burst lines around SAI in the 5th panel. Then I added any finally tweaks and the addition of speech bubbles. I experimented with color, but while working on the project I fell in love with the black and white version of them. Ultimately, I chose to stay with this color scheme as it just felt closer to the aesthetic I had been striving for from the start. I have included old colored trials of a page below. Some minor tweaks that occurred along the way was the reduction of font size which Damon had noted was too large at the start. I also added a white line on the 5th page, to more clearly link the time panel with the Oven in the panel prior.
Because Manga greatly influences my comic Bowdlerization, for its cover I was inspired by classic manga cover designs centered around a square within the page layout. Above is a collection of examples in Manga that use the square backdrop.
The Images above shows my first two draft ideas for the Bowdlerization cover. I wanted to highlight the regret felt by the main character, which was the driving force behind the entire story, so I felt there had to be some connection between the young version of the main character and his older counterpart. I chose to go with the cover on the left as I felt the photograph accurately depicted how older people reminisce on the past. The character positioning in the draft on the right somehow unintentionally ended up with sexual connotations.
Second Draft of Cover
In the image above, I elaborated on the draft; I added colour and graffiti to the square backdrop in reference to the double-page spread of my comic where the main character is walking through a graffiti-covered town. However, the cover required a few fixes (the title in particular), and I felt that the logo stood out too much (as by this point, I had not yet decided to make the white space within it transparent).
In the final cover, I felt I succeeded in creating a title text that referenced the graffiti in the story without losing the legibility of the title name. I also improved the logo placement and the shadow of the robot, which is placed at the bottom of the page to insinuate that he is there looking over the main character as he looks at a photograph of them from the past.
The entire project from start to finish was highly experimental for me. This made it a very challenging project, and extremely rewarding as well. I am quite satisfied with the end results. With previous projects I always felt like the end results weren’t quite how I’d hoped, but for Bowdlerization, I feel I managed to accurately put on paper the concept of the story that originated in my mind, which is a first for me. I strongly believe that this is due to adding the traditional aspect to my production process. I feel it’s given me the extra ability to manipulate the concept from their pencil stage to it’s most suitable inked version. In my next projects I plan to play around with the color of the ink. I wanted to experiment with blue tones for ink color in this project but I ran out of time. But It will most certainly be my next experimentation!
To read the full comic click here.
 Merriam Webster Dictionary <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bowdlerize#other-words> [accessed 20 April 2021].