An image might have a few objects or various components which, stated by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips in Graphic Design: The New Basics, “allow the designer to treat the image as a collection of assets, a database of possibilities.” This is called layers. Layers make up several parts of an image, overlapping one another to create complexity and distinct designs, as well as conveying multiple meanings.
Here I have two examples, one from Lynda Barry’s What It Is, and another from Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth. Both have layering used in different ways and for different reasons.
Chris Ware’s use of layers in this picture works to accomplish various things. Layering the characters in front of the buildings, poles, and signs establishes a setting and environment for the story. This is important, as for the story being told, it is working better with a background and place to set the story. His layering also helps show distance – the men and grey building seemingly closer than the McDonald’s sign and other shapes layered behind. Layering can be a clever way to convey size and distance.
Lynda Barry, however, uses layers in a very different way. In much of What It Is, Barry designs the graphic novel to resemble a collage. The way she layers her pictures, objects, and text makes the page look like a thrown together picture, instead of a linear story, and conveys a certain message or theme. She places images over text or paper, text over images – she utilizes layering to tell her ideas unconventionally. This adds more complexity to the page, and calls for different interpretations based on a reader’s person perception.