According to Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillip’s Graphic Design: The New Basics, layers are simultaneous, overlapping components of an image or sequence. And an artist that embodies the use of layers extremely consistently has to be Lynda Barry. In the book What It Is, Barry utilizes layers in every single page. Even the pages that are drawn by hand with no outside elements like paper scraps or fabric are layered. Layers are just overlapping levels of data that help organize idea and contribute to a whole image. So when someone draws a sky and then a bird in the sky, it’s layered. We have a background and a subject in front of that background.
Back to What It Is, a specific example we can look at of layering is page 108. This is one of the more busy pages in the book (not that the others are exactly plain) and the use of layering here not only gives the page a cut and paste style, but also creates other design choices as well.
Barry uses this cut and paste technique to create the collage style which creates juxtaposition between the various layers of content. This creates depth in the image. While these layers are not transparent and therefore can’t be classified as solid layers that act as windows to the layers beneath it, some images do bleed over onto different layers. The bird in the bottom left corner for example, or the text, “IN TIME OR SPACE”. Despite the bleed over, the use of layers also creates framing. Most of the text provided resides in its own square and is framed by the other various layers occupying the page. This creates an organization of ideas into comprehensible paragraphs with some order to be read in.
Moving away from Lynda Barry, another graphic novel that
utilizes layering is Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. Yang takes a far different approach to layering than Barry; instead of the collage art style with pieces of torn paper and fabric, the layering is done through Yang’s drawings. In this example, page 1 of American Born Chinese, the layering of the various Gods, Goddesses, Demons, and spirits gives the impression of a crowded room. Layering is used as a story telling device here, used to directly imply the characters space in time and dimension. If anything, this can be describes as temporal layers with the overlapping forms and images suggest depth and motion.