In illustration, masking (or the masking effect) is a style of visual storytelling where a protagonist or narrator character is drawn in a simplistic manner. The technique is described by cartoonist Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics in the chapter on realism. The use of a simply drawn character may function, McCloud infers, as a mask, a form of projective identification, and he writes that the use of minimally detailed character allows for a stronger emotional connection and for viewers to identify more easily, compared to a more photorealistic style.
The simple drawing style may be juxtaposed against complex backgrounds, as can be seen in The Adventures of Tintin comics. In Japanese manga, an antagonist may be depicted in a detailed, realistic style to convey the character's "otherness" from a simply-drawn protagonist.
Australian comic artist Sam Wallman regards the simple, minimal features of characters in children's books as making them "vessels" that the reader can more easily project themselves onto.
Masking is used in animation, comics, illustration, video games (especially visual novels) and other media. It is common in Western graphic novels and Japanese comics and animation. The psychology behind the masking effect has been extended to rendering antagonists in a realistic manner in order to show their otherness from the reader.