Webcomic / Skin Deep

Unknown to most of humanity, mythical creatures have lived under the radar for centuries; disguised by magic, developing their own culture, and generally just trying to live a normal life. Whatever that means.

Skin Deep is a webcomic created by Kory Bing. (New readers, start here) The basic concept is that mythological creatures are real, and disguise themselves as human using magical medallions. They often live in or near "Avalons", hidden places for them to act as themselves.

The first chapter, Orientations covers newcomer Michelle's discovery that her new college roommate and friends are all mythological creatures, and how she deals with it when it's revealed that she's one herself.

Exchanges, a prequel to Orientations, circles around Anthony and Blanche, best friends from Liverpool, UK, as well as Jim, one of the characters in Orientations, as he prepares to go to school in the States, and various other characters in the Liverpool Avalon.

Homecoming returns to Michelle as she returns home with Greg to try and explain to her mother what's happened.

Greetings From Dogpatch takes us on a slightly off-road trip with the angel Gabriel as he (or she) investigates the events of past chapters.

Taking place at the same time as Orientations, Reunion returns us to Anthony, and how he's faring with his new reality.

Illumination takes the Missouri Crew (Michelle, Greg, and Merial) to England, to meet Jim's family... and to search for clues.

In between the main chapters, there are multiple "side-comics" and spin-offs: Fiddler's Cave, The One-Eyed Bear, Ridiculous Creatures, Nixie Spit, The Bugbear Talisman, and Kill Them With Kindness.

Not to be confused with the Blake Edwards hilarious comedy movie of the same name starring John Ritter.


Provides examples of:

  • A Wizard Did It: the medallions that allow mythical creatures to appear human:
    • Invoked almost verbatim when Michelle asks Jim about some pointed questions about the Fridge Logic involved with the way medallions supposedly work, particularly the Magic Pants, though Magic Pants significantly understates the effect when you consider that Jim's true form is something like 14 feet long and Michelle's true form is a quadruped without hands—two points Michelle raises when she questions Jim's off-handed assertion that the medallions just provide illusions.
    • Jim implies that there is an explanation for how the medallions work, but it's been lost to history, and is over the heads of most of the people who use them in modern times. And in any event one doesn't need to know how the medallions work to use them, any more than one needs to know how a cell phone works to make a call.
    • Blanche just replies "Magic. Strong Magic" when Tony asks about medallions.
  • Alt Text: Starting with the second chapter of Exchanges. Specifically, here
  • Ambiguous Gender: This angel is giving Eustace and Myra a hell of a time.
  • Art Evolution: The author started the comic using traditional sketches, digitally colored; by now, it is entirely digital.
    • Compare the First and Last page of the orientations arc.
  • Author Appeal: Music. A large amount of Mythicals are musicians of some sort. Lorne hypothesizes that it's because music is something a Mythical can make/perform regardless of what they are, and without drawing any attention to themselves.
    • Abandoned theaters, roadside attractions, and themeparks.
  • Axe Crazy: Myra's first appearance is as a Jason lookalike in a haunted corn maze. It reflects her personality quite well.
    "I call dibs on the eyes."
  • Bi the Way: Jim and Lorne are currently dating women, but they had a fling in the past. Their relationship is actually one of the main focus of Exchange storyline.
  • Blessed with Suck: Debated within the comic itself. Michelle wavers between this and Cursed with Awesome while her more experienced friends assert that both interpretations are overly dramatic, though Jim later reveals that Meriel and Greg aren't really as sanguine as they appear.
  • Broken Masquerade: There are humans that know of the mythical world, but it is implied that many of them are themselves "unturned" (e.g. a latent mythic beast). It is understandably a bit of a shock when someone who stumbles into the Masquerade ends up becoming part of it themselves.
  • The Call Put Me On Hold: Sam gets harassed because his Transformation Trinket never worked for some reason although he was born (in human form) into a family of gryphons.
  • Cerebus Roller Coaster: The comic starts off rather plot-driven, then becomes Slice of Life, with occasional interludes of random fun, and has gone back to being plot-driven.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Kinda-sorta. Michelle's father was apparently a sphinx himself, though neither of them were aware of it. Michelle's initially just wants to be normal instead of embracing the fantastic weirdness she's been thrown into—though she does think being able to fly is kinda cool. Her mother's acceptance does a lot to ease her mind on this score.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Jim mentions that his mom tells a version of The Great War where a family of Sphinxes escaped.
    • In Exchanges, Jim's mother gives him a Hestia shrine.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Gabe can be seen in the background of a lot of pages.
  • Clark Kenting: Not all the mythical creatures have medallions to disguise themselves, but some managed to hide themselves in human society anyway.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Jim's 'curse' is that his hair is green, grows back instantly when cut and he is quite a bit taller than normal (7'2" in human form, and correspondingly oversized in fullform). The curse seems to run in his family, but has no negative effects whatsoever; he seems to enjoy the green hair.
    • And by Illumination, Jim's baby brother Colin has gotten his medallion... and his bright blue hair. Jim's no longer the only living Finn with the curse.
    • Later in Illumination, it was revealed that the old family 'curse' isn't a curse, but rather a gift. Apparently, Jim has the "magic of Earth", and Colin, water, a "versatile element". Unfortunately the Rakasha that bestowed the original blessing has been negligent in informing later generations,
  • Defictionalization: The medallions that the characters wear to appear human have been made into Pathtags medallions for readers to purchase.
    • There's also Borogove, the Wonderland-inspired card game that a handful of characters play in the comic, now a real deck.
  • Cute Little Fangs: Michelle in sphinx form, and at least once in human form when she was eating.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In this strip, Myra grabbed a demon by his shirt and forced him to apologize to the group. Later, and more literally, when the demon did tried to apologize, Jim (who was almost killed by the demon) doesn't gave a damn and knocks him out cold in retaliation.
  • Disability Superpower: Madam U is a blind Gorgon who gets along fine using her snakes' senses.
  • Disappeared Dad: Michelle's father died from a sudden brain aneurysm when she was in elementary school.
    • Greg's mom had him out of wedlock. Nothing is really known about his father (except that he wasn't the satyr parent).
    • When Tony's asked about his family, all he can say about his father is that he was a sailor who left a long time ago.
  • Dominant Species Genes: Offspring of interspecies couples are one species or the other (unless ill-considered shapeshifting magic is involved, in which case hybrids or Tomato in the Mirror timebombs are possible). Which species it is is random, unless one of the parents is a One-Gender Race in which case kids of the opposite gender will be the other species. The offspring of humans and medallion-disguised mythical creatures usually are born looking human, but when they touch a medallion for the appropriate species their true form is revealed (usually).
  • Embarrassing First Name: Subverted, since Jim doesn't really seem all that embarrassed, but his full name is Jimothy James Finn. Same goes for his older brother Paulbert.
  • Fantastic Ghetto: A lot of the avalons.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The setting throws in references to European, Native American, Middle-eastern, and Christian mythology; including gryphons, demons, dragons, satyrs, spirit animals, angels, and more.
  • Fantastic Racism: As should probably surprise no one, even mythical creatures are not immune to this all-too human failing.
    • Ike Sanford gets a lot of prejudice because he's half manticore. Worse, his own mother Lynn is a vicious bigot with no filter. Ike's girlfriend Rhonda is determined to make Lynn's prejudice as self-punishing as possible, hence the title of the side-story "kill them with kindness".
    • Eustace complains that European-descended mythicals don't give native american spirit animals like himself a fair shake.
    • Jim is not particularly fond of bugbears, but insists it's due to experience instead of prejudice.
  • Feather Fingers: A chickadee in the Dogpatch arc has them. It appears to be a stylistic choice on the feathered character's part, since it's all magic either way.
  • First Episode Spoiler: It starts as a straight college story; Michelle, with no idea of what she is, meets roommate Merial and friends Jim and Greg, all apparently human. The reveal starts at the end of the first chapter.
  • Flat "What.": Jim in this page.
  • Fly Or Die: Jim's approach to teaching Michelle how to fly consists of chucking her off a cliff and then telling her that was how he learned when she complains about it.
    Jim: "It's just like riding a bike".
    Michelle: "I broke my arm riding a bike."
  • Freak Out: Anthony doesn't take his introduction (specifically, his second visit) to the local Masquerade very well.
  • From a Certain Point of View: Jim tells Eustace Michelle is a winged lion, a lie that he hopes contains enough of the truth to be believable it isn't.
  • The Freakshow: Mr. Finn and Django used to work in one.
  • Funny Background Event: Pay close attention to the background events. They're frequently (though not always) funny in the present, sometimes funny in retrospect but always significant. New characters typically appear somewhere in the background before they are introduced in the story. Michelle's first visit to their local Avalon in issue four has good examples of both along with some Funny Foreground Events of Greg and Miriel shopping while Jim quizzes Eustace about the Momo.
  • Gender Bender: Didn't happen, actually — much to Anthony's relief when he turned into a harpy. It turns out the magic allows exceptions to the Monogender Monsters rules found in folklore.
  • Genius Bonus: Pretty much all of the mythical creatures have a solid basis in folklore that their roles in the story either underscore or subvert.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Anthony's friend Blanche, a white stag. Anthony points this out early on.
  • Genre Savvy: When Michelle express reluctance to tell her mother her secret as a mythical creature, Greg convinces her to do that anyway, pointing out that her mother out likely figure it out by herself and, if she tried to keep it a secret any further, that will likely only hurt her mother more.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The angel Gabriel and the demonic Grimm Brothers have a standing Thursday night poker date.
  • Godiva Hair: Merial in her full nixie form
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: If the shapeshifting magic "breaks", the resulting mishaps are rarely pretty, and often permanent.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: The subject as a whole gets pointed out at various times throughout the comic. Michelle, for example, is fully aware that her sphinx form lacks pants.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Avalons, places where mytholos walk around openly. They range from remote villages like Wonderland, to single shops like the Southwest Missouri Avalon, to concealed neighborhoods like the Liverpool Avalon (which is housed in the empty shell of a huge warehouse.)
    Jim: Most "abandoned" buildings aren't really abandoned. We use them for shops and meeting places and the like. We keep 'em run down so they don't attract attention.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Michelle reportedly has supernatural powers as a sphinx, but doesn't know how to consciously access and use them. Then there's her first flying lesson...
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Michelle is the last sphinx and potentially has enormous powers...that she cannot currently use except in dire emergency. All of this makes her a target for Angels, Demons, Dragons, and anyone else who might have an agenda or a hand in the Spinx and dragons' mutual genocide. So far "target" is the only thing she understands.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gabe. He's bossy, arrogant and hostile towards everyone, but he works hard to keep people safe.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: "I need to get more tea. I will go into the kitchen now.''
  • Interspecies Romance: When in human form, the mythical creatures can marry ordinary humans and raise human children (termed "false humans"), however, the child will "revert" back to a mythical form if they come into contact with one of the medallions. The creatures themselves can interbreed to an extent, but "it's complicated, it's magic, don't worry about it." Interspecies romance is mandatory for the Monogender Monsters like Harpies and Nixies.
  • The Juggernaut: The Monster of Missouri (AKA "Momo") is actually a rather peaceful creature normally, but when possessed by demons, it's an unstoppable terror.
  • Hybrid Monster: Ike is half manticore and half buggane, which is not a natural occurrence.
  • Hybrid Overkill Avoidance: Beings of nearly any species can have children together, using medallions if necessary, but unless strong non-medallion magic is involved the children will simply be one species or the other. Ike is the exception that proves the rule as he is clearly a mixed-breed monster but only inherited a (mostly) compatible subset of Buggane and Manticore features.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Michelle starts out with this attitude, unsurprisingly, but it soon becomes "I just want to be normal, with flying". Jim eventually lectures her (while flying) that it all depends upon your definition of "normal", and Michelle would be much happier if she stopped trying to draw an artificial line between her sphinx and human lives.
    Jim: "On two legs or four, you're still Michelle Jocasta."
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: These guys, and there's more that haven't been introduced yet!
  • Lost Technology: The secret of making medallions has been lost because the sphinx were making them
  • Lie to the Beholder: Word of God's explanation for how the shapeshifting medallions operate, both by the author and in-universe characters. Try not to think too hard about some of the specifics.
  • Magic Pants: Clothes get magically "stored" somewhere whenever one of the Masquerade assumes their fully mythical form. So far Michelle's shirt has been the only exception, as it does not disappear in full form. (she has yet to develop a midform) so she has to wear a shirt cut to accommodate her wings. Eyeglasses seem to work inconsistently too: Merial discards hers when she transforms, but Jim's father's get stored along with his clothes.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Guy: Ravi.
    • Rhonda serves as one to Ike, best seen here.
  • The Masquerade: There's a whole secret culture comprised of mythical creatures, but it's kept secret from humanity, mostly out of a vague fear that The World Is Not Ready. It's an unusually low-key Masquerade, though, because they don't go to extreme lengths to keep humans away; they just try to make their Avalons inconspicuous and scare off any humans who manage to find one, and if a human gets past those obstacles then they're expected to keep it a secret as well but not threatened with dire consequences for breaking the Masquerade. It's not very likely that someone who blabbed the secret would be believed, so they probably don't need to do much more.
  • Monogender Monsters: some species (like Harpies) tend to be all of one sex or another.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: A closeup of Merial's mouth while she's eating reveals a full set of carnivorous fish teeth reminiscent of a shark even when she's in human form. Michelle's Cute Little Fangs show under similar circumstances.
  • Mundane Fantastic: To the mythical residents of the Liverpool Avalon, the strange goings on are all totally normal and boring.
  • Mundane Utility: mythical abilities and powers are frequently treated like labor saving devices or home appliances.
    • Myra sates her bugbear's inherent need to mess with people by working in a Halloween corn maze.
    • Alec's bugbear abilities and inclinations make him an ideal doorman (guard, actually) for the Liverpool Avalon.
    • Meriel always wears skirts, which makes sense considering her true form has a tail instead of legs.
  • No Nudity Taboo: Played with. All mythicals (except Michelle for some reason) become become nude in full-form due to the Magic Pants effect inherent in their medallions, which makes sense because most of their full mythical forms make some or all clothing unnecessary or impractical. Jim mentions centaurs, who can wear shirts but have to leave their "Horse Bits" exposed for all to see, but also mentions that mythicals born mythical are perfectly comfortable with nudity since they couldn't even wear clothes until they get their first medallions. Contrast Merial, who seems quite comfortable nude in her full Nixie form, with Michelle, who insists on wearing a shirt even though she just has to cope with her butt being on full display. Despite this, most mythicals do wear clothes in human and mid-form, either due to practicality (pockets!) or as a means of expression as exemplified by the music scene in the Liverpool Avalon.
    • Jim's little brother Colin provides amusing reinforcement to Jim's point: He can hardly wait to get his medallion and assume human form but the interval between being thrilled that he can finally wear clothes and dismay that he has to can be measured in minutes. He still likes the opposable thumbs.
  • Not Quite Back to Normal: Greg cannot assume fully human form because his Transformation Trinket is damaged so he has to hide his goatlike ears under a stocking cap at all times.
    • Merial retains her carnivorous fish teeth even in human form.
    • Michelle curls up like a cat when she's lying down, though that may not mean much as it could easily be a stress-induced fetal position.
    • Tim the Wizard is stuck with curled ram's horns after a botched spell.
    • Much like Greg, Myra's left eye is a permanent Glowing Eye Of Doom, and she wears a patch over it unless she has her Game Face on.
  • Not So Extinct: Sphinxes and dragons supposedly wiped each other out centuries ago. Yet Michelle is a sphinx, and dragons aren't quite extinct yet either.
  • Old Shame: Ike was the product of one of his now very conservative mother's youthful indiscretions, and she doesn't let him forget it.
  • One-Gender Race: Satyrs are all male. Harpies are all female. Which is why it's so confusing when Anthony turns into a harpy but remains male. Turns out his mother was a harpy who used a transformation spell to become human when she fell in love with Anthony's father and that spell had a hidden price. Strong magic can subvert these general rules, however.
  • Only Six Faces: A lot of the characters have the same beak-nose and face at first, but the art improved rather rapidly; this is especially obvious when the artist switched from traditional pen-and-watercolor to Photoshop - compare the first page to the latest one, in which the characters have distinctive noses and jawlines.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Well, Ordinary College Student for Michelle, until she picked up a random trinket dropped by a stranger which was actually the shade of her dead father.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: And how! Most of them are ordinary, average, down-to-earth people even if they look like they just stepped off the pages of a medieval bestiary. Stock elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins are notably absent. Word of God says they're already much-used elsewhere, and aren't likely to show up any time soon.
    • In-Universe the term "monster" is used generally for creatures who have no medallions to assume human form (like Harpies), more specifically for non-sapient creatures like the nightmare and the Momo, and very specifically for those who prey on other sapients like most manticores.
    • Bugbears are anthropomorphic bears in this canon with an interest in the strange and the macabre. They can also teleport, know where everyone is, and have a habit of freaking people out.
      • Word of God states that they had to alter a lot of the Bugbear mythos.
    • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The Momo (Missouri Monster) makes an early appearance.
    • Our Demons Are Different: The Grimm brothers are apparently from the city of Dis, can possess or remotely manipulate others, and can teleport by dissolving like smoke.
    • Our Gryphons Are Different: Several different types of gryphon exist, with Jim, a main character, as an Opinicus (aka Maned Gryphon) with bird wings and a raven-like pointed beak, but otherwise lion-like in most respects. Reverse gryphons are also present.
    • Harpies apparently come in a few varieties as well, with Abigail appearing something like a Winged Humanoid, while Anthony's wings are also arms.
    • Our Mermaids Are Different: Merial is a Nixie, which is like a mermaid, but with more fangs and water powers and the ability to transform without a medallion. She has a fish man-like appearance in her midform.
    • The author repeatedly noted that Michelle is a winged Grecian sphinx, while her father was a wingless Egyptian sphinx. This actually became a point of interest in the chapter Illumination.
    • They aren't pegasi, but "Pterippi," literally "winged horses".
  • Partial Transformation: In addition to transforming between their human and mythical forms, most characters can assume a "midform" that is essentially an anthropomorphized version of their creature. Greg specifically notes that he had to re-learn the banjo with the three-fingered hands of his satyr form.
    • On two occasions, Michelle is also shown in completely human form save for her sphinx tail. One is a chapter cover, and the other appears to be her first midform, assumed unconsciously when she starts composing an e-mail in her sphinx form.
  • Petting Zoo People: Midforms generally resemble this.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Invoked, lampshaded, and conversed. Michelle's lengthened neck in sphinx form is a particularly subtle example.
  • Schedule Slip: The author maintains a fixed schedule of one page a week for the most part, but exceptions have occasionally happened.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: The Bloodcarver (who seems like a nice guy despite his name) violates explicit orders from "The Father" (whoever that is) and lets Michelle go because she is, as he tells Gabriel, "obviously innocent" and "a frightened child".
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: Handwaved as part of the super-advanced medallion magic.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Word of God states that if a character's Transformation Trinket is taken away, the character will revert back to their mythical form until they get it back.
  • Slice of Life: Roughly half the arcs.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: After setting up the main plot line in Missouri, the comic spent nearly three years on the Exchanges arc, a story set in Liverpool before Orientations takes place. Exchanges served to explain many setting details, providing an example of more "normal" interaction between mythical creatures in the mythical society, but only shared one character with the Orientations cast. While it was an entertaining Slice of Life story, it also left many fans wondering when the story would return to the Missouri-based conflict.
    • Since Exchanges has finished, the comic has alternated between funny short stories in both Missouri and Liverpool and arc-centered stories about the length of one of the chapters that make up Orientations and Exchanges. The author has said to expect this rhythm to become the norm for the comic.
  • Superpower Lottery: Bugbears. Enhanced strength, magic powers, possible teleportation, and absolute awareness of every sentient being around them for miles. They could probably take over the planet if they were interested in using their powers for any purpose besides trolling people.
    "It's like they evolved for the sole purpose of messing with blokes."
  • Super Strength: Nemean Lions are incredibly strong and borderline indestructible to boot - generally, the only thing that can hurt one Nemean is another Nemean. As a result, they're often used as muscle where heavy lifting is required, and the Avalons crack down hard on any Nemeans with violent tendencies.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Gabe's response when Eustace and Hank prove more capable than he assumed.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: If you're a "false human" (the result of aforementioned Interspecies Romance) and come into physical contact with a medallion, then — *poof* — you're suddenly a monster! And apparently you were meant to be one all along but just didn't know it.
  • Transformation Comic: Unusual in that 'Human' is the transformation, not the other way around.
  • Transformation Trinket: Medallions. Some are apparently older (with stronger magic) than others.
  • The Unfavorite: Ike's mom has never approved of him, and acts as if his out-of-wedlock birth was somehow his fault instead of hers.
  • Urban Fantasy: Set in a modern world (well, sorta, the comic takes place in 2004) exactly like ours, except for the magical hidden community of mythical creatures that have been living just under the surface for hundreds of years.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: lampshaded by Michelle when she complains that learning to deal with six limbs (four legs, two wings, and nothing remotely resembling a hand) in her sphinx form has been a bit of a trial.
  • Wainscot Society: The fantastic creatures mostly live as humans using that Transformation Trinket, but have the network of Avalons where they can be themselves.
  • Webcomic Time: A matter of minutes can go by in the comic over a month's worth of comic updates.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Michelle. She draws in the seemingly impossible even by the standards of the Fantasy Kitchen Sink monster-people world. Heck, she even uses the exact term to describe herself.
    Michelle: I think one of my powers is being a weirdness magnet.
  • Welcomed to the Masquerade: Humanity is filled with "Unturned" fantastic creatures, who were descended from an ancestor who owned a human-disguise medallion, and are covered by a semi-permanent version of the same spell that keeps them human all the time. Getting a medallion of their own breaks the old spell and reveals their true species. For some (like Jim), getting a medallion and being Turned is a normal part of growing up; for others (like Michelle), it comes as a rude shock.
    • Michelle is literally welcomed to the masquerade by Eustace on her first visit to the local Avalon, and she finds the people there quite nice for the most part.
  • Wham Line: Anthony's mother gives one to him.
    Ophelia: ...I was born a harpy.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Jim, as the result of a supposed curse that runs through his family line, has green hair. And as of Illumination, we now know that Colin Finn has blue hair.
    • Other material on the dA profiles show that there are other curses in Jim's family, too. Such as the Red and White curse, etc. Word of God has, however, warned that much of the old material on her dA profile are out-dated and readers should tread carefully.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WebComic/SkinDeep