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. Two short stories spin off of Orientations: Fiddler's Cave, which takes place before, and The One-Eyed Bear, which follows shortly after the end, continuing the main plot.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.Not to be confused with the Blake Edwards hilarious comedy movie of the same name starring John Ritter.
And again here, when asked how the medallions that are used to make the wearer appear human works.
It's implied 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, anymore than one needs to know how a cell phone works to make a call.
Alt Text: Starting with the second chapter of Exchanges. Specifically, here
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.
Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Debated within the comic itself. Michelle wavers between the two interpretations 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.
Changeling Fantasy: Kinda-sorta. Michelle's father was apparently a sphinx himself, but she was unaware of this, and just wants to be normal instead of embracing the fantastic weirdness she's been thrown into.
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 slightly taller than normal. The curse seems to run in his family, but has no negative effects whatsoever; he seems to enjoy the green hair.
Saying he's slightly taller than normal wouldn't really be accurate. At 7'2" he's tall enough to cause minor inconveniences like having to duck to get through particularly low doorways. By the time of the comic though, he's been that height for nearly four years and has learned to take such things in stride.
Disability Superpower: Madam U is a blind Gorgon. She can still basically see, through things like her snakes' infrared vision.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Magic Pants: They get "stored" somewhere whenever one of the Masquerade assumes their fully mythical form. Michelle has also noticed that, for some reason, her shirt doesn't get stored during her transformation, and she has had to "cut up" her shirt to accommodate for the wings.
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 extremelengths 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.
Mundane Fantastic - To the mythical residents of the Liverpool Avalon, the strange goings on are all totally normal and boring.
Tim the Wizard is stuck with curled ram's horns after a botched spell.
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 College Student: Michelle, until she picked up a random trinket dropped by a stranger which is actually the shade of her dead father.
Our Monsters Are Different: And how! Most critters are animal-based, with stock elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins absent. Word Of God says they're already much-used elsewhere, and aren't likely to show up any time soon.
Bugbears are pretty much anthropomorphic bears in this canon.
Word Of God states that they had to alter a lot of the Bugbear mythos.
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.
He's also WAAAY out there. On a personal level. He's odd, But from Wonderland, so maybe a little forgiveable.
You forgot Sam, a harassed reverse Gryphon.
Harpies apparently come in a few varieties as well, with Abigail appearing something like a Winged Humanoid, while Anthony's wings are actually his arms.
The author repeatedly noted that Michelle is a winged Grecian sphinx, while her father was a wingless Egyptian sphinx.
They aren't Pegasus but "Pterippi," literally "winged horse".
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.
Spotlight-Stealing Squad: While the author has stated that it was about everyone and not just Michelle, the recent comic arcs since 2009 have pretty much seemingly aborted the arc that was being built up in the comic's early days, since now it's pretty much randomness and transformation in England. A more subjective example than others, but some can be a little furstrated with how it seems this has been some kind of prequel Plot Tumor that has gone out of control...or just in love with the setting themselves and like seeing other aspects of it explored.
The author has also stated many times that she has not forgotten about the Orientations story arc, but that both the Orientations and Exchanges stories are important to the overall comic. Orientations focuses on Michelle, who is a very unusual example of mythical creature facing a set of very unusual circumstances. Exchanges provides an example of more "normal" interaction between mythical creatures in the mythical society, in order to provide some world building and a sense of what can be considered the norm in a secret society full of non-humans. The Author has also expressed exasperation that people assume that she has just "forgotten" about the Michelle story, or has no intention of ever returning to it, when she has said many times that we will return to Michelle's story after the Exchanges story is over (which, remember, Orientations took two whole years to tell, and Exchanges has only gone on for a year and a half).
Exchanges has since concluded and the story has now moved on back to Michelle.
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.
Too Dumb to Live: Michelle apparently needs it explained to her why Jim lied about her being a sphinx, a question which she asks even after Eustace and Marshall start talking right in front of her about how they'd exhibit the last sphinx for fame and fortune. Then, later, while trying to sneak away from her captors she a) generally won't shut up and b) hears them talking about her and starts shouting protests. The girl is just not very bright.
"Not very bright" isn't very fair. She's just not as Genre Savvy as the rest of the team. Also she's not dealing with all this Weird Puzzle Shit in a very sophisticated manner. She's 19, incredibly insecure, has friends for the first time, and then everything turns upside down and now there are monsters and she is a monster but she is weird by monster standards. I would say she's reacting in a fairly realistic manner, honestly.
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 right under the surface for hundreds of years.
Webcomic Time: A matter of minutes can go by in the comic over a month's worth of comic updates.