Skin Horse is a webcomic written and drawn by Shaenon K. Garrity (of Narbonic fame) and just written by Jeffrey Channing Wells. Launched in December, 2007. Within the comic, Project Skin Horse (named after a character in The Velveteen Rabbit) is the name of a government department devoted to helping the U.S.'s non- and part-human citizens. The department is so underfunded that it only contains six employees:The story so far:
"Cowardly Lion": A day in the life of the Project Skin Horse employees as they go to bring in a genetically-enhanced lion.
"The Borrowers": Tip tries to make peace among the many forms of intelligent life that have developed in the office basement over several decades.
"Wild Things": Unity urges Sweetheart to go on a destructive rampage.
"I Can Fly": The team investigates the case of a military helicopter that used to be a videogame nerd named Nick.
"Dead Dogs"/"Big Bad Wolves": Tip is in charge of a mission to Alaska. Involves werewolves and sapient canids.
"Tin Soldier": It appears to be Moustachio's turn to go on a rampage. Also features the return of Dr. Lee from "I Can Fly".
"Brave Little Toasters": Gorgeous and FUNKY mad scientist brought in to repair Moustachio due to his breakdown from the events in Tin Soldier.
"All The Lovely Ladies": Tip and Konstantin must mud-wrestle. The ladies of SH gather to watch.
"Come Swing From My Branches": The SH team is mobilized to serve notice to a Genius Loci, a sentient swamp.
"If I Ran The Zoo": Unity and Nick are sent to investigate the mysterious fire at The Cypress, while Sweetheart and Tip go to a talking animal convention.
"Once And Future": Unity wants to be a Notary Public, which coincidentally involves becoming part of an Ancient Order in Idaho, where Dr. Lee is looking into rogue robot sightings.
"Choose" While Sweetheart deals with issues, two former acquaintances of Nick investigate his disappearance.
"A Wrinkle in Time": A short guest-written story in which Dave Davenport's time machine goes wrong, and an infinite number of Arties try to steal Tip's dress.
"Railway Children": SH and Anasigma (represented by Dr Lee, Violet and Sergio) are both invited to a mobile city of mad scientists and must compete to see which gets to represent them to the outside world.
"My House Is Me": The team visits a disused amusement park with sapient animatronics, to try to get some answers about the Old War.
"My Brother Sam is Dead": Dr Lee perfects her brain-dispensing machine to improve human/zombie relations. Skin Horse escorts her to California, where Dead Rights legislation is being enacted.
Angst? What Angst?: Invoked in-universe by Sweetheart [to Unity]: "Do you ever angst?" Since Unity is programmed to be a weapon, she may simply not be capable of it—it'd get in the way of her ability to kill things.
Appendage Assimilation: Anything attached to Unity becomes a part of her; it's hinted that her blood is the "real" Unity and that it's some sort of colony creature. When a town becomes transfused with her blood to cure them of lycanthropy, they all start acting like her.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Sweetheart, a talking dog, has difficulty believing werewolves exist as seen here. She later has a problem accepting that a shaman successfully channeled the spirit of a dead man rather than faking it.
Beware the Nice Ones: Moustachio has an "evil mode" that he could potentially slip into if the parts of himself that maintain his good-mannered gentlemanly nature are disturbed.
Big Applesauce: Subverted in a big way. The team is based in Washington D.C., but so far their adventures have taken them to New Jersey, Nevada, Alaska, Louisiana, Ohio, Idaho, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California. They're a Federal agency, so they have to serve all 50 states (plus territories).
The Casanova: Tip is somewhere between this and Kavorka Man. Tip is charming and attractive. However, the sheer degree and instantaneousness of his success with women would be mind-blowing even if he wasn't usually wearing a dress and make-up.
Chained to a Bed: The friendly werewolf sheriff in Alaska chains Tip to bed so he won't get hurt when the town transforms into man-eating monsters during the night. Tip is a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, though, and very experienced with kinky chicks, so this doesn't slow him down much.
Chain of Deals: Tip and the basement creatures, but this upsets the equilibrium they had already established and causes disaster. Gavotte chides Tip later for meddling in affairs he didn't understand.
Character Blog: Nick has one, which explains, among other things, that he is a practicing Jew. Probably NSFW, as his censor filter doesn't apply here.
While the comic is following Tip and Sweetheart in Cleveland, the blog is following Nick and Unity going down to New Orleans. And Unity has seized control of it.
The Charmer: Tip can charm anyone who's female by presence alone, and can win over most hostile men in enough time, too.
Chekhov's Gun; Nick, in the swamp, with a freaking buzzsaw. Yippee kay o, melonfarmers!
Cleveland: Most of the talking animals seem to think it rocks.
Clockwork Creature: Moustachio. Apparently at one point he once had arms and legs, but had them removed so he wouldn't be a threat to the community. Tigerlily installed tiny, mostly-cosmetic arms to him later.
Closeup on Head: This strip consists mostly of head shots, to conceal the fact that Tip and Sweetheart are prisoners of the crystal entity until the final panel.
Cluster F-Bomb: Nick, before the censorship software kicked in. Which also paradoxically counts as a Precision F-Strike for the authors, as there had been no profanity in the strip before Nick's introduction, and little if any since. Indeed, Chris' swearing is censored in the same way as Nick's. Possibly justified, given how much time the D of I crew spends hanging out with him.
Coincidental Broadcast: Parodied: Tip tells Sweetheart to turn on the news, and she has to flip past every news channel to find the one he's talking about.
Divine Date: Played with and deconstructed. While Artie isn't quite a deity, he is a hyperintelligent posthuman, and as such, it's been suggested, he cannot love someone of only human intelligence, because love requires the other person be on his level. He can, however, have a lot of fun with humans in the process. It should be noted, though, that this idea was put forth by Sweetheart to the team psychologist, Tip. Sweetheart could simply be dead wrong.
A sentient swamp unleashes a zombie horde on Louisiana, werewolves take over an Alaskan town, and transgenic animal-human hybrids have a mass convention in Cleveland, yet the public at large, somehow, is still unaware of the rampant paranormal happenings.
With the confirmation that the strip is set in the Narbonibrane, Weirdness Censor rules are now in effect. In the filename side story, Sweetheart notes to Tip after he's hired that, "…about twenty percent of humans psychologically block things they consider impossible; they can't hear me. If you were one of them, you'd be useless for this job, not to mention annoying as a coworker."
Extreme Omnisexual: Tip. Before meeting Artie, it was "anyone humanoid and female," now...
Ruby, a humanoid battle-android: I'm married.
Tip: Kismet! So was the couple I spent last Thursday with!
Faking Amnesia: Played for laughs: When Animal Control shows up to capture Sweetheart, Unity panics and feigns amnesia. She's apparently done this before.
Fanservice: One arc requires Tip and Konstantin to mud-wrestle topless for some reason. Don't ask, just get a jetpack and a camera and head down to the river.
Fantastic Racism: The Transgenic Convention is full of intelligent mutant animals and hybrids, many of whom have utter contempt for Tip (such as some surly squirrels, and a part-Macaw woman whose inexplicable Berserk Button is people who wear hats.)
There's also G.O.D.O.T., the Genetic Organism Designed Only for Thought. G.O.D.O.T. was used by the military to create acronyms, and then to create backronyms until it went mad because it was given a project title it couldn't backronymise. Project U.N.I.T.Y.
Genius Loci: Several targets of interest are these. One is a sapient swamp. Another is the Whimsey Corporation itself. Its mad scientist designer's ultimate creation was a sentient machine that used people as its components; a hive mind whose individuals don't even know they're a hive mind.
Konstantin's colleague sings the Russian folk song "Степь да степь кругом" ("step' da step' krugom", which translates roughly to "steppe all around". English translation available here, scroll down to the lyrics of the song or use Ctrl+F.) and speaks a few rather decent Russian senteces.
Great Offscreen War: The Old War, which apparently took place back in Moustachio's day, and which no-one really knows anything about except that it would be a very bad thing if it happened again. At least for humans.
Hard On Soft Science: Dr. Lee thinks very little of the "soft sciences," including psychology. Tip is forced to show her the error of her ways by using psychology to effortlessly seduce her.
The Hat Makes the Man: An avian-humanoid thinks hats turn their wearers evil, and flips out when Tip puts one on.
Headdesk: Sweetheart is driven to this when the city of New Orleans thwarts her every single attempt to get information on their case.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Artie makes an appearance, which also solidifies the fact that Narbonic and Skin Horse happen in a shared universe. Since then, Sergio from Li'l Mell has become a recurring character.
Hikikomori: Nick, before joining Skin Horse. (Or at least he thought he was. His brain had already been removed and he was living in a simulation of his own dingy apartment).
Killer Rabbit: Sweetheart and her packmates. Or at least that was the plan...
The mad scientist who created her could also apply. Aside from this whole "take over the world with sentient sled dogs" thing, he was the nicest, most politely Canadian guy you could ever meet. Turned up to about seven hundred fifty three.
Lotus-Eater Machine: Until the illusion was forcibly shattered by the mysterious "Goldbug," Nick thought he was living in his apartment, testing simulations for military hardware, rather than actually being military hardware.
Mad Scientist: Genuine mad scientists are usually kept under lock and key whenever possible; the majority of the scientists-who-tamper-in-God's-domain that have been featured (like Dr. Lee, or the Irradiators) are "irresponsible" or just plain evil rather than clinically insane. Also the numerous and often defective results of mad science have repeatedly been encountered.
Apparently there's a government work-release program for mad scientists, which is how the team calls in Dr. Jones.
Man, I Feel Like a Woman : Apparently averted. Despite Nick's perversion, he does not seem particularly intrigued by his "Violet" chassis. That may have something to do with a lack of nipples.
The Men in Black: Subverted/deconstructed with a vengeance. Yes, they work for the government, and yes, they are tangentially involved in maintaining The Masquerade, but Skin Horse functions more as "Black Ops Social Services". Instead of neuralizers, black suits, and evil motives, Skin Horse makes due with a wind-up receptionist, a cross-dressing psychologist, and under-funded placement programs. There are other forces at work with more sinister motives, however, and their results often provide the project with even more work to do. But played completely straight by the sinister agents of Anasigma, right down to their perfectly-shined black shoes.
Minion with an F in Evil: In a better world, Dr. Lee wouldn't even be in the business of creating horrible sentient weapons out of people. She tries an Evil Laugh once and fails at it. She also has a confused motherly affection for her creations, even if they don't return it.
Mood Whiplash: The Alaskan Werewolves are downright terrifying, and the comic gets the goriest it's ever gotten when they show up. It also has a Bittersweet Ending for that arc.
Mud Wrestling: Tip and Konstantin attract quite a large audience of ladies who want to watch them wrestle. Tip defuses the fight with his much-vaunted diplomacy, then the ladies are the ones who wind up doing the actual mud-fighting. Nick curses himself for not being present.
Mundane Made Awesome: Everything related to the Notary Public, which is basically a religious order, complete with sacred relics, is treated with religious reverence and awe. Special mention to the Abbess, who treats her past as a member of Parliament Funkadelic the way more conventional abbesses would treat a past as a witch.
Pack Member 1: "That's why we need you for this crisis! You've dealt with humans!" Pack Member 2: "And Americans!"
Nanomachines: Unity was revealed to not be the Frankensteinian mishmash of teenagers she appears to be, but rather a nanobot horde suspended in whatever passes for her blood. This explains why she can attach different parts and still have them function; she can even be removed and put in other things (like a goat). However, the body we've become familiar with does have enhancements that prevent it from rejecting her (which is not an amenity the goat had).
Nice Hat: Tip has been seen wearing one quite often. Women's hats, of course.
And in a semi-meta example: after Unity ran into a cute little fox, fans collectively decided that it would look cute with a little hat on. Shaenon warned them that they'd be sorry to have said it...and in the next strip, said fox became a cute little hat for Unity. Ouch.
Personality Blood Types: The blood types are included where applicable in the cast page, although some of the characters don't have blood in any conventional sense. The three who have normal human blood types follow the trope though.
Place Worse Than Death: For the animatronics at Whimsey World, being told they might get dumped in a hazmat disposal doesn't sound so bad, but mention their being sent to Euro-Whimsey, and it must be stopped.
Poke the Poodle: Sweetheart's "rampage" is tipping over a cup of coffee. She goes on an extended one in New Orleans that's all this variety.
Also Moustachio's attempts at maintaining the Machines Union strike. "Have some undesirable popcorn!"
Reinventing The Telephone: The Mad Scientists of St Charlie apparently send directions to Anasigma and Skin Horse firstly by writing a message on the Moon, and then by somehow sending an additional message to Sergio's watch and Unity's grilled cheese sandwich. (It later turns out the messages were sent by GODOT messing with the pattern receptors in their brains, and the scientists themselves sent an encrypted puzzle letter.)
Tip: Somebody should tell them we own cellphones.
Religious Robot: Nick has an entry in his Character Blog about going to see a rabbi about how he can keep Judaism while being a sentient helicopter.
He isn't a religious robot, but a religious cyborg, since his brain is still alive.
Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Mad Genius really is a mental disorder in this universe. It's a pity that the institute in charge of taking care of mad scientists is, itself, totally out of its tree and in fact makes the problem worse.
According to the people from the "Department of Irradiation", "mad genius" is a disease according to [[DSM-IV#DSM-IV_.281994.29 DSM-IV]] and they object to being called that way.
Impossibly Cool Clothes: Tigerlily Jones is brought out of the van used to transport her from the asylum, and once they take the straitjacket off, she's wearing 70s clothes. It is specifically noted that they put her in the straitjacket in institutional grey.
She Cleans Up Nicely: Prior to dating Tip, Marcie appeared to be scientifically engineered to disable the boners of all but the most selective of fetishists. After she hooked up with Doc Wilkin, the term "Nerdy Hot" definitely applies, and she hasn't gone back since. And it turns out her would-be boyfriend Chris cleans up pretty nicely too.
She Is Not My Girlfriend: Tip, regarding Dr. Lee, though she's certainly the closest he's come to a meaningful relationship so far.
Shipped in Shackles: Tigerlily Jones in her first appearance can be seen in a straightjacket on a handcart. Since she is a dangerous mad scientist who can turn anything into a deadly robot, this is mostly justified; in this continuity, people with that condition can make death rays out of X-Box remotes.
In the Silverfish Arc there is a fish with legs Gyo
A number to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels, as seen in arc titles like "Cowardly Lion". A list of the characters who are shout outs to Oz books would include almost almost all of them.
Nick Zerhakker deserves special mention—in addition to his last name sounding like "the hacker," which he sorta is, and actually translating to "helicopter" or "chopper," which he definitely is, it is also a reference to "Nick Chopper"—the Tin Woodman's real name.
Unity's sewed together appearance and personality are a weaponized version of the lesser known character and sometime love interest for the better known scarecrow, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. First seen in... The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
As mentioned earlier, "Choose" is a send-up of the Choose Your Own Adventure series - including tiny details like the exact same font the original book series used every single onscreen time Jonah gets "The End."
Nera is named for a recurring character from that series, Nera Vivaldi, and Jonah is likely named for the CYOA book "Your Code Name is Jonah," which is fitting since he's the one experiencing the many endings.
And in the blog-story, Unity finds two interior decorators at Remy's house: "I should stress here that we are not kidnappers on a mission from a sinister quasi-governmental conspiracy or anything." She buys it.
Talking Animal: Sweetheart, Leo, and half the creatures living in the office basement.
That's What She Said: Nick's follow-up to Dr. Lee saying, "I can't help thinking we've bitten off more than we can chew."
And Dr. Lee took her gender-inverted turn when Nick said, "I'm a machine."
Theme Naming: Captain Bram gave all his talking dogs ridiculous names like "Captain's Fancy Sweetheart" or "Captain's Fancy Snugglebuddy." "Captain's Fancy" is apparently their surname.
They Called Me Mad!: Remember how mad scientists often shout "Those fools at the institute laughed at me!"? Well, it turns out there actually is an Institute that trains people to be Jerkasses who laugh at the failings of others. Apparently this is simply to instigate even more scientists to go mad, which they then capture.
This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Nick would love to do this, except that with his profanity filter, it always comes out, "This is for emphasis, BRANCH!" Or "BIRCH!" Or "BANDOLEERS!" Never what he wants it to be.
Unity can do it, though. "I'm the government, beyatch."
This Is My Side: In the blog story, Unity attempts this with Nick's cabin. Nick tries to point out that she's telling him to stay out of half of himself, but she ignores him.
Too Dumb to Live: Some citizens of St. Charlie are awfully inattentive to warnings.
Unusual Euphemism: Nick is forced into this by his swearword-replacement control chip.
Up to Eleven: Gerda is a "Kinsey Seven, a type of lesbian so profound it was once thought not to exist in nature." (Still, even she can't resist going off to watch Tip and Konstantin mud wrestle. Maybe Tip's ambiguous beauty had something to do with it?)
Bonus Shown Their Work: The Kinsey Scale is a real thing, which measures how gay a person is on a scale from 0, totally hetero, to 6, totally homo (1-5 don't define the gradation well). This means that a similar scale may be required to gauge sex appeal, so that Tip can be put above the top category himself.
Sweetheart: Sorry friend. That could have gone better. Tip doesn't really have the training for field work. Or the shoes. Sometimes I wonder if being our token human has cracked him even more. When you come to, I'll see that you only deal with the other members of our t—
Unity: Sweetheart! Praise me! I punched out these monkeys real good!
Sweetheart: With me. You will only deal with me.
And again when Tip's reaction to her saying "This is a job for Tip" means it becomes "This is a job for Tip, supervised by me."
The Virus: Unity is, technically, a set of nanobots in a special fluid; anything injected with the fluid then becomes Unity. Fortunately for the rest of us, she can't replicate very well and non-dead tissue tends to reject her after a while.
Werewolf Theme Naming: Julie Rome (as in Romulus, plus most likely Julie of the Wolves) and Sergeant Willoughby (as in Joan Aiken's Wolves Of Willoughby Chase). The unfortunate victim of the werewolves also has a Meaningful Name — Private Hood.
Weirdness Censor: It's revealed during "The Little House" arc that most humans have this. Sweetheart's even able to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in front of a pair who only comment on how much she barks.
Wetware CPU: Nick got his brain attached to a black helicopter because the company that produced the helicopter were too inept or too lazy to produce an actual AI for it.
At the end of the "Come Swing from my Branches" arc, we have The Reveal that the peppy mediator from "Brave Little Toasters", Violet Bee, is actually an Anasigma spy, saying that "We're preparing for war. Neutralizing the swamp creature is just one front".
"After all, I'm the one who took off your spectacles." Lampshaded by Nick protesting that his shocking revelation has just been trumped.
Wholesome Crossdresser: Tip Wilkin is fashion conscious and uses a variety of complex female outfits, but he makes no attempt to appear female. This is some kind of strange self-flagellation on part of the artist, whose Narbonic starred four obsessives who didn't always keep track of whether or not they were wearing pants.