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Webcomic / Skin Deep

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Cover to Chapter 1: Orientations

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) 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 she learns that she's not only one herself, she's a rare, powerful, and some people seem to believe, dangerous one.

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 Gabe 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 in his new reality.

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

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 hilarious Blake Edwards comedy movie of the same name starring John Ritter.

Contains examples of:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Played with:
    • Ike Sanford is a solid subversion: His mum may drive him to distraction but he clearly loves his little (half) brothers.
    • Paulie Finn appears to be aiming for aloofness (at least as far as Jim and family tradition are concerned) but neither Jim nor Colin lets him get away with it for long.
    • Jon Lyon likewise appears to be trying to play it the straightest but his anger management issues won't let him get away with it either.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in "Illumination." Not only do we learn that the Sphinxes invented (and made) the medallions, we also find out how they were made — the Sphinxes cast a spell that binds to the hard object (it doesn't have to be metal. It just has to be "long-lasting" and "hardy").
  • 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."
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: The Momo (Missouri Monster) makes an early appearance.
  • 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 Merial 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 was born in human form to an inverted gryphon father and a human mother; his older brother transformed into an inverted gryphon as standard when he got his medallion, but Sam did not. He's extremely bitter about this and is convinced that his medallion is broken somehow and that he'll be able to turn once he manages to fix it, but most others think that he was simply born a human like his mom.
  • 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 initially just wants to be normal instead of embracing the fantastic weirdness she's been thrown into — although 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.
  • Confound Them with Kindness: Ike's mother Lynn is toweringly racist and narcissistic, to the point of telling Ike that he should break up with Rhonda and find a more suitable girlfriend while the latter was right there. Rhonda handles this by watching the argument in silence, then sending Lynn off with a cheery handshake and a comment about how nice it was to meet her and how sure she is that they will become fast friends... then waiting until she and Ike are out of earshot to start cackling about how much her friendliness had creeped Lynn out.
    Rhonda: I forced her to touch me. I could practically smell her revulsion.
  • 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, though he does admit it attracted a lot of childhood teasing.
    • And by Illumination, Jim's baby brother Colin has gotten his medallion... and his bright blue hair shows that 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 Yaksha that bestowed the original blessing has been negligent in informing later generations.
  • Cute Little Fangs: Michelle in sphinx form, and also in human form as seen when she was yawning or 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 tries 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.
    • Ike's manticore father disappeared before he was born, which is why his mother Lynn is especially racist toward felines.
  • 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).
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Lily Snodgrass, a mischievous glaistig, used a "Bugbear Talisman" to successfully evade Alec's "radar" and prank him by placing a bucket above his door. However, while he did fall for the prank, Alec is perfectly aware that Lily was responsible, and as a result, intends to make it up to her, promptly conjuring bees from her cup of mead.
  • Elemental Baggage: If a character is going to use magic to manipulate a substance, they naturally need some of it around beforehand. This was specifically addressed by Ravi when creating the Finn family "curse" — since Elemental Powers would be fairly useless without the elements in question on hand, their characteristic, colorful and perpetually regrowing manes turn into their associated elements when they're cut off.
  • Elemental Hair Colors: The hair color of Finn family members who inherit the Finn curse match whichever element they're attuned to — Phineas had a red mane to go with his fire powers, Jim's green hair matches his plant-based magic and Colin' blue hair symbolizes his water magic. Phineas' blue-haired daughter, presumably, also controlled water. This is a more literal example than most, as the hair will literally transform into the matching element when it's cut — Jim's hair turns into foliage and Colin's into droplets of water, for examples.
  • Elemental Powers:
    • Multiple species have this as a default — nixies, for example, are naturally hydrokinetic.
    • This is also the reason behind the Finn family "curse", although by the start of the comic this has been largely forgotten. Members of the family who get the curse also gain access to an elemental power to allow them to better protect the phoenix egg they guard — the original Phineas could manipulate fire, Jim can control plant life, and his little brother Colin can move and shape water.
  • 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.
  • Fantastic Racism: As should probably surprise no one, even mythical creatures are not immune to this all-too human failing.
    • This manifests most often in discrimination against "monsters", these being mythical creatures such as harpies or manticores who do not possess medallions or natural shapeshifting and cannot thus adopt human form. They're often treated as innately brutish and dangerous by other mythicals — manticores get an especially bad rap in this regard — and it's rare for them to be fully accepted within fantastical society without at least some nasty rumors spreading about them.
    • Ike Sanford gets a lot of prejudice because he's half-buggane and half-manticore. Worse, his own mother Lynn is a snobbish bigot with no filter, and is very open about her disdain for non-bugganes and her disapproval of Ike being romantically involved with a "feline" — her own past tryst with a manticore notwithstanding. 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 ignore Native American spirit animals like himself.
    • When Michelle misidentifies Marshall the spirit raven as a crow he replies that "crows are filthy animals".
    • Leah Tanno is Japanese, but, as her gryphon form combines two North American animals (red-tailed hawk and bobcat), her gryphon ancestor (who could have been dozens of generations of "false humans" back) must have been a gaijin. While she hasn't complained about overt discrimination back home she still moved to England because she never felt like she fit in back in Japan.
    • Jim is not particularly fond of bugbears, but insists it's due to experience instead of prejudice, probably a result of growing up with Alec.
    • In the past, it's shown that Nemean Lions were targets of this as well.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: They're separate species, but are very closely related and often mingle and interbreed with one another. They share a basic body plan — human with the ears, legs and horns of an ungulate mammal — and hands with three fingers and hoof-like nails.
    • Satyrs come most commonly in the classical goat form, but hornless, horse-based satyrs also exist. Both groups tend to resemble specific species or breeds of caprines and equines; donkey and zebra-based horse satyrs are known to exist, although they're rare. Satyrs are one of the most common species in European Avalons.
    • Fauns resemble deer instead; they possess full-body, mottled fur, deer tails and antlers.
  • Feather Fingers: Hank the chickadee in "Greetings from Dogpatch" has them. It appears to be a stylistic choice on his part since it's all magic either way.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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.
  • 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 — the sudden and seemingly unexplainable nature of his transformation didn't help. He spent most of it panicked and angry over suddenly transforming into a bird person, and blaming both his friend Blanche (for having introduced him to magical society to begin with) and his mother (for never having told him she was a harpy) for what happened to him.
  • Freudian Excuse: Jim hints he developed his flippant, irreverent, and eccentric attitude to compensate for all the teasing the "Finn Curse" brought him as a child.
  • 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 his best friend Django Henge traveled with a sideshow during their year in America, though Mr. Finn insists he was a "rousty" (roustabout) implying Django was an exhibit.
  • 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 Meriel shopping while Jim quizzes Eustace about the Momo.
  • 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 will 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: Gabe the angel and the demonic Grimm Brothers have a standing Friday night poker date.
  • Godiva Hair: In her full nixie form, Merial's long hair is what helps keep her modest.
  • 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.
  • Harping on About Harpies: Always Female Winged Humanoids who have no medallions and cannot transform, which is both a significant inconvenience and a source of Fantastic Racism in the magical community.
    • They come in four distinct subspecies, representing different depictions of harpies in mythology and heraldry:
      • Aellean harpies resemble human women with bird legs, tails and wings; they only possess four limbs, and their wings double as their arms — they still possess taloned, scaly hands, but these are part of their wings and possess limited dexterity; their feet are actually more dextrous and useful than their hands.
      • Okepetian harpies resemble the aellean kind in most respects, but possess distinct arms and wings for a total of six limbs. Abby is an okepetian harpy.
      • Podargian harpies are the smallest kind, and are the least humanoid — they're essentially birds with human heads.
      • Celean harpies are the most monstrous kind, possessing taloned hands and four wings — a birdlike pair and a batlike pair.
    • Anthony is something of an odd case — he transformed into an aellean harpy after being exposed to the magic of an Avalon, despite harpies being Always Female and his transformation not involving any Gender Bender. As it turns out, his mom was an aellean harpy who permanently took on human shape to be with her human husband, and this combined with humans being easily affected by transformative magic likely caused a weird, unique reaction when he was first exposed to the magical world.
  • Hate Sink: The "Obverse & Reverse" storyline introduces Dis Pater, an elderly dragon who acts exactly like an abusive parent, being manipulative, selfish, violent, bigoted toward sphinxes and perfectly willing to trap the last one in hell for the rest of her life, unwilling to even try to find a solution where all parties can benefit, and completely incapable of taking any responsibility for the other dragons being stuck in a bad situation.
  • Hellhound: Hellhounds are creatures native to Dis, non-sapient but highly intelligent and very loyal to demons, who use them as attack animals. They vary considerably in appearance — ones seen on-page include a horned one with its eyes set on its lower jaw and two rows of spikes down its back, one resembling a large echidna with a tapir-like trunk and one with a human head and hands on a canine body.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Exchanges arc runs on this trope as the POV shifts to follow a new group of characters every time their paths intersect.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Avalons, places where mythological beings 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.
  • Hime Cut: Leah wears a hime cut wig to Jim's going-away party.
  • 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...
  • Hybrid Monster: Ike is half manticore and half buggane, which is not a natural occurrence. It's implied that this sort of things happens because of some serious magical mix-up. Messing around with transformation spells is a bad idea.
  • 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, though it soon becomes "I just want to be normal, but flying is cool". 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.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Played with. All mythicals (except Michelle for some reason) 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's now required to can be measured in minutes. He still likes the opposable thumbs.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's pterippi, not pegasus, thank you very much. Calling all winged horses Pegasus would be like calling all humans "Adam".
  • 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 the sphinxes' and dragons' mutual genocide in the Great War. So far "target" is the only thing she understands.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: "I need to get more tea. I will go into the kitchen now.''
  • Internalized Categorism: Greg hates satyrs. Too bad he is one.
  • 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.
  • It Amused Me: One of the 2023 Reader Question responses reveals that bugbears convinced the sphinxes to make medallions for their kind simply by arguing that it would be funny.
  • It Runs in the Family: The Finn's heroic ancestor Phineas the Red appears in a flashback arc. Turns out he's flippant, lackadaisical, and frequently irritating — just like Jim.
  • It's All About Me: Michelle spends the first few weeks after her transformation as a one girl pity party until Jim not-so-gently reminds her to pull her head out of her ass by asking if she'd even noticed that Greg and Merial have problems too.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Gabe is bossy, arrogant and hostile towards everyone, but he/she works hard to keep people safe.
    • Jim can be a bit of a self-centered dick and people would probably hate him if he wasn't also endearingly goofy and extremely charming. He also leaped to defend his friends against a monster, a demon, and a dragon without hesitation and he bought Michelle some of Eustace's (implied to be expensive) magic earrings to help keep her safe.
  • 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. To put a few examples: A griffin leaps at him? It's soon defeated. A satyr staggers him with a headbutt? He nearly broke his neck doing so! Drown him? It's simply resuscitated... He turns out to be unkillable because he's already dead. The demon brothers fear retribution for killing him to use as an undead weapon.
  • Kill One, Others Get Stronger: Sphinxes all share a single power source. As the last remaining sphinx, Michelle has access to all of their power. In theory, at least.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Michelle at one point gets annoyed at being given vague hints about what she needs to look for next, referring to it as "Point and click nonsense"
  • Last of Its Kind: Michelle is the last sphinx, and since the sphinxes apparently shared a mysterious "source of power", it also means that Michelle has inherited every last bit of the entire sphinx power source.
  • Lost Technology: The secret of making medallions has been lost ...because only the sphinxes knew how to make them, and they went extinct.
  • 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. Even In-Universe characters have trouble understanding it.
  • 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 (as 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. According to Word of God different types of medallions offer different levels of Magic Pants because the spells vary, each medallion is hand crafted, and older medallions tend to use wilder magic whereas newer medallions have more refined but less powerful spells.

    Michelle finally displays true magic pants in Illuminations Chapter 2: her pants disappear when she enters her full form and reappear as part of her her first true mid-form, which is essentially her human form with her sphinx form's wings, paws and neck. It's still just her pants, though: her shirt appears unaffected, though.
  • Magical Species Transformation: The series centers on humans that revert to their mythical creature form, with the only effect is that they need time to adapt. They were already mythical creatures, only kept hidden through magic, and reverting once they have a transformation trinket allows them to shift between forms. Only harpies tend to have a permanent transformation, due to the wizards not creating trinkets for them.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: 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. Besides, a lot of humans that discover the supernatural turn out to be "unturned" mythical creatures anyway via an ancestor who had kids in human form, and can awaken their mythical heritage with a medallion.
  • Meaningful Name: Implied to be the case in-universe; the Yaksha that they met was absolutely delighted to discover that the female sphinx Jocasta's name had survived centuries and passed down to Michelle. The way he spoke about the name, it seems that there might be something important about the Jocasta family name.
  • Medusa: Gorgons are a very rare species of Always Female, extremely long-lived magical creatures resembling human women with snakes for hair, scaly skin, brass claws and great feathered wings, as well as the famous petrifying gaze. The gorgon shopkeeper Madame U, the only gorgon character in the comic, is blind, and as a result does not have her deadly gaze any longer. The eyes and tongues of her snake hair still work fine, though, giving her a limited ability to see, feel and smell the world through them.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Middle Finn brother Tobias has a really bad case, which only makes his brothers tease him all the more.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Played as counterpart to Hero with an F in Good in the "Welcome to Dogpatch Arc".
    • It's not that the demonic Grimm Brothers don't want to be evil, they just don't tend to be very good at it. Mikhail in particular is so hapless he almost crosses over into Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain territory.
    • Just because angels have to do the right thing doesn't mean Gabe has to be pleasant about it or set a good example otherwise. If anything Gabe tends to be a good example of bad behaviors when not actually battling demons.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Blanche, by pretty much everybody. It really bugs him when he hears this from his best friend Tony, who's the one person Blanche figures should know better.
  • Monogender Monsters: Some species, like harpies, satyrs, white stags or gorgons, 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 volunteer doorman (guard, actually) for the Liverpool Avalon.
    • Merial always wears skirts, which makes sense considering her true form has a tail instead of legs.
    • It's also subverted when Eustace asks Michelle if she'd tried escaping the Bloodcarver's bonds by transforming into a human:
    Michelle Would that have worked?
    Eustace Probably not.
  • 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 retains her Cute Little Fangs and 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 had 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 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 Dragons Are Different:
    • Western dragons are large, powerful mythical creatures who waged a disastrous war with the sphinxes centuries in the past that wiped both species off the face of the Earth — or so most people think, as it seems both are survived by at least one individual.
      • The war was instigated by the sphinxes' initial refusal to give the dragons the enchanted shapeshifting medallions only they knew how to create, causing the dragons — who were being steadily killed off by human hunting and saw the medallions as their only hope of survival — to engage in a series of brutal attacks on sphinx workshops and homes to try to take the medallions by force. These hostilities, driven by the fact that both dragons and sphinxes saw each other as evil and cruel, soon escalated into a war that killed off the vast majority of both species.
      • Only two dragons have been seen in the comic proper, but suggest a great deal of physical variability for their kind. One, the only known survivor, is a red-and-yellow creature with the typical six-limbed arrangement, Asian-style barbels on his snout and an erect, panther-like gait. The other, seen in a flashback, has a whitish coloration, only four limbs — two forelegs and two wings — a sprawling, lizardlike stance and an elongated, serpentine body, all to an effect reminiscent of medieval depictions of dragons.
      • Several variants of European dragons existed, including wyverns, lindwurms and tatzlwurms. Like almost all other variants, they're extinct.
    • The serpentine, wingless, maned, whiskered and antlered Asian dragons are still around, and are by and large distinct creatures from the Western kind — besides being big, intelligent magical reptiles (or part reptiles, in the Asian kind's case) they don't really have much in common with one another. They generally get along quite well with humans who know about their true natures, and use their innate ability to shapeshift to pass beneath human notice.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Multiple kinds exist. As with most of the mythical creatures with multiple subspecies, it's not uncommon for a single family to have multiple variants among its members. They're also known to be among the creatures native to Wonderland.
    • Classical gryphons are the most common variety, and have tufts of feathers resembling pointed ears that grow in when they hit adulthood.
    • Some gryphons resemble cats and raptors other than the standard lions and eagles, but they're not common. As an example, Leah Tanno is part red-tailed hawk and part bobcat, and as a result is much smaller than other gryphons.
    • Opinici, or maned gryphons as they're usually known, have lion forepaws, lion ears and — in the case of males — leonine manes; they are also the only type of griffon to give live birth instead of laying eggs. Most of the central gryphon characters in the comic are opinci.
    • In contrast to the lion-heavy opinci, feathered gryphons favor their avian side and largely resemble four-legged eagles. The Jubjub Birds of Wonderland are also thought to descend from Wonderlander feathered gryphons.
    • Alce, or keythongs, resemble classical gryphons in most respects but do not have any wings; instead, they have pointed horns sprouting from their heads and shoulders.
    • Inverted gryphons, as their name suggests, have their bird and lion bits in the inverse of the usual order, with leonine heads and forepaws and avian wings, hind legs and tails.
    • "Pigmy" gryphons are any extremely rare variant that may combine any type of bird and mammal.
    • Hieracosphinxes — wingless, hawk-headed lions — are considered by other sphinxes to be just a gryphon variant with pretensions.
  • Our Hippocamps Are Different: Hippocampi resemble horses with hindquarters ending in seahorse tails, a continuous fin running down their head, neck and back in lieu of a mane, sharp teeth, and forelegs ending in fins instead of hooves.
  • Our Humans Are Different: In the Skin Deep verse, humans have an unusual level of physical malleability when confronted with magic when compared with any other species — it's extremely easy, when in contact with magic, for a human to develop a sudden and potentially dramatic physical mutation. Tim (a human who himself sports a pair of ram horns as a result of a magical incident) speculates that this is likely why so many magical species look like humans with additional or unusual features.
  • Our Manticores Are Spinier: Lion-like creatures with tails tipped with poisonous spines. They come in two distinct subspecies, lion-faced and human-faced.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Merial is a nixie, which is like a mermaid but with more fangs and water powers and a limited ability to transform without a medallion — she can turn her tail into legs and back, but that's about it. She has a fish man-like appearance in her midform. Nixies also have the ability to turn other creatures into mermaid-like versions of themselves (i.e., their natural form with a mermaid tail instead of their hindquarters, as well as gills and various fins) with their spit, which lasts as long as the target being remains wet. There are also nokks, the males of the same species. Nokks are noted to have indefinite lifespans, but almost always go insane after age 60.
  • 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. The arc Illuminations seem to imply that the term "monster" was originally used to refer purely to creatures who have no medallions (and in a display of circular logic, those creatures were denied medallions on the basis of them being "nasty" or preying on other sapients).
    • 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.
    • The author repeatedly noted that Michelle is a winged Grecian sphinx, while her father was a wingless Egyptian sphinx. This later becomes a point of interest in the chapter Illumination.
  • Our Perytons Are Different: Adelle Noir is a peryton resembling a roe deer with the wings and forelegs of a bird. Her son and husband are both white stags — cross-species couplings are not normally viable without the help of powerful magic, but their shared nature as primarily cervine creatures makes perytons and white stags close enough for it to work.
  • Our Sphinxes Are Different: Sphinxes are one of the most important species in the setting, as they're highly magically adept and were the ones to create the medallions that allow other creatures to take on human form and thus keep up The Masquerade. They're thought to be extinct after a ruinous war with the dragons that wiped both species out, but the main character turns out to be the last living sphinx left. Their magic, which includes oracular dreams and visions, is drawn from a shared pool of magical power shared among all living sphinxes — meaning that, as Michelle is the only one around, she has theoretical access to the totality of the sphinx species' magic.
    • They physically resemble lions with human faces (although in full form their faces are still very pronounced and muzzle-like), and come in two distinct types: Grecian sphinxes, who have wings, and Egyptian ones, who don't. They aren't however so distinct that a sphinx of one type can't be born to one of the other, and they generally think of themselves as two sides of a single species. Grecian sphinxes also tend to be female and Egyptian sphinxes male, although relatively small numbers of male Grecians and female Egyptians also existed.
    • There are also a number of similar creatures, some of which might be related to sphinxes and some of which just happen to look like them or be called the same, although the two main types consider them to be just stealing their name. These include purushamrigas, also called Indian sphinxes, which are thought to be related to true sphinxes; shedus, who have lion bodies, wings and human heads but are unrelated creatures; hawk-headed hieracosphinxes, which are essentially just a type of gryphon; and ram-headed criosphinxes, whose origin isn't known.
  • Our Wyverns Are Different: Wyverns were one of the various types of western dragons once present in the setting. Like all other variants, they were driven into extinction during a vicious war of mutual annihilation between the dragons and sphinxes during the middle ages.
  • Parents as People: Roald Burton-Fitzgerald does not approve of Rupert making friends with Eleanor - partially due to the widespread mythical prejudice against monsters (and the Wonderland prejudice against bandersnatches in particular) that he has grown up with and internalized, but mostly because he fears (not without reason) that said prejudice will lead to his son being ostracized by the Wonderland community if the friendship is discovered. The fact that Eleanor is Rupert's first real friend and Roald has rarely ever seen his lonely son so happy complicates the matter, but after an argument with his sister he decides to put his foot down and kick Eleanor out. Ultimately his conviction falters in the face of his son's happiness and he agrees to let her stay, though he insists they try to be as discrete as possible.
  • 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. All appear subject to some degree of Morphic Resonance, as the various brothers all retain some degree of family resemblance even when they are in different forms.
    • 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.
    • Nixies can assume a humanoid form using their natural shapeshifting though they still need medallions to appear human.
  • Pegasus: Winged horses are a medallion-fournished species sometimes seen in Avalons. It appears that there's some controversy about whether they should be called pegasi or pterippi (literally, "winged horses"), but the one pegasus character is apparently prone to changing her mind rather drastically about this matter.
  • Punny Name: Blanche Noir. Doubles as Gratuitous French. The Lyon brothers are Nemean lions.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Invoked, lampshaded, and conversed.
    • Michelle's lengthened neck in sphinx form is a particularly subtle example.
    • Merial's medallion provides human disguise only because her actual transformations are all accomplished using her natural shapeshifting. She has to wear glasses in her human form because her eyes remain optimized for underwater vision, which her disguise-only medallion can't fix.
  • Riddling Sphinx: Sphinx are split into two quasi-species, the winged Grecian sphinxes and the wingless Egyptian sphinxes, and it seems that they shared a power source; the more sphinxes, the less power they had individually. Additionally, it's been implied that the sphinxes left behind plenty of mysteries to solve, including their Lost Technology, which included creating medallions.
  • 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, "a frightened child" who is "obviously innocent".
  • Secret Legacy: The "Finn Family Curse" turns out to be just the visible aspect of a much deeper, hidden legacy: guarding the mystical power source of the medallions.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: Handwaved as part of the super-advanced medallion magic.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: If a character's Transformation Trinket is taken away, the character will revert back to their mythical form until they get it back.
  • Shedu and Lammasu: Lamassus possess bull bodies, human heads, six horns and wings, and are usually female; shedu are much the same, but have bull bodies and tend to be male. They closely resemble sphinxes, but are separate creatures.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Lily's prank offensive against Alec in "The Bugbear Talisman" has strong flirting overtones leaving the impression that it may have actually been a backhanded attempt to get him to pay more attention to her.
  • Snake People: Lamias and nagas both exist, and are rather distinct creatures:
    • Lamias are Always Female, hail from Greece and have little innate magic of their own. They resemble human women with snake bodies from the waist down.
    • Nagas come from India, come in the full sexual spectrum and are both highly magical and innate shapeshifters. They can alternate between being fully human, many-headed snakes or lamia-like creatures with additional snake heads sprouting from their shoulders.
  • Spider People: Arachnes resemble giant spiders with humanoid torsos and somewhat humanoid heads — they still have arachnid legs for arms, mandibles and multiple spider eyes. One named Amure Ariadne works as the main tailor of the Liverpool Avalon.
  • 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 serves to explain many setting details, providing an example of more "normal" interaction between mythical creatures in the mythical society, but only shares 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 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.
  • Stumbling in the New Form: The first arc depicts Michelle turning into a quadrupedal sphinx for the first time and falling over when she tries to pace around on her two back legs.
  • Superpower Lottery: Bugbears. Enhanced strength, magic powers that allow them to do a lot (at least, as long as it's scary), possible teleportation, and absolute awareness of every non-bugbear 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.
    Alec: 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 but wilder 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.
  • Unicorn: Unicorns follow the classical model, with cloven hooves, flowing fetlocks, leonine tails and goatish beards. There are none present in the current setting, however, as they were hunted into extinction during the middle ages.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Justified in this strip, Michelle shows herself to the elders that she is a sphinx, to the expected shock and surprise. Madame U's reaction shot is her simply sitting there, because she had earlier been established as being blind.
  • 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.
  • Water-Triggered Change: Nixie saliva causes people to grow gills while wet.
  • 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.
  • Youkai: Yokai are a type of magical creatures related to North American spirit animals — they're not immediate relatives, but they're closer to each other than either is to, for instance, European mythicals. They tend to be highly magical and long-lived, and known varieties include Kitsunes and tsuchinokos.