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Webcomic / Skin Horse

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Skin Horse is a Webcomic written and drawn by Shaenon K. Garrity (of Narbonic fame) and co-written by Jeffrey Channing Wells. It was launched in December 2007, and on November 5, 2008 became syndicated on GoComics. The comic updated daily, with regular strips posted Monday through Saturday and posts of material related to the comic on Sundays, and ended on June 26, 2022.

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.

Provides examples of:

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    A - E 
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: Godot, or G.O.D.O.T., is an AI meant to backronymise project titles for the US government. However, it became exhausted by its work and eventually went mad when it had an impossible problem.
  • Action Prologue: "Come Swing From my Branches", and "Looking Glass Land".
  • Admiring the Abomination: When Sweetheart describes the Necropolis to her teammates and Officially Not a Mad Scientist Virginia Lee:
    Sweetheart: Over the decades, various zombie plagues have spread there, producing its current population of over one million undead. It's an empire of flesh-eating horrors. Any questions?
    Dr Lee: Are all the pathogens biological or has nanotech been introduced? What happens when plagues interact? Have new strains evolved?
    Sweetheart: Do that thing again where you convince us you're not mad.
  • Affably Evil: Subverted. Sweetheart's Mad Scientist creator, Captain Bram seems to come off this way, as his evil plan revolves around adorable puppies. However, Sweetheart's comments about her time with Bram frequently allude to things that by any reasonable measure would come off as animal cruelty, hinting that she's painting Bram in an undeservedly bright light.
  • Alien Animals: Bee swarms, including Gavotte and Pavane. They came to earth to monitor the emergence of intelligent life.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: A major transgenics convention is held in Cleveland, while the Notaries Public are housed in Idaho.
  • Almighty Janitor: (WARNING! Massive spoiler!) It turns out Mr. Green/Dr. Ao/Goldbug, the mysterious guy running the conspiracy, is actually Ira, Skin Horse's supposedly mind-fried security guard. Beyond that, Nick was given to Skin Horse for two reasons - one was to make Dr. Lee happy, and the other was so that he could be loaded up with the agency's files, which combined with his command-phrase made it easy to abscond with them once the New War was underway.
  • Alpha and Beta Wolves: Buddy is the alpha of Sweetheart's Uplifted Animal Spitz dog pack, but this turns out to be an elected position. Rather than being the toughest dog in the pack, he's the one everyone likes.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: K.T. runs up to Unity shouting "Zombie attack!" By which she means that she, a zombie, is being attacked by zombies and wants Unity, also a zombie, to attack them.
    Unity: Wait, what do I do?
    K.T.: Zombie-attack. With a hyphen.
    Unity: Awright! Punctuation!
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The Little House of Wonders. It was abandoned years ago, and the "It's A Small World" parody ride now has toxic waste instead of water, is dotted with asbestos warning signs, and the self-aware animatronics are all cynical and depressed. However, to the naturally cynical and depressed Sweetheart, this comes as a relief compared to the wall-to-wall saccharine she was expecting.
  • Anal Probing: Inverted. Unity once probed an alien, as it resembled Kermit and she was hoping to meet Brian Henson.
  • Analogy Backfire: Project Skin Horse, which helps sapient non-humans function in society, is named for the mentor figure in The Velveteen Rabbit. Artie points out that that book ends really badly for most of the non-human characters other than the protagonist.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Notaries Public (not Notary Publics) have been around since Cicero.
  • And Zoidberg:
  • 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. It has now been stated explicitly.
  • Apothecary Alligator: The storyline "Ghosts I Have Been", which is both Official Fan-Submitted Content and A Day in the Limelight for Remy the voodoo mortician, opens with him picking up his groceries, including a dead alligator. It's later possessed by the Nonhuman Intelligence of the Week.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Pops up now and again, but best exemplified by the Chesapeake Bay Monster deriding the thought of The Jersey Devil being real.
    • Sweetheart has a major problem with this, as she "just can't believe in anything [she] can't bite."
  • Area 51: "I Can Fly" is set there, although it's only referred to as such in one strip, and from then on it's Groom Lake. It also happens to be Nick's origin point.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Mr. Green's final argument against nonhumans:
    Then there are your coworkers, who just get on my nerves.
  • Artificial Human: Inverted with Nick, who is completely human, rather than an AI as the team first assumed, despite being stuck in a mechanical body. Played straight with Unity... Kinda.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Gavotte politely explains to some nice young ladies why she can order them around.
    Gavotte: It is on the authority that I am a large and angry swarm of bees.
  • Attractive Zombie: While Unity is not conventionally among the comic's "main hotties", she does look good for being a bunch of stitched-together body parts, and she's caught the eye of a fair number of men, women and abominations of science. Even Tip's made his move on her once. (Only to find out that Unity's interpretation of "let's get physical" differed from his.) Admittedly, Unity's not a regular kind of zombie; she's actually a bucket-worth of black goo controlling a dead body, and habitually replaces any parts that get damaged or go bad.
  • Author Appeal: "Let me have this, and later I'll draw Sweetheart in cute little goggles." A promise later granted, of course.
  • Babies Ever After: The final storyline reveals that, due to Time Dilation resulting from most of the cast traveling around on a Flying Saucer which was apparently moving at relativistic speeds, Nick and Dr. Lee have multiple kids and one on the way, and Marcie and Chris also have one child, as do Tip and Tigerlily.
  • Bad Boss: Anasigma command staff in general. Any infraction, including improper footwear, is a quick route to "extirpation", which is generally interpreted as "messy death" by the staff.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Abbess of the Notaries tells Unity about a prophecy. According to her, their Chosen One will be "composed of part many, yet one, a being of great potential, but consumed by barely-suppressed hunger and violence":
    Abbess: So obviously a civil servant.
    Unity: Plus I'm an omnivorous construct zombie.
    Abbess: Whatever.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Here (note: spoiler in strip).
    Tip: I forgot the universe runs on "evil genie" rules.
  • Being Human Sucks: Nicks adopts this view after seeing Dr. Lee change clothes inside him...not to mention the satellite connection, weapons, and the fact that he can fly.
  • Berserk Button: Niue, a macaw woman, does not appreciate hats or beards. She goes from being attracted to Tip to hating him the instant he puts on a hat, and is permanently soured on him from then on.
  • Beyond the Impossible: A Whimsy mechanical - Baron Mistycorn - managed to poop himself despite not even having a butthole after Nick's wail of anguish.
  • 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, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Michigan, and Maine. They're a Federal agency, so they have to serve all 50 states (plus territories).
  • Big Damn Heroes: Or as Nick says, Big Tang Heroes.
  • Cast Full of Gay. Of the core members of Skin Horse, almost everyone with a sexuality (Tip, Unity, and Sweetheart) is suspected or has experimented. (Moustachio is a robot and, being a swarm of bees, Gavotte is autosexual.)
  • Cat Girl: With a little help from Remy, Unity gives herself bobcat ears in order to resemble a favorite TV character. Sweetheart is not amused.
  • Cats Are Mean:
    • The various comments and questions Sweetheart has for a helpful tiger are met with "I'm a cat" as an explanation.
    • Cinnamon is cat who's a friend of Artie, but doesn't understand why they should be helping other non-humans when "few of them even own can-openers", and refers to Artie's gerbil form as "tasty mode".
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Tip references it when Sweetheart expresses shock that she didn't catch him in this, calling it "in flagrante colloquio" instead.
  • Chained Heat: Mentioned by name here, but it doesn't really play out that way.
  • Chained to a Bed: In the "Dead Dogs" arc, the friendly werewolf sheriff in Alaska chains Tip to a 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.
    Tip: Honestly. Like I've never been handcuffed to a bed before.
  • Chain of Deals: Tip and the basement creatures, going from the silverfish to the centipedes to the death robots to the huggy-snakes to the mushrooms to sentient ooze to cybernetic fish to giant disembodied zombie heads to a giant rat who expounds on The Chain of Harm to sentient crystals to... the silverfish again. Unfortunately, his interference upsets the equilibrium they had already established and causes disaster. Gavotte chides Tip later for meddling in affairs he didn't understand.
  • Chained Heat: Immediately identified as such.
  • Chair Reveal: Done by Dr. Ao, revealing himself to be Mr. Green. It's admittedly not much of a revelation at that point, but he has a revelation chair and he's going to use it.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: Tip's clothes suddenly change between strips. Lampshaded by Tigerlily Jones.
    Tigerlily: Hold a tic. Weren't you in a different outfit?
    Tip: A plaid outfit. I'm incapable of clashing with my surroundings.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The creators have made no secret of the fact that their work has parallels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The extent of those parallels was summarized in this Sunday strip, with references going back over ten years. (Warning: huge spoilers for one of the comic's central mysteries!)
  • Chekhov's Gun: Nick, in the swamp, with a freaking buzzsaw. Yippee kay o, melonfarmers!
  • Chess with Death: Parodied. Tigerlily claims that she got the plans for her ultimate weapon by beating the devil at Jenga
  • Chew Bubblegum: Moustachio provides a typically antiquated take:
    Hullcrusher: What exactly is your function?
    Moustachio: I breach hulls & collect pop-corn tins, and I am all out of pop-corn.
  • Chicken Joke: After Skin Horse is disbanded, Tip's new job is covertly injecting chickens with radiographic trackers, leading him to muse on the topic.
    Who cares why they cross the road?
  • Clarke's Third Law: Parodied: Dr. Lee believes that any sufficiently stupid technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  • Closet Key: Tip goes from straight to bisexual after he sleeps with Artie.
  • Closeup on Head: This strip consists mostly of headshots, to conceal the fact that Tip and Sweetheart are prisoners of the crystal entity until the final panel.
  • Cluster Bleep-Bomb:
    Nick: What the mosaic-tiled poorhouse floor do you think you're flipping gingerly, panther? Like I don't get enough opal circles, some secret Mayan astronaut has to eat the magic fudge? Sahara!
    Jonah: What the hell?
    Nick: Easy for you to say, gorilla-watcher. Easy for you.
  • 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 calls Sweetheart and Unity and dramatically tells them to turn on the news, but they get the wrong news channel. In the following strip Sweetheart says they're running out of channels, and Tip complains that it works in the movies.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: Most of the story arcs are children's Literary Allusion Titles, and usually the reference is right there in the title ("I Can Fly" introduces Nick the helicopter; "Big Bad Wolves" is about werewolves). The two exceptions so far are "Yes, Virginia", which is about Dr. Lee joining the team's Secret Santa ("... there really is a Santa Claus") and "Sure as You're Born", from the Shel Silverstein poem "The Unicorn", which is about Anasigma spreading reality blindness to almost the entire world population.
  • Continuity Creep: Invoked. Skin Horse was pretty continuity heavy from the start, but nonetheless took the time to lampshade it (the "simple" beginnings they refer to, in addition to not being that simple, are actually only the first week of strips):
    Shaenon: Remember when this was a simple strip about transvestites psychoanalysing lions?
    Jeff: I go where the muse takes me.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The Chimeric Anti-Defamation League tell Sweetheart that because of her rampage, the next Scrappy-Doo will be on her head.
  • Cool Old Lady: The Abbess is surprisingly funky.
  • Cool Train: St. Charlie's, a huge city built into a subway train under Boston which houses Mad Scientists and zombies.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: In contrast to the protagonists' Benevolent Government Conspiracy (social services for non-humans), Anasigma is a corporation that's produced a number of Project Skin Horse's clients (and employees) and is plotting to eliminate Mad Scientists and their creations.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Implied during a conversation between Tip and Marcie:
    Tip: It turns out Unity doesn't understand invitations to "get physical".
    Marcie: Oog.
    Tip: It could've gone worse. Most of my joints snapped right back into place.
  • Crapsack World: A Bad Future version has Sweetheart name-drop the trope.
  • Creepy Basement: The basement of the team's original facility is dingy, dimly lit, poorly maintained, and home to multiple colonies of sentient non-humans, including silverfish, centipedes, and living crystals.
  • Crystal Prison: In the "Borrowers" arc, Tip finds the maintenance staff trapped inside the living crystal entities in the Creepy Basement. He gets captured too, but since the crystals are sensitive to noise, they release him when he threatens to start singing Madonna.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Unity gets a dose (of sorts):
    Unity: So who's the old bat?
    Notary Public: Speak with respect! This is the High Abbess. Try anything and she'll hand you your butt. She will then certify in triplicate that you legally took possession of your own butt. Your demise shall have a scrupulous paper trail!
  • Cuteness Proximity:
    • When Tip, Jonah and Nera encounter the Jersey Devils:
      Tip: Careful! The Devils are wild animals! Not only do they have horns and teeth, according to lore they can addle the mind.
      Jonah: [holding one the way you're not supposed to hold cats] Who's a Jersey Devil? You are! Booguma, booguma, booguma!
      Nera: The legends are true!
    • Prior to this, a week-long guest comic had a cute mouse invoke this to try making demands of the government. Ultimately subverted, though, as it turned out to be a Hive Mind employing psionics to mind-control them into wanting to help.
  • Cutting the Knot: When making their way through a VR Whimsyworld, Nick, Baron Mistycorn and Lovelace find themselves having to play a Game of Nim. The Baron uses their recently acquired ability to duplicate objects to...create a whole bunch of guns and point them at the puzzle setter, whose response is "Nice. Very Gordian."
  • A Day in the Limelight: The arcs "Choose" and "Grillo Parlante" are about Jonah and Nera, two hapless investigators of the weird. The first has them stumble into something that involves Skin Horse, the second features none of the regular team, and is about them investigating what happens once Skin Horse is closed down.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Extirpation." Underlings at Anasigma are frequently threatened with it...unfortunately, none of them know what it means, and those doing the threatening aren't authorized to explain (which is convenient, because none of them seem to know either). It's eventually revealed that extirpation involves putting someone's consciousness into a Lotus-Eater Machine that simulates a walnut farm and then separating their brain from their body when Dr. Lee narrowly escapes the second part.
  • Death Is Cheap: Pretty much everyone who died in the Railway Children arc gets revivified, a fringe benefit of being in a city full of mad scientists. Elsewhere averted, aside from Jonah with his "reset button".
  • Death Trap: Anasigma uses a lot of deathtrap technology to defend their bases, even at severe risk to their staff, presumably because they employ far too many mad scientists as designers. One such offers a justification of sorts, but, well, he's mad.
  • Delusions of Doghood: Inverted by Phil the Mynah, an Uplifted Animal who thinks he's human.
  • Depending on the Writer: Nick's wrongswears. Shaenon works out exactly what he's saying and makes sure the replacements fit the cadence enough to be recognisable. Jeff just writes funny words.
  • Description Cut:
    • Sweetheart invokes the trope (and TV Tropes) the 2014-10-11 by name, which does also illustrate it.
    • Tip says that other humans might still be unaffected by the suddenly-nationwide Weirdness Censor "but they'd have to be exceptional". Cut to Jonah Yu in his Tinfoil Hat, and with a jar stuck on each hand because "I, uh, had trouble with some mayonnaise."
  • Didn't Think This Through: A fun metafictional example: When Joshua and and Nera dock a flying car with Nick mid-flight, the scene cuts to Shaenon staring at her drawing board. It looks like it's going to be another gag about the ridiculous things Jeff expects her to draw, until Jeff reminds her that she wrote this scene.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Invoked Trope, Violet Bee appears to be a female Tip, but this is just an act.
  • Disney Creatures of the Farce: Nick is a "Whimsy Princess". It doesn't go as planned.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Nick, when trying to dissuade Dr. Lee from fighting the superhero Red Knight, gets his train of thought utterly derailed upon Dr. Lee holding up the tiny butt-covers she'd have to wear.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Unity's tendency to binge-eat brains to get smarter is treated as alcoholism, complete with her hurting her loved ones (she gets very insightful and points out their flaws, shortcomings, and mental hangups) and them preferring her "normal" dumb self.
    • Tip re-meets the Cypress on the heels of an ally saying he can't just romance every problem away. The Cypress' new form looks very... reminiscent of something.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet: Lampshaded. Nera and Jonah are fleeing the Anasigma base when they reach an exit. Their celebration is instantly cut off, though, as a mutant venomous axolotl drops down from the ceiling in front of the door, his mouth smoking. The corridor lights then go out and are replaced by emergency lighting, a klaxon sounds, and the energy cannons over the door begin charging.
  • Dresses the Same: Parodied in a guest strip where multiple temporal duplicates of Tip are created by a malfunctioning time machine and are horrified that they're wearing the same dress.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Parodied when Tip is undergoing "princess training". His trainer, Mary, has the usual screaming insults, except she calls him "manly-boy" and tells him he's just not girly enough.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Oracle, a sentient Speak'n'Spell, gained powers from having an "enlightenment module" installed. These powers include transcendental levitation and astral teleportation.
  • Escort Mission:
  • Even Nerds Have Standards: Baron Mistycorn loses respect for video game partner Nick when the latter trains to be a princess.
  • Even the Guys Want Him:
    • Tip suddenly finds himself going out for drinks with Artie, whose human form is indeed very attractive.
    • For the inverse, Unity appears to have a crush on Tigerlily Jones.
  • Everyone Can See It: Nick's infatuation with Dr. Lee is so obvious that even Moustachio can see it, and his empathy is "two springs and a Vial of Mercury."
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The Anasigma facility, pretty much. No OSHA Compliance doesn't begin to describe the dangers there, and that's not counting the trigger-happiness of the higher-ups. Jonah Yu finds that whenever he dies, he comes back to life at a point he'd previously 'saved' at. This results in a cavalier attitude in regards to the numerous, incredibly silly, contrived, and pointless deaths he subsequently experiences.
    This place has way too many ways to die.
  • Evil Counterpart: The Skin Horse team has counterparts working for Anasigma and consequently against them. Of course, there's a pretty fine line between their moralities...
  • Evil Laugh:
    • Dr. Lee tries to pull this off.
    • Tigerlily does it better.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Apparently only Projects (like Skin Horse and Pixiedust) get mysterious names. Departments follow a simpler scheme. They have been shown to include:
    • Department of Jetpack Suppression: Stupid Department of Jetpack Suppression...
    • Department of Irradiation: They irradiate whatever the home office sends them. Not like...with any end in mind. They just point radiation at it until HQ says "when" For the Lulz.
    • Federal Office of Giant Leaking Containers: Seen here during the "Borrowers" arc.
    • Department of Precambrian Defense: Currently unstuck in time.
  • Explaining the Soap: Sweetheart explains her soaps to Tip without being asked.
  • Expospeak Gag: In his new job, Chris of the Department of Irradiation asks a client if she wants the "sample" to be subjected to radiant energy to evoke the Maillard reaction, or EM emissions to induce dielectric heat. He's working is a sandwich shop and is asking "Toasted or microwaved?"
  • Extranormal Institute: Skin Horse itself, and it shares the building with several others (see above).
  • Extra-Strength Masquerade:
    • 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."

    F - J 

    K - O 
  • 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.
  • Love Epiphany: Dr. Lee has one accidentally when Tip talks about knowing what it means to be in love.
  • 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.
    • St. Charlie is a city of 1 million populated entirely by mad scientists and their creations.
  • Magical Profanity Filter: Nick, a Hikikomori turned helicopter, also has a profanity filter between his brain tank and the chopper's speakers. It's also adaptive — he can swear in foreign languages or use terms that specific groups find offensive (in fact, the filter itself can do the latter via unfortunate choices of replacement words), but if he keeps doing so then it figures it out and starts censoring them.
  • 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.
  • Marshmallow Dream: Unity describes an inverted one.
  • The Masquerade: Anasigma invented The Masquerade by brainwashing humanity into total supernatural blindness.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Remy might have channeled the spirit of the dead groom of the swamp, or he might have faked it in a moment of desperation.
  • Meet My Good Friends Lefty and Righty: Konstantin: "My biceps have clever names. Are you wishing to hear?"
  • 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 do 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.
  • Mexican Standoff: Tip has one with his Anasigma counterpart. Neither man can bear to shoot, because it would "mar perfect beauty."
  • Mood Whiplash:
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Front Desk Guard Konstantin is mostly made out of this trope with assorted other Russian stereotypes as garnishes.
  • Mr. Alt Disney: Posthumous Character Dr. Collodi seems to be turning out to be one of these.
  • 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).
  • New Age: Mostly appears in Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet's middle name, but also in her references to being from Planet Lovetron.
  • No Indoor Voice: The Mike, as befits a living microphone.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: Tip says this before quarantining himself... only to realize there's no bathroom. Currently provides the Trope Image.
  • Non Sequitur Environment: Tip has developed this into a superpower, as the writers decided to turn the smash cuts that marked his successful seductions into an in-universe effect. Basically, if he needs to get into or out of somewhere, he just has to get an unattached woman to agree to a date; the next panel will show the two of them elsewhere, hopefully where they need to be.
  • Noodle Implements: Whatever "extirpation" is in Anasigma involves monkeys, walnuts, and potentially shea butter. (Eventually becomes Resolved Noodle Implements in "Figgs and Phantoms".)
    Dr. Lee: Would someone please tell me what that is?
    Anasigma Employee: It is both intolerable and endless.
    Dr. Lee: So extirpation is like trying to find out what extirpation is.
    Anasigma Employee: But with walnuts!
  • Noodle Incident:
  • No Off Button: Subverted. Unity is an undead bio-weapon that can animate a corpse into a super-strong, nigh-unkillable engine of destruction (and if it is killed, she can just get a new one), with a gleefully violent childlike personality. She has an attention span measured in milliseconds, and enjoys fighting people who try to give her orders. When the team runs into her creator, it's discovered that the verbal code "Blueberry Waffles" shuts down her aggression patterns. Not permanently, but enough to interrupt whatever violence she was perpetuating at the moment.
    Sweetheart: UNITY HAS AN OFF SWITCH!?
    Dr. Lee: You work with her and you don't know she has an off switch?
  • No OSHA Compliance: Anasigma seems to take pride in defying OSHA with deliberate danger at every turn.
  • Not a Game: Goldbug insists that the world isn't like the "stupid games" that Nick plays... then goes on a Bond Villain rant.
  • Notary Nonsense: For the Notaries Public, paperwork is a sacred ritual, as they're an ancient Obstructive Bureaucrat monastic order. Unity's induction to the order involves transfusing her brain into various wild animals to learn the wisdom of bird and beast, all of which turn out to have their own bureaucracies. (This is an alternate certification path, though. Non-prophesied notaries just submit an application and pass a gauntlet of deadly trials.)
    Speak with respect! This is the High Abbess. Try anything and she'll hand you your butt. She will then certify in triplicate that you legally took possession of your own butt. Your demise shall have a scrupulous paper trail!
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: A large part of the New War is that Goldbug is worried that humanity's creations might one day replace them.
  • Nuclear Mutant: After activating the irradiator, thinking it's a test in order to get some paperwork signed by the Department of Temporal Anomolies, Kay gets turned into a dragon.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Skin Horse as a whole averts this, with only Sweetheart caring about the appropriate forms. But then there's the Notaries Public, a hooded order of bureaucrats crossed with {{warrior monk))s; they're not always obstructive, but when they want to be, they can obstructively kick butt.
  • Occam's Razor: Inverted BIG TIME.
    Unity: Either I'm insane or someone is tweaking my pattern-recognition centers with neural waves... City like this, money's on the complicated answer.
  • Oddly Small Organization: Justified due to budget issues.
  • Offhand Backhand: Emperor Norton dispatches a seagull this way.
    Unity: That was so boss it needs a corner office.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jonah really spoke too soon.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Tip's actual first name is Dennis, but nobody uses it.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Tip wears men's clothing.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They're Canadian. And downright terrifying.
  • Our Zombies Are Different:
    • Unity's really more akin to a classic Frankenstein's Monster than a zombie in the same sense the word is usually used, but "zombie" is probably easier to fit in a sentence.
    • A sentient swamp creates a zombie horde of its own in Louisiana. These are mostly just puppets, though, filled with plant matter that the swamp can control.

    P - T 
  • 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 actually makes the problem worse.
    • According to the people from the "Department of Irradiation", "mad genius" is a disease according to the DSM-IV, and they object to being called that way.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Anasigma seems to employ a lot of mad scientists for special design jobs. This strip shows where that philosophy leads.
  • Serious Business:
  • The '70s: Personified in the form of Tigerlilly Jones and her robot, Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The water cooler gets one. "Service is my only joy" indeed.
  • Shadow Government: The main characters work for an underfunded Fantastical Social Services agency that provides assistance for non-human sapient beings as part of the "official" shadow government. They share a building with the Department of Irradiation, Department of Cryonics, and Department of Jetpack Suppression. However, they later discover that the Anasigma corporation whose CEO was acting as their building security guard is pulling their strings, basically the shadow government for the shadow government.
  • Shapeshifting Sound: When Tip is turned into a werewolf his transformations make a SKLORPH sound.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Tip, regarding Dr. Lee, though she's certainly the closest he's come to a meaningful relationship prior to Tigerlily.
  • Shoehorned Acronym: The military AI GODOT was programmed to create backronyms, turning words into project titles. It's implied to have been responsible for the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act as well. It went insane trying to come up with a backronym for U.N.I.T.Y., Skin Horse's resident zombie Super-Soldier.
  • Shipped in Shackles: Tigerlily Jones in her first appearance can be seen in a straitjacket 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.note 
  • Similar Squad: When Tip, Nick, Virginia and Unity infiltrate A-Sig they're mistaken for an inspection team. This is because the actual inspection team comprises a moustached Tip named James (as mentioned below, Tip is partly named after James Tiptree Jr), a thus-far-unnamed black Nick, a purple-streaked Ginny named Georgia, and a recreation of Project U.N.I.T.Y. named Trinity. A bonus strip shows James confronting a robot lion in a similar manner to Tip and Leo in the first strip.
  • Snarky Nonhuman Sidekick: Totally inverted: Sweetheart is sometimes bitterly snarky, but she's supposed to be the leader. Nick might count, depending on how human you still consider him to be. Baron Mistycorn might count, applied to Nick, though they're both pretty snarky.
  • Spin-Off: Skin Horse started off as a Spiritual Successor to Narbonic, as a good chunk of Narbonic's tone and themes are present and accounted for. Artie's appearance in his human form in the May 6, 2011 strip confirmed it to be in the Narbonic brane.
  • Spot the Imposter: Subverted. When Nick semi-accidentally creates an AI copy of himself (long story), Baron Mistycorn agonizes over which one to delete... completely missing that the clone is volunteering himself.
  • Stealth Pun: Dogs don't know it's not Bacon...
  • Strangely Arousing: Nick in Violet's body demanding to join a D&D campaign.
    Chris: Okay, you warned us about this, but I still have the world's most disturbing boner.
  • String Theory: As this strip points out, constructing a chart of your theories regarding the shadow government out of thumbtacks, string, and scrawled notes makes you look unhinged. There are much saner ways of doing it.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    • "I am a totally normal alive human federal agent." [Unity's arm falls off] "Who has a cold."
    • 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.
  • Tastes Like Purple: "Your words were blue and smelled like bacon."
  • Tempting Fate: Dr. Phillips, who should really know not to go around invoking the wrath of the universe while he's in a city of mad scientists. Everyone else realizes that he's a dead man walking, and not the pleasantly au courant zombie type.
  • That Came Out Wrong:
  • 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."
    • Dr. Lee took her gender-inverted turn when Nick said, "I'm a machine."
    • With Sweetheart when Nick says he's "awesome at keeping it up".
  • 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. This is a case of Shown Their Work, as the pack were originally bred as show dogs; names like this are routine for show dogs (and in fact, these are simpler than many). It was only after the AKC refused to recognise 'talking dogs' as a breed that the Captain decided he would Show Them All.
    • A-Sig agents all have two-letter Military Alphabet codenames like Echo Bravo, Alfa Alfa, and Charlie Sierra. The hidden theme is that these are all references to children's authors (of books about Talking Animals) known by two initials and their surname: E. B. White, A. A. Milne, and C. S. Lewis.
  • 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.
  • Third-Person Person: The Mike.
  • 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.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: When Tigerlily Jones gets absorbed by the Biomass, its attempt to take over her mind results in a Curb-Stomp Battle from the inside.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: SAMMYCHES!!!
  • Trigger Phrase: The phrase "blueberry waffles" suspends Unity's aggression patterns. And causes her some pain, judging from her reaction. It turns out that all of Virginia Lee's projects have similar trigger phrases, from 'buttermilk pancakes' to 'Rice Krispies'. She gets hungry on those long projects.
  • True Love's Kiss: Part of the Whimsy princess test.
  • Two Gamers on a Couch:
    • The lion rehomed in chapter one draws one of these, called "AsLAN". Examples can be seen in the Sundays. Later, it became subject to a ridiculous parody of Cerebus Syndrome with death, tragedy, and (in a jab at Ctrl+Alt+Del) miscarriages. That said, it still nets him a six-figure income.
    • Chris and Marcie. Nick would be with them if, you know, he wasn't the game itself.

    U - Z 
  • Umbrella Drink:
  • Understatement: "There were definitely some gaps in pre-mission intel."
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Tip wears a new set of highly fashionable women's clothing in every arc with no repeats. Until, that is, he sacrifices his entire wardrobe for one perfect outfit...and then the purpose he got that outfit for falls through.
  • The Unreveal: In "Railway Children", the Wham Line that Violet Bee is Goldbug is closely followed by the further revelation that Violet Bee is a robot teleoperated by a person unknown, who is Goldbug.
  • Unsafe Haven: Phillips is having a party at his checkpoint because "Nothing ever happens in this sector." Seven strips later, guess what?
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Subverted in the "Railway Children" arc. Violet Bee tries to invoke this trope by revealing his gender to Tip. This plan falls flat because A) Tip was never particularly attracted to Violet and B) Tip is an Extreme Omnisexual.
  • Unsound Effect: SCYTHE!
  • Verbal Tic: The Killotron robots, who will "destroy" everything. It is very off-putting if you don't know they don't actually mean to say it.
    Killotron-1: Happily, we are purged of our old destructive impulses and live only to destroy. And by "destroy" I, of course, mean "serve obediently without destroying."
    Unity: Nice save.
  • Verbal Backspace:
    • Sweetheart is well aware she's the Only Sane Man of the group.
      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.
    • 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."
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Many little Genius Bonuses about in the strip, sometimes as punchlines, mostly as throwaway references, ranging from the well-know (eg. Milton's Paradise Lost), to the fairly obscure (Winsor McCay's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend).
  • Virgin Power: The final test as to whether Whimsycorp will accept someone as a Whimsy Princess is the "Purity Test", which leads to the conclusion that Tip is "very much not a princess".
    Cunningham: In fact, I'd say he's as far from being a princess as one can be without going blind.
    Tip: This is a sex-negative framing of princesshood.
    Bunny rabbit: We were built in 1964! What do you want?
  • Villainous Crush: Mr. Green on Dr. Lee—and he'll kill anyone who finds out it's unrequited.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Unity is the source of several, whenever she's transferring her fluid to another body and when said bodies can't handle her anymore and get rid of her.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Tip deals with a whole slew of them in The Borrowers.
  • War Hero: Agent Peacock captain Tip Wilkin earned his promotion by rescuing three members of his unit out of a burning Humvee.
  • 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 many humans have this (the filename story says 20%). Sweetheart's even able to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in front of a pair who only comment on how much she barks. As of the end of "Sure as You're Born", that figure has risen to nearly everyone in the US thanks to Anasigma.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Skin Horse's purpose is to fight for non-human sapients to have equal rights and protections. They eventually go on to try to prevent Anasigma from completely exterminating non-human sapients.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Whatever you do, don't trust Project Skin Horse."
    • 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.
    • "I should have taken him out from the start." Said by kindly old Ira, when he realises the mask isn't useful anymore and it's time for Mr. Green to act directly.
    • "Aw, chill. I'll let you out for air once they deposit my retainer." Said by Mel.
  • 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.
    • Emphasis on the wholesome part too; Tip manages to make it seem totally normal for a manly stud to wear frilly things. Granted, he then proceeds to willfully and decadently seduce most of the female cast members, so "wholesome" may not be entirely the right word.
  • Worth It: Echo Bravo's assessment of accidentally aiding Tigerlily Jones' escape plans... because he had sex with her and Imogene as a Honey Trap.
  • Xanatos Gambit:
    • H.T. implements one during the Zombie Rights arc. The legislation, if accepted, frees him from Transgenic prison. If rejected, it pushes the Zombies in California into allying with zombies in the Florida Keys, and also towards extremism, furthering his anti-Human agenda.
    • Mister Green explains the principle while failing to explain how the failure of his nuclear weapon is somehow a win.
      Minion: We finally got to nuke something and nothing blows up!
      Mister Green: All according to plan.
      Minion: You meant to fail?
      Mister Green: No, but I prepared for that contingency.
      Minion: Then it's not according to plan!
      Mister Green: Scheming means having enough plans to win no matter what.
      Minion: As long as you get to be smug.
      Mister Green: Enough plans and a nice swivel chair.
  • X Called; They Want Their Y Back:
  • Your Mom: As a precog, Jonah really should have seen that joke coming.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: At the end of the Mirror Universe arc, a group of Mad Scientists explain that, in a world where a vast intelligent cypress has been destroying the continent, a Hate Plague has destroyed most of the male human population, and the government is now run by transgenic animals, they are going to rebuild by focusing on the most pressing need: Zeppelin docks for skyscrapers.
    Sweetheart: I was all prepped to argue, but that does sound cool.
  • Zombie Advocate: This is essentially Skin Horse's main purpose: to provide social services to non-human intelligences, many of which would be considered "monsters" by the man in the street. Unfortunately, many non-human intelligences view it with not entirely unjustified suspicion—even though the actual team both means well and is mostly non-human themselves, they don't really know why their agency was created, or what the ultimate agenda is, but there are hints it's Not Good.
  • Zombie Gait:
    • Completely averted by Unity, unless she's screwing with her co-workers ("Snaaaaaaaacks...") or Lurching For Life.
    • Completely evoked by the swamp zombies.
    • Zig-Zagged by the proper zombies. They seem to be more humanlike the more they are fed.