Skin Deep

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

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

The first chapter, Orientations covers newcomer Michelle's discovery that her new college roommate and friends are all mythological creatures, and how she deals with it when it's revealed that she's one herself. Two short stories spin off of Orientations: Fiddler's Cave, which takes place before, and The One-Eyed Bear, which follows shortly after the end, continuing the main plot.

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

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

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


Tropes used in Skin Deep include:
  • A Wizard Did It: Invoked almost verbatim when Michelle asks Jim about some of the Fridge Logic involved with how medallions are stated to work, particularly the Magic Pants.
    • And again here, when asked how the medallions that are used to make the wearer appear human works.
    • It's implied that there is an explanation for how the medallions work, but it's been lost to history, and is over the heads of most of the people who use them in modern times.
  • Alt Text: Starting with the second chapter of Exchanges. Specifically, here
  • Art Evolution: The author started the comic using traditional sketches, digitally colored; by now, it is entirely digital.
    • Compare the First and Last page of the orientations arc.
  • Author Appeal: Music. A large amount of Mythicals are musicians of some sort. Lorne hypothesizes that it's because music is something a Mythical can make/perform regardless of what they are, and without drawing any attention to themselves.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Debated within the comic itself. Michelle wavers between the two interpretations while her more experienced friends assert that both interpretations are overly dramatic, though Jim later reveals that Meriel and Greg aren't really as sanguine as they appear.
  • Broken Masquerade: There are humans that know of the mythical world, but it is implied that many of them are themselves "unturned" (e.g. a latent mythic beast). It is understandably a bit of a shock when someone who stumbles into the Masquerade ends up becoming part of it themselves.
  • The Call Put Me on Hold: Sam gets harassed because, although he was born (in human form) into a family of gryphons, his Transformation Trinket never worked for some reason.
  • Cerebus Rollercoaster: 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, but she was unaware of this, and just wants to be normal instead of embracing the fantastic weirdness she's been thrown into.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Jim's 'curse' is that his hair is green, grows back instantly when cut and he is slightly taller than normal. The curse seems to run in his family, but has no negative effects whatsoever; he seems to enjoy the green hair.
    • Saying he's slightly taller than normal wouldn't really be accurate. At 7'2" he's tall enough to cause minor inconveniences like having to duck to get through particularly low doorways. By the time of the comic though, he's been that height for nearly four years and has learned to take such things in stride.
  • Defictionalization: The medallions that the characters wear to appear human have been made into Pathtags medallions for readers to purchase
    • There's also been talk of the creation of Borogrove, the Wonderland-inspired card game that a handful of characters play in the comic.
      • It's past talk: the Kickstarter project in 2011 was a rousing success, earning almost six times the needed funds, and cards are being printed as I type this (December 2011).
  • Disability Superpower: Madam U is a blind Gorgon. She can still basically see, through things like her snakes' infrared vision.
  • Disappeared Dad: Michelle's father died from a sudden brain aneurysm when she was in elementary school.
  • 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.
  • Flat What: Jim in this page.
  • Freak-Out: Anthony doesn't take his introduction (specifically, his second visit) to the local Masquerade very well.
  • Fridge Logic: Viewer speculation aside, Michelle raised no end of her own questions during the Orientations arc.

Michelle (to Jim): "If everything is just an illusion, how can you fit into rooms and cars? You're like, what, fourteen feet long?"

  • Gender Bender: Didn't happen, actually -- much to Anthony's relief when he turned into a harpy.
  • Gender Blender Name: Anthony's friend Blanche, a white stag. Anthony points this out early on.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: If the shapeshifting magic "breaks", the resulting mishaps are rarely pretty, 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.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Michelle reportedly has supernatural powers as a sphinx, but doesn't know how to access and use them. Then there's her first flying lesson...
  • 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."
  • Hybrid Monster: Isaac is specifically some kind of composite manticore, which is not a natural occurence.
    • Interestingly enough, Ike's only half manticore, as his mum is a buggane. He's stated that hybrid kids aren't unheard of, but they are rare to see.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: this guys, and there's more that haven't been introduced yet!
  • Lie to the Beholder: Word of God's explanation for how the shapeshifting medallions operate, both by the author and in-universe characters. Try not to think too hard about some of the specifics.
  • Magic Pants: They get "stored" somewhere whenever one of the Masquerade assumes their fully mythical form. Michelle has also noticed that, for some reason, her shirt doesn't get stored during her transformation, and she has had to "cut up" her shirt to accommodate for the wings.
  • Masquerade - There's a whole secret culture comprised of mythical creatures, but it's kept secret from humanity, mostly out of a vague fear that The World Is Not Ready. It's an unusually low-key Masquerade, though, because they don't go to 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.
  • Mundane Fantastic - To the mythical residents of the Liverpool Avalon, the strange goings on are all totally normal and boring.
  • Not Quite Back to Normal: Greg cannot assume fully human form because his Transformation Trinket is damaged; instead, he keeps his goatlike ears under a stocking cap at all times.
    • Tim the Wizard is stuck with curled ram's horns after a botched spell.
  • Only Six Faces - A lot of the characters have the same beak-nose and face.
  • Ordinary College Student: Michelle, until she picked up a random trinket dropped by a stranger.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: And how! Most critters are animal-based, with stock elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins absent. Word of God says they're not likely to show up any time soon.
    • Bugbears are pretty much anthropomorphic bears in this canon.
      • Word of God states that they had to alter a lot of the Bugbear mythos.
    • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: The Momo (Missouri Monster) makes an early appearance.
    • Our Demons Are Different: The Grimm brothers are apparently from the city of Dis, can possess or remotely manipulate others, and can teleport by dissolving like smoke.
    • Our Gryphons Are Different: Several different types of gryphon exist, with Jim, a main character, as an Opinicus (aka Maned Gryphon) with bird wings and a raven-like pointed beak, but otherwise lion-like in most respects.
      • He's also WAAAY out there. On a personal level. He's odd, But from Wonderland, so maybe a little forgiveable.
      • You forgot Sam, a harassed reverse Gryphon.
    • Harpies apparently come in a few varieties as well, with Abigail appearing something like a Winged Humanoid, while Anthony's wings are actually his arms.
    • Our Mermaids Are Different: Merial is a Nixie, like a mermaid, but more fangs and water-powers.
    • The author repeatedly noted that Michelle is a winged Grecian sphinx, while her father was a wingless Egyptian sphinx.
    • They aren't Pegasus but "Pterippi," literally "winged horse".
  • Partial Transformation: In addition to transforming between their human and mythical forms, most characters can assume a "midform" that is essentially an anthropomorphized version of their creature. Greg specifically notes that he had to re-learn the banjo with the three-fingered hands of his satyr form.
    • On two occasions, Michelle is also shown in completely human form save for her sphinx tail.
  • Petting Zoo People: Midforms generally resemble this.
  • Required Secondary Powers: invoked, lampshaded, and conversed. Michelle's lengthened neck is a particularly subtle example.
  • Schedule Slip: The author maintains a fixed schedule of one page a week for the most part, but exceptions have occasionally happened.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock - Word of God states that if a character's Transformation Trinket is taken away, the character will revert back to their mythical form until they get it back.
  • Slice of Life: While there were more plot-driven arcs earlier in the comic's life, the recent arc(s) are more Slice of Life.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The arc(s) have shifted focus to a completely different arc in the U.K after Orientations, before going back to Michelle. The author has stated that this isn't a comic entirely about MIchelle, it's about everyone.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: If you're a "false human" (the result of aforementioned Interspecies Romance) and come into physical contact with a medallion, then -- *poof* -- you're suddenly a monster! And apparently you were meant to be one all along but just didn't know it.
  • Transformation Comic: Unusual in that 'Human' is the transformation, not the other way around
  • Transformation Trinket: Medallions. Some are apparently older (with stronger magic) than others.
  • Urban Fantasy: Set in a modern world (well, sorta, the comic takes place in 2004) exactly like ours, except for the magical hidden community of mythical creatures that have been living right under the surface for hundreds of years.
  • Webcomic Time: A matter of minutes can go by in the comic over a month's worth of comic updates.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Michelle. She draws in the seemingly impossible even by the standards of the Fantasy Kitchen Sink monster-people world.
  • You Gotta Have Green Hair: Jim, as the result of a supposed curse that runs through his family line.