Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Revue April 30: Skin Deep

The Curtain Rises...
The Crowd Holds Their Breath...

There's Something Enchanting On Show Tonight!

Chores. Homework. Taxes. None of it got done the week I found the comic Skin Deep a year ago. I was immersed too deep in another world, reading until my eyes hurt. I'd fallen under a spell, and even a smelly kitty litter box couldn't impinge on this strange and beautiful world I'd discovered. I'm deeply indebted to the wonderful Kory Bing for creating this strip, and am delighted to be able to pass on my addiction to new victims *ahem* readers today.
It all began when a medallion was dropped in front of Michelle ten years ago. Since then, the readers of Skin Deep have been invited into worlds they never imagined, faced with some of humanity's oldest strengths and weaknesses, studied ancient mysteries and been shown how strong the soul really can be in the face of all adversity. 

The Rating

I think the creator summed it up best:

The Raves

There's so much to love about this comic that it's hard to know where to start. I guess I'd have to go with the sheer amount of thought that went into the world building, because it is truly impressive. In Skin Deep, Bing posits this idea: we aren't running out of mythological creatures. They just got good at hiding. From that, they created an entire world revolving around the magic of subterfuge and medallions that allow mythological creatures and their descendents to live as humans. 

The work then proceeds to explore throughout its length all the difficulties that come up as a result of such a system, including racism, classism, and the inherent ridiculousness of the self perpetuating system itself! All this information could have been boring in the extreme if in a less deft pair of hands. (seriously, this has gotten complicated enough that it now has its own wiki page) but the information is neatly introduced for the benefit of Michelle, the main character in many of the story arcs and an unwitting inheritor of her father's genetic legacy; she's a sphinx with quite the family history to live up to, and found out by changing shape in the middle of her dorm room. Talk about culture shock.  Before her medallion, the most complicated thing in her life was her college calc homework. After her medallion, things were never simple.
Some very solid research went into all this before all the pretty colors got added, I can say that for sure. As a devotee of mythology and a member of two cultures that mainstream society always gets wrong, I was impressed and enchanted by the careful accuracy that Bing brings to 'Skin Deep', without losing personality in her characters. You even got totems right! That in itself deserves a tip of the hat.

The writing is truly a feat; engaging, empathetic and humerous. The plotting is twisty in all the right ways and the pacing is perfect. Over time, the art came to match it perfectly.
The writing takes the issue of a multi-species world for all it's worth, exploring the issues of multi-ethnicity, mixed families and racism, social stigma and social expectation through its cast of multi-species characters. Take, for instance, these two brothers:
But this comic isn't a social issue pulpit; these are simply issues that come up in the lives of characters. The characters are all definite individuals, with personalities interacting, clashing, meshing and changing over time as they deal with issues and their own lives change. Over time, we come to know the characters as family; Ike, surly on the surface but a true buddy whose sourness mostly stems from an *ahem* unpleasant *COUGHRACISTCOUGH* mother, sweet shy Greg who you always want to snuggle, awesome Merial who is NOT ALLOWED ANY SUGAR OR CAFFEINE AT ALL, and the whole gang. They feel like your pals. You feel their struggles and cheer for their accomplishments. Over time, they become old friends.

The art grows more skillful at an amazing pace through the 10 year run of this wonderful work, and today it's stunning. The grasp of stylized expression, body language (in some very strange bodies!) and form is spot on.  You have to be impressed by an artist who manages to keep a character recognizable as an individual across a wide variety of shape-shifted states, and keep their facial expressions and body language consistent even when that face and body is completely different. And I was a sucker for the color palette as well. The colors draw the eye in and hold you until the story pulls you under its' hypnotist spell. The creation of space in this artist's  style is one of its greatest strengths; even in very active spaces, everything has ample room to be seen.

The shading has grown into a work of art (pardon the pun) making he world more real without ever distracting from the point.
The artist enjoys mixing stylistic asides into the work, adding a snarkily humorous note that makes it a joy to read. Text boxes are often used not only to impart information, but to share another little joke and make we readers grin.
 Going back to an earlier point, time is another great strength of this work; time and persistence. This is the comic I show to young and aspiring artists who are talking about giving up. I tell them 'Look! Look at the amazing things this artist draws! Now go look at the first page, she did that ten years ago. See how AMAZING your art will become if you just keep at it?' Bing's patient persistence in telling a story they love is an inspiration to everyone else out there. I can only hope we'll continue to be graced for another ten years with such amazing work.

The Razzes

Well.....get ready to read, is all I can say. And not just the comic, the notes. All the notes. With a work this big and involved, over time it gets a little confusing, especially when it's spread over multiple venues, and you'll find yourself double checking who lives where sometimes. Think of it as a workout for your poor internet-atrophied attention span.

The Revue

A must read! A beautiful work full of beautiful people. I wish I could live there...

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