College life is full of changes; new places, new people, new identities. It’s a time for discovery and reinvention, when people learn (or at least try to learn) who they are inside.
But sometimes, who we think we are is only…
Written and drawn by Kory Bing, Skin Deep follows the story of Michelle Jocasta, a college freshman who discovers that not only are her friends secretly mythological creatures, but she’s one, as well. Now Michelle has to learn to navigate this strange new world, while unknown threats plot from the sidelines.
There’s a whole mythical menagerie of characters, but the main ones, at least for the Orientations arc, are;
Michelle, a young woman trying to adjust to college life. She’s thrown more than she expected when she finds herself transformed into a mythical sphinx by a mysterious medallion. Thrust headfirst into a secret world of monsters and magical creatures, and the target of mysterious forces, Michelle finds herself having to rely on her new friends as she struggles to survive her new life.
Jim, a Liverpudlian gryphon and exchange student who serves as Michelle’s main guide to the magical world. He grew up in mythical society, so everything the other characters find strange or unbelievable about it is perfectly normal to him. Seven feet tall, green-haired, and shamelessly immature, Jim is the oddest duck in this little flock.
Greg, Jim’s roommate and close friend of Merial’s. Much like Michelle, he has trouble accepting his true nature as a satyr. Unlike the others, however, Greg can’t completely hide what he is due to an accident with his medallion which leaves his goat ears visible even when he tries to pass as human. Because of this, Greg is constantly afraid of being publicly exposed. He’s quiet and reserved and sympathizes the most with Michelle’s situation, but is more than capable of asserting himself when necessary.
Merial, Michelle’s roommate and the person who introduces her to the rest of the group. Despite the stress it causes her family, she loves being a nixie. Fun-loving, spontaneous, and extremely friendly, Merial is the social glue that brings the group together.
The art at the beginning of the series is – while not bad, per se – certainly less refined than what it is by the end of the arc. Compare page 1 of Chapter 1 of Orientations with its counterpart from Chapter 5. The comic improves rapidly, though faces and things can come out a bit weird on occasion, at least up until the Exchanges arc (but that’s for another day). Personally, I find most of the characters look better as mythical creatures rather than humans, but that may just be because I’ve never actually met a gryphon (as far as I know) and thus have no standard to judge by. That said, I can’t get enough of the mythical creature designs, particularly Jim’s… despite the fact that his outfit never changes throughout the entire arc.
Eventually, the comic transitions completely to digital, but for most of Orientations it’s mostly hand-drawn with digital coloring and while I’m not particularly fond of the colored pencil/marker look, it doesn’t at all deter me from enjoying the story. I love Kory Bing’s smooth lines and the way she draws little things like fur, feathers, and magical illusion effects. I also can’t get enough of the facial expressions her characters make, especially Jim – which is weird considering he usually has a beak for a face.
The writing, for the most part, is great, with wonderful character dialogue and fantastically creative world-building. Some characters haven’t really had a chance to shine, but, overall, every character is unique, not only in design, but in personality, too. Michelle has a dry wit despite her insecurities which only feed her desire to be normal, Jim is eccentric even by mythical creature standards, Merial is charming, high-spirited and sassy, and Greg is adorably, painfully shy and considerate (especially towards Michelle). Every conversation – even the exposition bits – is peppered with delightful character accents and idiosyncrasies.
Again, I have to applaud Kory Bing’s excellent world-building. A hidden magical society living alongside the modern world is not exactly a novel premise, but with the medallions, the Avalons, her use of location, and her unique take on mythical sources, Kory sets the groundwork for a fantastic world all her own – a world we get to see more closely in later story arcs.
Plot-wise, the writing for Orientations - as well as the short chapter The One-Eyed Bear - is deeply plot-driven, with such things as wandering shades, possessed monsters, demons with a mission, two extinct races, and Michelle’s struggle to find her place in it all. An epic conflict is hinted at, with agents of Hell, (ostensibly) Heaven, and Earth apparently getting ready to make their move. Exactly what they’re moving to do, however, has yet to be revealed.
- Rich, diverse characters take what could’ve been a generic story premise and make it a delight to read.
- Solid, decent artwork that improves beautifully as the story progresses.
- Detailed, thoughtful world-building sets up other arcs nicely.
All in all, a fantastic, (eventually) well-drawn comic with characters as interesting and diverse as their species. Orientations serves as a great first arc, establishing characters and laying the foundation for a story of mythic proportions. Overall, a magnificent comic to just dive right into.
Skin Deep is written and drawn by Kory Bing. This comic, including all images used here, belongs to her. It currently updates every Tuesday.