Skinned is a book full of archetypes masquerading as characters, and oddly, that’s what makes it kind of sort of work. In this world, everyone from newborns to the elderly wears a contact lens called Occup-eye, which allows them to customize the way they perceive the world. The mother in labor for some reason chooses to see the world as an Arabian harem; her grown daughter chooses to see herself as a punk rocker chick surrounded by metalheads and tweakers. It’s very strange in that the world itself in the comic has no sense of place. There is no one true version of this world, or if there is, it is given to us in small enough chunks between other perspectives that we don’t know what we’re seeing until it’s gone. Our hero is an Aladdin-sort who can hack and change everyone’s perspective in the Occup-eye, and he’s thrust into a world of palace intrigue by a princess (maybe? Her parents created Occup-eye, which is probably the equivalent of royalty) who hates the concept of forcing people to live in a created reality. It’s an interesting moral debate on either side, so at least that drama will pull me through a bit.
The art and writing are both fairly good; they’re elevated by the fact that they’re working on a really cool concept. Daniel’s and Holt's writing zig-zags between overly cliché and overly opaque to an outsider. They've got this great idea for a comic book, and it seems like they're having trouble inhabiting the world to tell the story, because their either telling it in generalities from outside, or their far too deep inside, trying to send up smoke signals to the readers. Gowdy’s art is fun, and he does a great job delineating between the different Occup-eye perspectives. One of the big failures of the issue, though, is that every time we switch to an Occup-eye perspective, there’s no good way for us to figure out whose world we’re living in. There are captions on occasion from IRIS, the computer system that runs the Occup-eye system.
Where this comic took me by surprise (in a good way) is the streamlining of the concept of the issue itself. I’m about to get all metatextual up in this motherfucker, so buckle your seatbelts and keep your elbows in the vehicle. When a comic book is published, we critique it in terms of the art and the writing inside the issue, but we rarely talk about the way a comic is packaged and sold to us, unless they’re very specific comics that break the traditional book mold, ala Chip Kidd or Chris Ware (e.g. Building Stories). In Skinned, Daniel and Holt have created a comic that, from the credits page to the “next time on Skinned” section, plants us firmly in the world where Occup-eye exists.
What I can’t wait to see more of in this series is how they can take this cohesive aesthetic of the book’s design and stretch it. It’s a digital comic, and it’s built for Comixology’s platform, which certainly still gives it limits, but its limits are more elastic than, say, a 24-page floppy monthly comic. My plea to you, creators of Skinned: you’ve built a world where people are constantly immersed in their own reality. I want you to run with this idea and figure out how to fuck with the reality of every single person reading this book on the internet.
Skinned #1 isn’t perfect. It may not even be that good. But it shows a hell of a lot of promise in the concept, and I’ll be back for it next time.
Writers: Tim Daniel, Jeremy Holt Artist: Joshua Gowdy Publisher: MonkeyBrain Comics Price: $0.99 Release Date: 4/16/14 Format: Digital Link to Buy