Skinned #1: What You See is What You Get

In Skinned, the reader gets to see a world where every single person wears a specially designed contact lens which distorts their vision of reality. Whilst one person may choose to live in a Disney fairytale, their partner may be visualising everything around them as a cyberpunk dystopia. In a land ruled by the man who invented these lenses, nobody has any reason to feel depression – because they can change the way the world looks whenever they want. They can pick the world they want to live in.

It’s an interesting concept for a story, and one which the creative team of Tim Daniel, Jeremy Holt, Joshua Gowdy and Matt Meylikhov manage to turn into an interesting, gently-paced drama. Establishing the idea through a well-conceived opening sequence which gently gives readers a look at the shifting perspectives as we hop from the eyes of one character to another, the first sequence establishes half the cast and hints at the duelling moralities at play in the rest of the story.

In it, we see the Queen giving birth to a daughter, as her family watch on. She shifts into an Arabic setting to comfort herself during this time, but when her older daughter walks in, Gowdy’s artwork shifts around to angle behind her, and suddenly the costumes and backdrop resemble something from a Tank Girl comic. As the series continues, we find that the design of the world constantly shifts between panels, depending on the character we’re following at any given time.

Which means the issue is visually interesting throughout, at least. The story hints at some interesting things at play early on, as we watch the newborn child immediately be fitted with the same contacts – this is not a choice anyone can make for themself. Instead, the King makes the overruling choice that means they’ll then be able to make their own aesthetic choices moving forward. As we continue on, this idea falls to the wayside somewhat, as the second storyline is introduced and weaved into the first.

Gowdy’s art hits a neat balance between the styles of Shaky Kane and Mike Allred in this issue, allowing the worlds he depicts to walk between surrealism and realism. The characters have big, expressive eyes (especially useful, considering the concept for the series) and faces which can twitch from expressionless vacancy to high emotion in the span of a panel. He can tell a story, and manages to decently handle the constant shifts in perspective throughout this first issue.

The colouring is perhaps where the artistic side of things suffers most. Despite the idea being that we switch from world-view to world-view constantly, the colouring uses the same palette for each of the different worlds we see. When the characters are in an Arabian Nights style setting, the colouring is the same as when they’re in a punkish dystopia. At one point Aldair’s bedroom changes from a wicked stepmother’s castle to a beautiful Disney princesses’ bedroom – complete with cartoon birds tweeting around – but the colouring barely changes to just a slightly paler variant on the previous colours.

If you look at the image above, you can see the scene change between the first and second panels – but the colouring doesn’t seize on this, or emphasise it enough, for me. Rather than the colours grasping the concept of change and really striking the reader with how different each perspective is, everybody seems to be looking at essentially the same thing. Sometimes the transitions don’t come across because of the generalised colour palette, which is a shame. The colours never have any vibrancy, even when the art is attempting to convey a futuristic neon backdrop.

This means that some of the potency of the concept is lost over the course of the first issue. By the time the two storylines overlap and come together, the visual interest in seeing how everybody views their own world has been exhausted. The moral complexities suggested at the start give way to the more predictable opening chords of a romance story, and the more interesting characters walk off-panel early on. We’re left with the young boy and the young girl from different backgrounds who both want to buck the system, for better or worse.

Not that this is a bad first issue – the writing is on point and interesting, and the pencils are wonderfully well realised. The dynamism that you might expect is missing, however, making Skinned a diverting read rather than an immersive one. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads to next, but towards the end of the issue it feels that the creative team are sidelining their main hook in order to tail into a slightly less interesting direction for the story. We’ll have to see.

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