Only Skin Issues 1-2
By Sean Ford
I love writing these reviews. I love getting comics in the mail. Sometimes it can be frustrating, however, when I receive a few issues of a comic that contain an incomplete story. Particularly when the author has written an engrossing and interesting story like Sean Ford has in Only Skin Issues 1-2. I want to finish it but I can’t! And since issue 2 was just released at SPX this year, it might be a long time yet before I know what’s lurking in the woods near Cassie and Clay’s gas station.
Only Skin is a mystery comic about a brother and sister who move to a disturbingly small town in the middle of nowhere. Their father has just disappeared – inexplicably of course. Cassie is older and seems to be in charge of her young brother Clay. She’s also trying to investigate her father’s disappearance.
Clay is having a tough time adjusting to his new surroundings. He even seems to have picked up a kind of imaginary friend, a ghost only he and another young boy can see. Cassie works nights running her father’s old business, a 24-hour gas station. This gas station is consequently the center of more than one weird occurrence or fatality, which sucks the brother-sister duo into the thick of the town’s ever-expanding weirdness.
The delicate storytelling is Only Skin‘s strength, but I also think the story could become enigmatic to a fault. There are things that need more explanation, like Cassie and Clay’s family dynamic. Cassie’s age is never mentioned, but though she’s old enough to be independent, her brother’s young enough to need a babysitter. Where’s their mother, exactly? How did Cassie come to be Clay’s caregiver rather than their dad? Cassie spent some time in the town and is known by a few people, she even worked at the gas station once before, but where was Clay at that time? The storytelling is engaging, but can be maddening if you pick at the details. (Why would someone send their kid to get babysat at the gas station, where all the deaths are happening? Eh, maybe let’s not get into it…) When addressing things so elemental as background history, it’s a little disheartening to think Ford may have passed these details over carelessly and that maybe he doesn’t have a direction for these books after all. Electing optimism, however, I have faith that subsequent issues will only help to clarify these missteps and bring about a truly surprise ending.
The plot is rich with unspoken context I can’t reckon and interesting, dynamic characters – especially the ghost who offers some comic relief as well as suspenseful moments. Several townies also add flavor to the main story and the way Ford shifts between their respective and intersecting lives feels natural and smooth. One of the men, Albert, has a blog called ‘The Slow Apocalypse,’ which ties into Only Skin‘s sub-title New Tales of the Slow Apocalypse without explanation. Albert’s a passionate conspiracy theorist and general pessimist. His best friend, a reporter named Paul, seems to be running away from something, perhaps his family or an illness or both. It will be interesting to learn more about them both.
I wouldn’t call the art Ford’s strong point, but it works. The people’s empty oval eyes communicate something important to the story, I think, but their movements look weird and mechanical like they’ve been blocked out first by a wooden mannequin then strangely copied. A little work on anatomy would help the fluidity of the story. Sometimes I’d get tripped up in the reading while staring at a pose that looked awkward, but generally the plot was enough to keep my eye moving.
There’s a bit more of interest to look at in the scenery though. Significant parts of the comic take place in dark, spooky areas. Ford does a nice job of setting the mood by cutting the opaque darkness with shards of light for his characters to play in. It effectively boxes in the action while shrouding everything else in unknowable shadow.
The books are large at 8.25×10.5″, 32 pages each, stapled. The covers are full-color and inside the art is all black and white on cream pages flecked with gray. Ford printed the books at the Center for Cartoon Studies, where he goes to school. Hopefully limited access to the printing equipment will be inspiration enough to push along production of the next few issues so that it will all be over and ready to enjoy within a year or so.
Ford uses the potential comics offer through timing and brevity to weave a promising story. Imagery makes the book more interesting and may offer unspoken clues, but the artwork looks average and pales next to Ford’s talent for writing dialog. When Only Skin is finished, we’ll see if it’s still worth all my excitement. I think it’s working towards something good, so I’m ready to sit down and read it from beginning to end anytime. Pick up issues 1-2 at iknowjoekimpel.com to get yourself up to speed on a fascinating mystery.
- Sarah Morean