Skin Horse vol. 1 is the print edition of the webcomic by Shaenon K. Garrity and Jeffrey C. Wells. (Volume 2 recently completed it’s Kickstarter funding project and should be out fairly soon.) The comic is about a government agency called Skin Horse that deals with nonhuman sapients and features quite a number of oddballs on its staff, from Tip the cross-dressing ladies’ man to Unity the multi-ethnic zombie to Sweetheart the talking dog. The volume begins with Tip’s first field assignment, talking down a lion with a chunk of human DNA and ends in a mission involving an attack helicopter that’s had a human brain implanted in it. Just to give you an idea about what their work environment is like, the field agents of Skin Horse have a swarm of bees for their boss and a robot that tried to destroy the London Exposition of 1851 as the receptionist. Sounds like a fun place!
The print edition presents the daily strip webcomic at three strips a page, resulting in a lot of work (Wells says the volume collects one year of the webcomic) into about 150 pages for $13.99. Not bad a bad price at all. Garrity’s art isn’t my favorite, it’s a decidedly rough style, but I’ve gotten over any initial dislikes and moved onto what I do like about her style. She draws some adorable cobras, for one, and I like the way she handles Unity’s different skin colors with cross-hatching instead of a different color entirely. A gray tone wouldn’t have fit in with the rest of the black and white color scheme! Anyway, Garrity’s art might not be clean and smooth, but her characters are still cute and expressive. That’s all that matters to me in the end.
Admittedly, the beginning storyline of Skin Horse, the one with the lion, happens to be my least favorite. While it is to be a decent introduction to the main characters, it lacks spark and I found it hard to read through when I first got into the webcomic. The next storyline, one that involves difficult conflict management situation between separate colonies of government agency basement dwellers, is much better and really allows the readers to get to know Tip, what he does and how frustrating his job is. From there on out, Garrity and Wells’ writing begins to take on a unique humor all its own and becomes a very enjoyable read. While the strip’s a little slow online (especially when you catch up to the new updates), the condensed format of the book really helps eliminate those feelings.
Book extras include a comical take on employee training videos, but that’s pretty much it except for the introduction by Jeffrey C. Wells. While I personally liked the introduction because it gave a good amount of information on the world of Skin Horse and its creation, it doesn’t make for much of an extra when you’re looking for serious incentives to buy this book instead of reading it online for free. Even I bought it as a gift for my boyfriend, who’s also a fan and turned me onto the webcomic in the first place. Plus I wanted to meet Garrity, who is also a freelance manga editor.
If you love Skin Horse already, I’d say buy the book and do good by these two creative and funny people. If you’re not 100% sold yet, then I wouldn’t rush out to buy it until you read the webcomic and make the decision whether you love it or not.
You can find Skin Horse vol. 1 at the Couscous Collective, an artists’ collective site that sells both Skin Horse and Narbonic volumes as well as a few mini-comics, prints and shirts.