New York Comic Con 2017: Jeremy Holt and Tim Daniel Get Skinned at Insight Comics

Iris is the perfect marriage of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, serving as the backbone for enhanced reality contact lenses that provide users with the perfect antidote to reality’s many maladies. From pop-culture inspired fantasies to manifestations of their personal imagining, they see the world precisely as they wish. To ensure societal tranquility, citizens of cView City are fitted with a pair of lenses at birth, but when Aldair–a teenage programming heiress–gets a glimpse of life with her own eyes, the world she once knew irrevocably changes forever.

Originally published by MonkeyBrain Comics, creators Jeremy Holt and Tim Daniel‘s Skinned has found a new home at Insight Comics and makes its debut with a New York Comic Con exclusive cover of just 100 copies.

We got a chance to talk to Jeremy and Tim about the series, it’s trippy visuals, digital vs print, and finding it a new home.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept for Skinned come from?

Jeremy Holt: The initial concept was developed by Tim. Several years ago, he approached me about joining him to co-write the series. I saw a lot of potential in his idea, and he let me mix in some additional ideas, which became an extremely collaborative process. Together we fleshed it out into its current form.

Tim Daniel:  It was inspired in part by Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which relied on the characters visiting a virtual universe populated with all kinds of pop-culture. We freed the virtual from the machine and made it a veneer that our characters experience via the Occupeye contact lens. Our character’s reality is  augmented or “skinned” in the manner they wish to see it. Toss in Scanner Darkly (Philip K. Dick) and Sleeping Beauty and you’ve got the sci-fi, Disney Princess, action-romance everyone has been clamoring for!

GP: There’s some very interesting themes explored including technology warping our reality, castes and class, and choice. Where these types of things on your mind while you wrote the series?

JH: I know that Tim was very interested in exploring fiction vs reality with this story. There was definitely a tech component, what with this story’s advent of contact lenses that allow you to choose your reality, so I decided to push that angle a bit more by equipping Buoy as a skilled hacker.

Tim had already established a clear class divide from page one, so we developed a slums-like area to the fictional cView City. I think I had just seen Slumdog Millionaire at the time, and was definitely influenced by it.

TD: We have reality television celebrity president. That clearly suggests that eventually, if we’re not vigilant, we’ll live in a world where reality and fiction are indistinguishable.

Certainly, we’re in the midst of a class war in this country and Buoy’s role of “life extra” examines how the caste system in any society really denigrates the human experience and relegates vital people to roles that eschew their humanity in favor of service. People themselves become nothing more than set dressing or props for the privileged.

GP: Was there any particular theme you really enjoyed focusing on while writing?

JH: What immediately grabbed me about this story was the concept of fiction vs. reality. I’m in my mid-thirties, so I distinctly remember a time before the internet. The way in which I viewed the world around me; hell, the way in which the world viewed itself was done very differently. Now, the superhighways of communication have warped our perspective. To me, it feels like the veil between fiction and reality is deteriorating to the point that in the not too distant future, I believe a whole new generation won’t be able to differentiate between the two. It was a lot of fun to keep these thoughts in the back of my head as I wrote the story with Tim.

TD: The fluidity of identity—whether it be gender, sexual, political, ideological, socio-economical. If we had technology such as the OccupEye system, and all indications point to the fact that we certainly will at some point in the near future, I think we would all enjoy taking extreme liberties with our identities. We’ve been doing it online now for some time…and at one point we strongly considered flipping Aldair and Buoy’s identity so frequently that it would be impossible to truly determine their genders.

GP: As co-writers, how did it work coming up with the series together?

JH: Considering Tim is connected to a plethora of mega-talented writers, I’ll let him answer this one.

TD: Once the idea germinated (clear back in 2011), I shared it with Jeremy whose work I loved, having discovered it through his pitches for Cobble Hill and Southern Dog. From there, we worked up a general series outline. Once we knew this was to be for Monkeybrain’s digital platform we wrestled the outline into a series of chapters and tailored the page count to match. In the meantime, I had discovered artist Joshua Gowdy’s work online. He was posting these fantastic X-Men redesigns and I was enthralled by his line. It echoed Mike Allred’s work a bit, yet was very distinct. It had a funky edge despite its cleanliness.  Thankfully, he accepted our invitation and started concepting our protagonists, Aldair and Buoy. Jeremy and I were off and running, trading scripts back and forth.

 

GP: The visuals of the series are pretty key. How did that work with the artist? Did you as writers come up with that? Some scenes where the visuals are referenced would make me think so.

JH: Very early on, Tim and I agreed to stay flexible on the visual queues in the script. We didn’t want Josh to feel pinned in. Fortunately Josh can draw just about anything, so there was nothing he was opposed to, and often times went above and beyond with his art.

For all that don’t know, Tim is a book design wizard. Knowing this, I often left him to decide on which “skins” to have Josh draw for a particular scene.

TD: At first, the idea was to have the “skin” match a character’s mood or emotion, accentuating their particular POV, which proved to be a little too ambitious, so we expanded that to include setting or action. Mainly this was done for subtext, some not very subtle and rather obvious, and others to make the reader think a bit. If you get the reference made through the particular “skin” and puzzle it out a bit, you might find some extra depth to the scene. Josh was definitely up for every challenge and in some instances he would divert from the script and give us something surprising. Buoy shows up in a Playboy Bunny costume at one point, sharing the scene with Jonesei, his devoted sidekick—that was Josh’s choice if I recall and that tells us a little bit of how Jonesei might “see” his dear friend. The reader can extrapolate what that might signify.

GP: Was there anything you couldn’t reference or weren’t able to fit in?

JH: Not that I can recall. We were both influenced by Ready Player One, as far as the infusion of pop culture references were concerned. It wasn’t so much that we couldn’t fit certain references in, as much as it was trying to pick the appropriate reference for the scene.

TD: The book was really kitchen sink in terms of pop-culture. At one point we listed all the references: Ready Player One, Scanner Darkly, One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, Game Of Thrones, Tron, Maltese Falcon, The Warriors, Alien: Prometheus, Breaking Bad, Arabian Nights, Sleeping Beauty, Star Wars, The Escapist, Lost, Putting On The Ritz, Pretty In Pink, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Playboy, Road Warrior, Hell’s Angels, Beast Wares Clothing, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Cleopatra, Non-Player, The Hidden Fortress, The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, James Bond, Watchmen, Star Trek, Westworld, and even more references that we hope readers will discover themselves.

GP: The series was originally written digitally. How does that differ than writing something that’s just print?

JH: The late (great) MonkeyBrain comics didn’t specific page lengths, but did recommend that we stay between 12-20 pages. We outlined the issues to be at least 16 pages. When it came to print, fortunately there was nothing totally funky about formatting, so the transition was fairly smooth. I know for other digital publishers like Stēla, their scroll-based format would have drastically altered how we produced this story.

I do want to give a shout out to our original publishers Chris Roberson and Allison Baker, for their support of the original series. Without them, I don’t think we would have finished the series.

TD: As Jeremy noted, we came in at 16-20 pages per issue through Monkeybrain’s digital platform. We bulked up each issue with strong recap and preview pages. Subbing out those pages for chapter breaks and cover art for each issue fleshed out the print version seamlessly. Readers will also get to see some of Josh’s design work in the extras gallery.

GP: Originally released digitally by Monkeybrain, you’re now part of the Insight Comics family. How’d the comic come to them? How’s it been working with them?

JH: It was a bit of serendipitous timing. I’ve been developing two new books with Insight since fall of 2015. When Tim and I decided to try to pitch Skinned to print publishers, I thought Insight would be a great fit based on their books’ high production value. Josh’s art deserved that kind of treatment.

It’s been really great to work with a publisher that has the infrastructure to produce beautiful looking books. The cherry on top of this sundae is their distribution deal with Simon & Schuster. All their books won’t only be hitting comic book shops, but also all stores where books are sold. It’s exciting to know that Skinned will be much more accessible to potential readers.

TD: This was all Jeremy’s doing and what a tremendous turn of events it has been for this material. I’m very grateful to him—to have a collaborator who is willing to push hard to further the success of the material and benefit the entire creative team is something remarkable.

GP: With the series being in print, as writers would there things you’d have changed for that?

JH: Honestly, I don’t think so. We weren’t focusing too hard on the delivery system. We were more interested in telling the best story we could. We’re just thrilled that it’ll be reaching a much wider audience courtesy of the fine folks at Insight Editions.

TD: Insight Edition put a real nice polish on the material. Their production and editorial team handled this process and artist Joshua Gowdy gave us this incredible new cover art. This entire process was beautifully orchestrated by Mark Irwin, and as Jeremy stated, we’re truly thrilled to see Skinned reach a broad readership. Josh’s incredible work is certainly deserving of this format!

GP: What else do you have coming up that folks can check out?

JH: As mentioned earlier, I have two new series slated at Insight, but can only talk about one for now. My historical-fiction series After Houdini (with John Lucas and Chris Chuckry) will be debuting in April as a two-book graphic novel series. The other is TBA, but is tentatively slated for July.

TD: At the moment, I have three series with Vault Comics currently in stores—Atoll (w/ Ricardo Drummond, Joanna Lafuente, Adam Wollet), Fissure (w/ Pato Delpeche, Deron Bennett) and Spiritus (Michael Kennedy, Lauren Norby).  The fourth, Morning Star (Marco Finnegan, Joanna Lafuente), will start sometime in 2018. In the meantime, I’ve focused solely on growing Vault Comics as a partner in the company performing my production and design responsibilities across our growing line of titles.