Sean Ford is the creator of Only Skin and Shadow Hills. He graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2008. Now he lives in Brooklyn and designs books and walks his dog.
IN THE EMPORIUM
Sean’s comics can be found in the Secret Acres Emporium here.
Sean Ford creates a world that’s both eerie and warmly mundane. Not an easy feat.
- Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
This is the debut graphic novel from Sean Ford, published by the ever-exciting Secret Acres. It follows the lives of two orphans in what could easily be a post-apocalyptic world, but is actually modern rural America. The same desperation and unease that marks Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is also present here, with some unexpected and surreal interjections of the supernatural that make for an unpredictable and thoroughly engaging narrative. It’s all rendered in a style that recalls Dylan Horrocks and Craig Thompson, establishing Ford as a strong contender for the best new artist to emerge this year.
- Gavin Lees, Bleeding Cool
Sean Ford’s Only Skin is just the sort of comic book I like reading. Not only a tale of quirky surreal horror, intrigue, adventure and exquisite humor, this book has a great amount of heart.
- Farel Dalrymple, of Omega the Unknown and Pop Gun War
Sean Ford is a talent to watch.
- James Sturm
In a small Western town tucked between a mountain range and a pristine forest, citizens are disappearing. First it was the owner of the local gas station. Then two buddies who went out into the woods looking for him. When teenage Cassie and her brother, Clay, return to town in search of their estranged father, nothing seems right: The sheriff’s more worried about her land deal than the mystery, Cassie’s only co-worker is a narcoleptic, and there’s a ghost in Clay’s bedroom. As the town reckons with its future, Cassie grapples with her past and her father’s legacy.
Sean Ford’s Only Skin is a spooky graphic novel about small-town life and death. Ford’s deadpan pen-and-ink linework gives the book its sense of quiet menace; reading it, you have no idea what’s coming next, but you know it won’t be good news for these characters. Who is abducting townspeople? Why are deer turning up maimed? Why did Cassie and her brother leave, and what will happen to them now that they’ve come back?
- Dan Kois, Slate
Secret Acres doesn’t like to do anything easy, and Sean Ford’s Only Skin is a perfect fit for the publisher. The tale features two siblings attempting to deal with their father’s death and a series of mysterious attacks and disappearances in a small town surrounded by wilderness. The only thing about this narrative that’s black and white is the art. Everything else focuses on the oddness, liminality and flaws in jumping to conclusions. Rather than favoring vigilante action, Only Skin wants you to hold back and think before rushing off into danger, especially as there might not be an answer to your question. What’s more frightening: the unknown in the woods or the unknown in your neighbors? Ford doesn’t come down on one side or the other, but beautifully teases out the horror in his premise. The presence of a ghost who resembles the iconic sheet with eyes and a mouth is a particularly interesting choice, seemingly harmless and all the more frightening for it. The ending leaves one unsettled in a way that’s rare in any medium and calls to mind Werner Herzog’s gift for evoking the uncanny in a truly Freudian sense.
- Hillary Brown, Paste Magazine
A young woman and a boy get off a bus at a gas station and garage in the desert. It was their father’s business, he’s disappeared and presumed dead, and they’re taking it over, not all that long since their mother died, unreconciled with her formerly cheating husband, whose inamorata moved on to a younger man. Their dad isn’t the only one who goes missing in the course of this graphic novel resuscitation of the 1950s B-movie horror thriller that includes spooky elements (to wit, ghosts) but ultimately reaches a “natural,” if far-fetched, resolution. Exposing details of the action or the resolution would be churlish, for many may think them far less interesting than Ford actually makes them and skip this very well-executed graphic novel. Ford draws bigger kids and adults the way Charles Schulz might have, and his backdrops are as spare as the sets of those ’50s B-movies. The book’s in black-and-white (fortunately), and the big pages of this volume allow many a frame to have cinematic impact.
- Ray Olson, Booklist
It’s a well-crafted and spooky drama with all the best human and supernatural elements you could hope for in a gripping mystery story. The ghost character is at once hilarious and chilling and certainly my favorite from the book. The plot tosses and turns, evading understanding, only to finish with an even more terrifying conclusion than what can be imagined.
Only Skin is a very plot-driven book with its characters and environment serving purposeful roles to drive that plot forward. Its characters are interesting, not thin, despite this, but it’s easy to be sad at the end for lack of a few more substantial B-plots. You can see how Ford wrote in the potential to spiral this story into a long-running, fully-engaging series (it was originally serialized in 7 parts) but maybe he felt pressure over the long creation process to take few detours and concentrate on distilling and prioritizing his plan into a trim story with a good flow.
And it’s great, seriously. All things being equal, I just wish for more of it since the world is so interesting.
- Sarah Morean, IndieReader
This is the kind of comic book that will just give you the creeps. In a good way, of course. But the creeps, nonetheless.
Only Skin kicks off when Cassie and Clay return to their hometown to look into the mysterious disappearance of their father. He owned a gas station at the edge of what looks to be a pretty depressed town that’s getting more depressed by the minute. That’s because Cassie’s dad isn’t the only citizen who’s gone missing. One by one, more members of this small community are vanishing, and the police aren’t helping by telling the worried citizens that everything’s going to be okay as long as “no one goes into the woods!”
So, where does everyone end up going? The woods, of course.
Add to the creepiness of the disappearances a practical joke-loving ghost (the white bedsheet with two eyeholes kind) who follows Clay around and torments him, and a well meaning gas station attendant who inexplicably falls asleep in midsentence, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a five star “what the heck”-fest.
Ford has an amazing ability to capture the emptiness of the American small town and his tone is pitch perfect. If the Coen Brothers made comic books, this would be one of them.
- Josh Perilo, the Mindhut
The warnings from locals are immediate—the vast wooded area behind Cassie’s family’s gas station should go unexplored. “What? I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” says Chris, a mechanic who worked alongside Cassie’s father before he went missing. The forest in Sean Ford’s strange and beautiful book is an intimidating place that locks in most of Only Skin‘s murkiness. The book’s dreams and intangibility mystifies, too, in the townspeople’s odd nightmares or generally inexplicable experiences. For one, Chris’s sense of the present is hazy. He’s barely lucid at points, a narcoleptic, dozing off mid-conversation or napping in the garage at particularly unstable junctures of the story. The mild-mannered Paul dreams about his father’s brain disorder, a scenario that takes place in a hospital before Sean Ford plants the bed and IV bags in a grim forest setting, where Paul’s dad is drawn walking off into the trees. And Cassie’s brother Clay begins a regular dialogue with a ghost, the iconic Halloween-clipped-sheet-n’-eyeholes apparition you’ve always known but have never really been comfortable with. Their conversations begin when Clay appears to be asleep, and then suddenly outside, in the infinite Spoke State Forest.
Only Skin‘s oversized pages (8.25” x 11”) offer a roomy canvas for Ford’s sketch pens. Blacked-out night walks in town are barely illuminated by streetlamps and sunlit scenes have the spacious panels they call for. When Cassie gets back into the old neighborhood, she finds Chris talking to a cop and cleaning up a ghastly, bloody scene that transpired in the station’s lot. By the time she starts asking questions, a number of people have disappeared into the woods. From that point, even in its familiar framing and infrequent spots of dark humor, moments of certainty or comfort are scarce in Only Skin. “There’s a lot of territory out there…” says Chris. Sleepy or not, he means it.
- Dominic Umile, PopMatters
While the characters may be simply rendered, there is a clear drive on Ford’s part to suture us into a very real and unique locale through his lush backgrounds. With sweeping brushstrokes he carves out the expansive, mountainous landscape and seems to delight in full-page wordless spreads where the silence and desolate beauty of the town is practically palpable.
Indeed, if there’s one constant in the book, it’s that unsettling feeling of loneliness and separation that permeates every line and every word. In Only Skin, Ford holds a mirror to our own anxieties and presents a world where the most terrifying thing is neither ghosts nor murderers, but our own insecurity.
- Gavin Lees, Graphic Eye
Ford’s art in Only Skin is handsome; careful placed lines that shift from thin to thick, and provide a clean, uncluttered look to each person’s face and their surroundings. The two parts of the art for Only Skin that particularly stuck out for me, though, were the ghost and the landscape of the town and its surroundings. The ghost at a glance feels laughable, akin to the ghost outfits that the Peanuts characters wore in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! or the enemies in Pac-Man. It’s a disarming look, one that is slightly humorous and danger-deflating. As Only Skin progresses, though, the ghost becomes increasingly menacing while never changing its appearance. It’s an impressive feat on Ford’s part; something that looks so cute ends up being disturbing. The look of the small town is also in many ways just as important to Only Skin as its characters; Ford brings across that overall sense of isolation that is so critical to the story being told here. You truly get the sense that there’s nothing for miles, that the forest around the town is both a never-ending expanse as well as a dangerous barrier. By the time we get to see what lies beyond the forest thanks to Rachel’s story, we’ve gotten such a feel for the forest stretching on forever that its reveal is slightly surprising and also exuding an instant “this is a bad place” feel. It’s a nice trick, and helps make Only Skin as strong as it is.
I was pleasantly surprised and enthralled by Only Skin; I hadn’t read its mini-comic serialization up until now, which let me feel that much more surprised and startled by its series of events. Secret Acres has done a great job of finding and bringing into the spotlight various small press creators, and Ford and Only Skin are no exception. With an oversized presentation and a smooth cover stock, it’s a beautiful book to have on your shelf. Highly recommended.
- Greg McElhatton, Read About Comics
Only Skin: New Tales of the Slow Apocalypse gathers the previously serialized black-and-white comic epic by Sean Ford into a single graphic novel – with the addition of several dozen new pages, and an improved ending! A dark portrayal of rural America, seen from the perspective of orphaned siblings, Only Skin details the problems of people struggling to survive amid poverty and local corruption. Something is causing townspeople to disappear into the woods without a trace. But which is more evil – the lurking horror of ghosts, the hypocrisy of seemingly ordinary people who sell each other out for personal gain, or the murderous impulses of human hearts? Grim and suspenseful, Only Skin is as memorable as it is unsettling, and highly recommended for connoisseurs of quality independent graphic novels.
- Midwest Book Review
The book rests on the way various character arcs intertwine, with some characters acting as straight men and others as quirk magnets. There’s something killing people in a forest near a truck stop town, and a woman came back to try to find her missing father… In a comic where atmosphere meets absurdity, Ford cranked up both to a thrilling degree in this issue.
- Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
Only Skin is a wonderfully drawn book that show’s some great potential. He has 3 issues out and all have blown me away.
It is a town that could well be near Roswell, it could be a town that is linked in many ways to Twin Peaks. It could have the characters of Baghdad Café lurking in the shadows; it could become an X- Files case. It could be so many things but I have a feeling it will turn out to be something dangerous and new and very exciting.
- Comics Bulletin
Only Skin immediately grabbed my attention, and the humor and playfulness in Sean Ford’s narrative kept me engaged.
- Mark Siegel, First Second Books
While looking more like an Anders Nilsen by way of Pac-Man creation than anything the Brothers Hernandez ever created, the story of a small town and its disappearing residents is one that has a spiritual kinship (at least) to the trials and tribulations of the residents of Palomar–complete with a floating ghost where a little black monkey would be. As with any story that’s relatively (we imagine) a ways from being finished, most of what comes out of reading this is a desire to know more than one of really knowing what’s going on–what is happening to the disappeared, what the little ghost’s motive is, what’s hiding in the forest–you know, the tell-me-the-end-of-the-movie questions. Luckily, Ford has figured out to develop and draw characters enough so that they don’t all behave as interchangeable and indistinct men and women–it’s a small cast, but there’s plenty of cartoonists with no real ability to differentiate beyond anything other than gender. Ford doesn’t have that problem. Each and every voice here is distinct.
- The Factual Opinion
Sean deserves all the credit in the world for coming up with this idea and sticking with it. It’s way too easy to see things logically and financially and give up on comics when you’re halfway through a story; it happens all the time. But that’s not how genuine artistic achievements get done, and I think Sean is well on his way to pulling that off.
- Optical Sloth