Interview: A Look at 'Mirror' With Emma Ríos

Emma Ríos is a comic book artist from Spain who's work just floors readers every time they're lucky enough to experience it. Whether it's her current collaboration with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick on Pretty Deadly, or her fantastic work as coeditor of the comics anthology, Island, it's evident that Ríos is a true original with an outstanding ability for highly emotive art, and layouts that put into question comics' two dimensionality.
I was super fortunate to get a chance to email Ríos a few questions about Mirror (premiering from Image Comics on February 3rd), her first collaboration as a writer with artist Hwei Lim. Her reply exhibits an intense thoughtfulness about her craft, and provide some great insight into the work necessary to co create a breathing fantasy story that follows "a terrorist talking dog, an idealist mage, and a heroic lab rat on their quest for acceptance."

André Habet: I find it interesting that people don’t find humanoid animals terrifying despite the fact that these things often seem imposing even at their most miniature size. What stories featuring humanoid or magical animals did you have in mind when coming up with the concept for Mirror? What made you want to create a comic that prominently featured humanoid animals?

Emma Ríos: Beyond the obvious reference to H.G Wells’ Island of Doctor Moureau —a book I always liked a lot— this story came up straight from Ode to Kirihito , my favorite book from Osamu Tezuka. The conflict is about a disease that is turning people into animals, and Doctor Kirihito Osanai —the main character— ends up falling ill while treating some cases. As a consequence, he slowly ends up losing his appearance and some of his habits as a human, but keeping himself inside. The more he transforms physically the more he loses the respect of his former kind, the humans, to be mistreated and humiliated like an animal.

The book is a wonder and got me thinking quite a lot when I read it.  You can find it translated, it’s published by Vertical (

For Mirror the subject changes by turning into the opposite but also keeping very similar questions about identity and acceptance. We actually tend to humanize our animals in general, we talk to them, we give them names… But if your pet could become a real person how would you feel about her or him?

Mirror-#1-1André Habet: One of my favorite aspects about the Mirror premiere is the compressed time in the first few pages that provide not only the basics of Ivan and Sena’s friendship, but also folds in hints at Ivan’s magical abilities, the series’ potential antagonists, as well as serving as a tutorial into the comic’s increasingly intricate page layouts. How did you arrive at the decision to quickly get through this part of the story, and are you going to potentially explore this stage of Ivan and Sena’s relationship in future issues?

Emma Ríos: We were actually trying to put the reader under that question from above as fast as possible, to start playing from there. Our characters are the only catalysts for exposition in this book, and our intention would be to have the reader almost becoming another one trying to figure out a lot questions alongside with them, and slowly understanding the plot and the world one issue at a time.

And yep, Ivan and Sena are both main characters and their story will go further. They’re actually near their forties in our real time. We’ll find out about their past and long term future.

André Habet: You do amazing work on Pretty Deadly [with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick], especially some of the page designs on issue 7. Although you’re not the artist on Mirror, it seems like experimenting with page design was also of interest to you and [Mirror artist] Hwei Lim. Having primarily collaborated on comics as an artist, how did you use that experience to write a script that would provide Lim the information necessary to compose some of the pages, like that awesome one where Zun captures the spider?

Emma Ríos: Heh, that’s all Hwei. I never show her my thumbnails or guides for working on the layouts, even if I need them badly to figure out where I’m at and if I would be able to solve the problems I’m setting out myself. Certainly, the way I face my own pages is going to be reflected on the script somehow, but Hwei’s just a genius with composition and page design, as well as for defining different moods and making the narrative flow. Everything you see is her doing it alone.

André Habet: When creating a magical world, what does your background work look like? Do you have entire hierarchies and roles like the Guardians fleshed out? Do you have firm rules for how magic works? How much of this place is fleshed out for you and Lim to work on? 

Emma Ríos: I’m working very hard on world building and my notes look like a table top role-playing game. We start in the isolated colony in the Irzah Asteroid, but the world expands beyond to a full System of Planets called The Synchronia, the place Kazbek and Elena come from.

The magic is rather open in general, but a bit connected with science in Mirror. You won´t find a fire ball but maybe a person who would transform part of the air composition into helium and make it flammable, also alchemy, genetic manipulation and so on. There’ll be weirder things too, almost dream-like, like the Guardians or our mythological creatures the Minotaur and the Sphinx, whose origins I’m not going to spoil just yet.

We’ll be sharing some of that stuff in the backmatter of each book. Maps, glossaries, and all kinds of explanations…

André Habet: What do you feel helps to distinguish this book from other magical fantasy comics? 

Mirror02_CvrEmma Ríos: Well, the readers will decide this, but maybe that is a story whose target would be getting closer to uncertainty than to choosing a particular side easily. And that it doesn´t only focus on describing magical lands alone, and neither on the never-ending battle between good and evil.

André Habet: The first issue gives the impression that Mirror will explore some contemporary issues (terrorism, genetic modification, and species prejudice). Did those themes naturally come out from the story you wanted to tell, or had you been trying to find a story that would allow you to touch on these issues?

Emma Ríos: Well, some of those are rather romantic topics that are not so infrequent in fantasy stories. But I think that when you’re imagining a new environment it’s not that bad to explore subjects connected to your own real world, to try to make it more grounded and have the readers easily connect with at least part of the conflicts depicted. Also, somehow, while writing I ask myself questions. I try to figure out how I truly feel about them by getting out of my comfort zone, and by empathizing with different points of view.

André Habet: Lastly, Mirror seems to go against the standard idea of comics as being easily perusable. Between the layouts and the layered character relationships, it feels like one of the toughest, and most rewarding comics I’ve recently read. How do you work towards creating a comic that’s this visually complex while also ensuring it’s understandable to readers? 

Emma Ríos: I’m trying to write a story I’d like to read, and a story I think Hwei would like to read.

Whatever craziness I come up with is going to be filtered and transformed by her and vice versa, allowing us both to take more risks in our decisions maybe, knowing the other won´t hold back if the solutions feel uncertain.

Stylistically, what we do alone may seem very different but we’re actually really close when it comes to priorities like emotions, narrative and character development. And Hwei couldn´t be more brilliant by the way she offers her hand to whoever wants to read the book, and by the way she walks with the readers to show them the world we are building and making its people understood. She’s definitely a safe haven for whatever nonsense I come up with.

André Habet: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Emma Ríos: Only that, well, this book is actually very important to us and an opportunity Hwei and I have been waiting for, for quite a while. We are putting a lot of ourselves into Mirror and really hope our enthusiasm can be transmitted through the pages, and reach them.

Editor's Note: You can read our advanced review for Mirror #1 here, and check out the book on 2/3/16.