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Emma Ríos & Hwei Lim Present: Mirror [Interview]

Emma Ríos, co-creator of PRETTY DEADLY with Kelly Sue DeConnick, teams up with Hwei Lim for MIRROR, a new story set in the 8HOUSE universe. These two storytellers are equally matched, and MIRROR is the perfect project for their collaboration. Perfectly balanced between heavy and light subject matter, MIRROR shows us a group of people on the hunt for, if not acceptance, perhaps just peace. Depicting an unjust system in an unjust world, MIRROR explores questions of identity, purpose, and fate, as Lim's artwork keeps your eyes glued to the page. As it turns out, This isn't their first collaboration, and the obvious ease they have in working together comes from their years of friendship. Below, Lim and Ríos lay bare the motivations and foundation of MIRROR, in addition to giving us a peek at their past together.

IMAGE COMICS: Where does MIRROR stand in the 8HOUSE universe? Does it parallel any of the other stories, or does it stand alone?

EMMA RÍOS: All the 8HOUSE books were born as independent stories sharing influences and a few hazy elements, not as part of the same narrative. Some of the stories are more connected than others, but the real link would be the general feeling of them. There are a couple of ideas in MIRROR that wouldn't have existed if Brandon and I hadn't had casual conversations about what 8HOUSE could be at the beginning, but none of the books actually need to be set in the same timeline or the same world. They stand alone by themselves. 

IC: While Hwei is drawing the main MIRROR story, Emma, you're drawing a backup comic with a script by Hwei. Where'd the idea for trading roles come from? What do you like about the experience?

ER: First, because Hwei's writing is to die for. Her beautiful webcomic Hero or her other smart minicomics will give you a glimpse of how special it is. 

Second, because it's a cool way to show and dissect how each of us understand the characters at a deeper level, letting us retro-feed off each other to be exactly on the same page. It worked really greatly, honestly, and it helped us especially to build Elena into a much stronger and more nuanced character. 

HWEI LIM: Emma will talk about it in greater detail below, but I think we have always wanted to work on something fairly epic together and the opportunity to do MIRROR felt like it!

We talk and think and exchange drawings and notes about the story and characters so much I feel like Emma is actually drawing these pages at my side (I truly wish she was, I'd be a lot less nervous!!). I think it's fun though, the way we work, it feels like the story and the characters have ended up reflecting both our philosophies and aesthetics. It is a little nerve-wracking to read a scene description and think, "I know exactly what this would look like if Emma drew it", knowing I won't be able to draw that exactly, but also looking forward to surprising Emma (hopefully a good kind of surprise!) with each page :') Collaboration is both terrifying and wonderful.

IC: How did this collaboration come to be? When did you two connect and decide to work together?

ER: We got to know each other in 2008, thanks to a program called Lingua Comica organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). Both of us were chosen alongside fourteen more creators, including Ken Niimura, Pier Gajewski, Budi Wijaja, Matei Branea, Nele Brönner, and Est Em, to name a few, to participate in a comic workshop, which that year was set in Kyoto, in collaboration with the Manga Museum that had just opened its gates. 

All of us were split into pairs—one Asian artist and one European artist—and we of course were paired to work together. Before going to Japan we had to prepare our story in advance by working online for a couple of months, so we started communicating through comic pages before anything else. 

Lingua Comica was probably the best experience of my life and Hwei became a really important person to me. Being in touch for all this time, sharing our stuff here and there and even getting to meet a few times—despite living on opposite halves of the globe—I've been looking forward for this chance to work together again for years. So MIRROR is a dream come true to me.

HL: Yeah, it feels like the craziest coincidence but I'm incredibly grateful for whatever string of random events led me to being partnered with Emma at Lingua Comica...and the subsequent string of events that led us both to MIRROR. I feel like collaborating like this is only possible because I'm working with Emma! She is all at once full of incredible ideas and visions and drive, and yet also incredibly forgiving and understanding.

IC: Emma, what appeals to you about having Hwei as a collaborator?

ER: Working with Hwei is equally exciting and scary because of how much I adore her and her solo work. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be "floating." How could I grab that feeling? It would just slip through my fingers, you know? It's obviously extremely beautiful, but beyond that she is a genius at bringing up the subtlety and knocking you out with very little by making you dive into your own experiences and memories. 

But whether I struggle about how challenging it feels to try to bring up stuff that can impress her or I feel relieved because she can just transform everything into something exceptional with her magic, what is clear is that working together is crazy inspirational to me. 

I feel I'm writing, drawing, and even thinking better, one email at a time. 

IC: I think most people in the US comics market know you for your work on PRETTY DEADLY and other projects where you were primarily an artist. Do you feel as confident as a writer as you are as an artist?

ER: Well, no. Or yes. I don't know. Truth is, I never feel very confident about anything, but drawing probably comes more naturally. Part of the reason is because I write in a second language, I guess. Art is the only one that is universal, after all. I tend to think in images and structure more than in words most of the time, and about the way I would tell the story myself if I were to draw it. It's really fun to talk about this with Kelly Sue DeConnick. We've done that a few times. 

For MIRROR, our process is basically: 

I build the plot, the setting, and the structure so I can send Hwei notes that look almost like roleplaying books. She works on some designs from them. Then I send her a prose-like draft of the script with ideas and dialogue, so we can talk deeply about it and set the tone. Dialogue is important here because it's rare that I work on exposition beyond what you can get from the characters' voices and art. 

Then I write a proper script adjusted to the pagination after doing my own thumbnails so I can be sure it works within the space we have. I work hard on my own layouts here while developing the story, but I never share them because I think it's very important for every artist—Hwei especially—to adjust the story to the rhythm they like to work with and make it their own beyond the script.

She re-organizes everything in her layouts after that and sends me rough thumbnails. Comparing the result with my previous decisions is fascinating and makes me learn a lot.

Over this draft, we work together on dialogue and layouts, editing whatever is necessary as the whole thing gets closer to its final shape. At this point we decide the backmatter, and while I focus on it she finishes the art to put everything together. Now that we can see it as a whole, we rework the final dialogue together once again until we both are happy with it. As you can see, it's very collaborative, and we act as editors for each other all the time.

Working alone or with somebody else is very different. As you can imagine, what I did on ID on my own has nothing to do with this method, neither does what I do on PRETTY DEADLY with Kelly Sue. For me, working with somebody is understanding and respecting each other to the core. I wouldn't be able to write for an artist I don't know, or that wouldn't see through the art I produce myself.

IC: Between ID, your story in ISLAND, MIRROR, and PRETTY DEADLY, it's nearly impossible to pin you down when it comes to genre. What kinds of comics are you interested in creating? What's something you want your readers to take away from your work?

ER: It's embarrassing to admit but I think I talk a lot about identity and acceptance. I'm interested in trying to develop characters from under their skin. In trying to bring up their nature through their acting, empathetically, and making them catalysts alone to figure out their own stories and worlds.

I'd like to create books where there is no good or evil, books that could become interesting enough for readers to give active reading a try and where it wouldn't be easy to take a side. Easy job...sigh.

IC: Hwei, can you tell us a little bit about your background in comics? What kind of books do you prefer to create?

HL: There's not much to tell :') I drew some minis in college (thanks Sweatdrop Studios for publishing them!), kept a webcomic going for a while in my spare time after work, had the pleasure of drawing part of the first Spera book (thanks Josh and Archaia!), and self-published a few minis for some time (the Lalage stories). Along the way I ended up at the Lingua Comica workshop where I met Emma and we sweated blood and tears making a comic together but also ran around a mountain and talked and ate a lot and after the workshop was over we stayed in touch and talked a lot about cats and comics. And one day Emma said she had a crazy, epic, far-out idea for a new comic, and would I like to draw it... That's it, my background in comics.

I enjoy making comics like the Lalage stories the most—fantastic and kind of magical, not totally grounded in a working model of reality, but revolving around or thinking about some real-world unhappiness or conflict that I think most readers would already be worrying over or thinking about... Also, I like drawing cute animals and comedic moments in otherwise deadly serious stories, I guess to remind myself never to take myself too seriously.

I think this is the kind of story MIRROR is, too, so I hope this is the kind of book readers prefer to read!

IC: You and Emma are a fascinating duo, in part because your art styles are so different. What drew you to working with Emma? What do you get out of her artwork?

HL: I think what I love about Emma's art most is how she makes you feel the story—the slow flare of the match lighting the candle, riding shivering through the cold desert night, the rose petals and butterflies exploding in your face; how high these skyscrapers, how deep this sea... She also comes up with the coolest badass characters, the craziest and grandest compositions, and has cinematic timing as if you were watching a movie (Sorry, I'm really bad at analyzing art so I can only say how I feel about it!).

I'm always a bit starstruck and in awe working with Emma's script, to be honest. On my own I'd never think of testing the boundaries of this fictional world/person/situation so much. I always figured, though, that Emma would have some truly epic and magnificent and tragic things in mind for MIRROR!

But I think the best part of working with Emma is that we somehow just understand each other really well, never holding anything back, sometimes proposing to each other a change or new thing the other is also thinking of suggesting... It's amazing (and nice) how well our telepathy works now smile


MIRROR #1 is available today.