by Sarah Horrocks

Mirror is a book from Emma Rios and Hwei Lim about the tensions on a distant asteroid between the colonizing mage scientists and a growing colony of sentient animal-human hybrids.  The aesthetic of the book is this airy watery pooling of form and color that combined with the multi-year time skips and the science-magic directions of its plot gives the book this space dream quality.  Or as the book progresses, maybe more a space phantom quality.  What starts out as a fairly contained meditation on the tensions between humans and animal hybrids on this asteroid colony expands and refracts out into an elegiac tragedy of mistakes born from operatic passions, good intentions, and arrogance.

The 8th issue of the series comes out this week (9/20/17), and with the trade paperback collecting the first five issues selling for under ten bucks it’s pretty easy and economical to catch up.  It’s interesting to read from the interview below that Hwei and Emma were originally only planning this to be a four issue series. Because even though the first four issues are very good, I think it’s with the 5th through 8th issues that the book has really become quite complex and dark.  Mirror keeps mutating going back farther and farther into its own history deepening its intrinsic tragedies and tensions.  This is particularly expressed with the characters of Elena and Kazbek who in their search over decades to try and do what’s right, through their failures create larger and larger tragedies.


I think what I found most interesting on my reread of Mirror was the idea that the way humans look at themselves and nature around them might be poisoned.  Our “consciousness” has never really expanded beyond our base needs and desires.  Which drives us along a narrow road to repeated atrocity.  There’s a moment where Kazbek is talking to the Outsider and complaining that the Asteroid only talks to the Outsider and the Guardians, “Why can’t it just tell me what it wants?” he asks, and in response the Outsider says “the rock you call Irzah asteroid wants nothing from you.  It is you who desire its power” which is just such a thorough rebuke of human nature.  That even when we feel our most magnanimous it is only as a product of our appetites.  That even when we say we want to listen, we are incapable of hearing anything but what we want to hear.

I say this only to say that this is not only a beautiful comic book, it is also a very complex one that is very interested in ideas of identity, sentience, and the way we organize our perceptions in a community.  Artistically it’s pretty fascinating because while Hwei Lim and Emma Rios have a certain commonality in their art, particularly when Emma Rios is doing water colors–they are still distinct artists, and to be honest, writers.  Both have a body of work as artist/writers that they bring into this project–so the experiment of writing for each other, and drawing for each other–switching in between those roles, and growing the whole thing between them is really fascinating as the book progresses.  It’s never jarring when you go from one artist to the other, and you can’t really tell the difference in the writing.  It’s one of the more pure collaborative comic projects I’ve seen.  And it demands you tackle it as a whole being, not only the elements you come into it wanting to extract.  Which mirrors the themes of the work as a whole.

And I think the book as a whole is better for that collaboration. It would be wrong to say anything in the book is this person’s or that person.  You just have to say it is all Mirror. And like with a Mirror, if you look at it long enough, you can forget which is the reflection.  There’s actually a thing I do with mirrors because of my body dysmorphia, where I try to glance at them really quickly and then turn away.  Those first few seconds when you see yourself in a mirror as a stranger are the only time you can even get a shadow of what the rest of the world sees when they see you, before your interior neurosis warp and degrade your body into the warped figure of your own mind.  I think that’s interesting, to see yourself as a stranger–there’s like these three people, there’s the you that sees, the seen you by you, and then the other you that you can never see that others see.  And the composite of those things create your image.  With Mirror something like that is happening.  There’s the Mirror Emma Rios sees, the Mirror Hwei sees, the Mirror of Hwei that Emma sees, the Mirror of Emma that Hwei sees, and then the Mirror of both that we see, and then lastly on top of all of that is the weird mirror that is us all artists, writers, critics, readers all at once looking in on this thing.  I think that sort of expansion of conscious awareness is at play within Mirror itself–a comic which displaces us from time, form, and identity, both thematically, and formalistically(the way the layouts cohere and dissipate like forms of water and light) .  We are asked to see things not only from a human perspective, but from a planetary one, from an animal one, from an animal hybrid one, from a one outside of all time– It reminds me of Daisuke Igarashi’s newer work, Designs, which also deals with hybrids, but is explicitly focused(as a lot of his work is) on the way that animal perceptions of nature are different from humans, and not per se less than.  He wants to express a way of seeing that is outside of human senses but in the language of human writing and symbols.  This seems like a soup of things to consider, but I think Mirror is a work that asks you to do this as well.  It asks you to consider your own perceptions as a human, and your own well meaning compliciticities.  So it’s So yeah.  Check it out.

To go with this write-up I got Emma and Hwei to answer a few questions about the book, which hopefully you skipped my write-up to read first:

Which Animal character was your favorite to draw?  Which animal hybrid haven’t you done yet that you secretly want to?

HWEI LIM: I enjoy drawing the Sphinx a lot with her cat body, wings, and human head/arms.  We haven’t been able to include a lot of marine animals, for practical reasons; but it would also be fun to draw some massive space creatures–maybe we still have time to make this happen.

EMMA RIOS:  I really like the Sphinx, too.  The design Hwei did is amazing, and I also like how the Sphinx judges people.  It’s fun to try and express that through her acting.  I also like our sad Minotaur as well, Aldebaran.  His scale is crazy and makes things challenging.

About massive space creatures…I have to admit that drawing the Quidditas as a giant jellyfish in watercolors was the most relaxing thing ever…more to come.

Eight issues in, what has surprised you most about the world of Mirror versus when you first started planning it?

HWEI: I think we didn’t expect to flesh out so much of Synchronia (the world that the humans of Irzah (Elena, Kazbek, etc)) left behind).  With the second arc returning to this world, I think we ended up creating quite a lot of backstory behind why they left in the first place, and exploring the world that they felt they had to leave.

EMMA: Originally Mirror was going to be a four issue mini focusing on the little colony of Irzah alone.  Our idea was basically exploring how these people could survive in such a small space; and how, even within such a small group in such a small space, a variety of social identities could arise and how that could cause a certain level of angst as they tried to find their place within this community.

So when Image asked us to turn Mirror into an ongoing, we saw the chance to expand the universe and the stories of our characters. Building the system of Synchronia and its inhabitants’ politics, culture, and religion has been an incredible experience so far.  Hwei and I are pretty obsessed with detail and accuracy, so we have a lot of stuff written about it, knowing in advance we won’t be able to use even half of it.

It feels more like creating a world for a role-playing campaign than creating one for an independent story alone, but this is a way for us to understand the world in a way that makes sense, as something ‘real’; and honestly, it’s really fun.

Do you think Kazbek’s atrocities are an innate conclusion to human perception and consciousness?  Is it possible for us to evolve as a species to a more harmonious understanding of the sentience of nature?  To that end, is a hybrid Animal an evolution of consciousness for an animal, or is it a flaw?  

HWEI: I think it’s not sentience/self-awareness alone, but to what degree that enables you to understand or make sense of the world around you; and what kind of world it is.  To most of the hybrids being able to fully understand language meant they were heavily influenced by human ideas, and could no longer regard themselves as animals because they picked up on the human cues that ‘animals are lower’.  Zun, who walks upright and was always regarded as a person by Ivan(but few others), is very different  from Phinx, regarded by everyone except Zun as a talking cat kept in a cage…and they are different from the Blackfish, a self-sufficient lone wolf who probably only picked up bits and pieces of human language from other hybrids in the wild, and yet mostly just wanted to be on her own.

EMMA:  It’s true that we are working with an idea of evolution heavily connected to the sophistication of language–which is what under our human perception makes us self aware beings able to communicate, choose, and decide our own paths.

But this is not happening because that particular evolution has to be necessarily seen as a better than other options.  This happens (in mirror) because a blank seed of a cosmic entity was put into a human, Ninua; this seed learns from her point of view how to become sentient, and then it expands giving this awareness to a planet, that once awakened, is attacked by these original humans who are responsible for the sentience in the first place.  The sentient planet survives the attack as the asteroid of Irzah which makes its new inhabitants evolve in the ways it has been taught to recognize.

But this evolution is based on understanding and free will, and is hardly a matter of quality–only of necessity.  The asteroid only tries to make everybody equal to ease its own evolution as an entity.

I think that one of the interesting things we do in Mirror is we try hard to avoid a value judgement of these things.  The characters do that, obviously, when confronting their conflicts within their groups; but I think for us it is very important to be critical, understanding that even if you follow your principles and do what you think is right, you can still be wrong.  You can be condescending and patronizing like Kaz is with the animals (where he tries to help them understand their new nature through education); or even someone like Ivan, who makes Zun eat his own eye to protect herself without ever considering that it could also be an instrument of control–a collar.  Or in the case of Sena, inspiring everybody to die before submitting; or the Blackfish who forces Sena to become something she never asked for; or Elena assuming the moral authority of lying to everybody–it goes on an on.

I like to think we talk about failure in this book.  And that failing feels ‘very human’.

Mirror is published by Image comics, and is available now wherever comics are sold.  For more information click here