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PANELS & PAGES: Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books redefine artistic crossover!

PANELS & PAGES: Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books redefine artistic crossover!

Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books have joined forces in a unique demonstration of creative harmony that challenges conventional norms. This artistic crossover blends the captivating storytelling artistry of American publisher Second Skin Comics with the dynamic narrative mastery of Filipino publisher HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books. 

Together, they create a fascinating universe where art and literature converge, preparing to enchant audiences with masterpieces produced by American and Filipino creatives. The outcome will surely be a stunning masterpiece of imagination and sentiment, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression and leaving an enduring impact on the worlds of comics and literature alike.

Mikey Sutton and Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla, the creative visionaries that redefine the artistic crossover

Hollywood TV producer Mikey Sutton is a multi-hyphenated wonder, the creator behind the horror-dark fantasy comic Dreamwalker soon-to-be a TV series starring Kate Valdez, and one of the visionaries behind Second Skin Comics. Meanwhile, Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla is the founder of PaperKat Books as well as the Head of Publishing for HS Grafik Print. These two creative visionaries unite to bring American and Filipino creatives together in publishing.

For a little bit of background, Mikey has been looking for a book publisher for months. And, of course, as a comic-book publisher himself with Second Skin Comics and his own series Dreamwalker, his standards are understandably quite high. 

Mikey: “If you’ve seen the glossy paper we use for Dreamwalker, you know. But, without seeing any examples yet, it was Kath herself that impressed me on social media. She reminded me of my own boldness and aggressive nature on Facebook. Her work had to be excellent to have that kind of self-confidence. I’ve since received one of the novels she published, and I was proven right.”

The charm of underratedness

If you don’t know Mikey, he has always seen a person’s inventive originality. Unsurprisingly——at least for me——he saw the creative ingenuity and allied with a ‘dark horse’ publishing house, HS Grafik Print /PaperKat Books. With Kath spearheading such a group of Filipino authors, it’s not a secret that the house has that underrated charm that intrigues and enchants creatives with its allure.

And, that underrated charm gave them achievements that definitely impacted HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books’ visibility. Representing the publishing house, Kath was at the Metropolitan Theater last April for the 40th National Book Awards ceremony and she described that as a ‘dark horse’ moment. Being the dark horse, they silently excel, surprising everyone with their hidden potential and capabilities.

Kath: “During the Best Novel in English category, when one of our titles was recognized as a finalist, it felt just like that. I could almost hear the murmurs, the “HS what?” and “Who’s that?” And I don’t blame them. After all, the other publishers in that category are all established, if not university presses.”

Then, one of their upcoming titles was awarded a Php150,000 publishing grant during the first Philippine Book Festival last June— another dark horse moment. 

Kath: “Only this time, the murmurs—and probably confusion, haha—came from more people because it was a big public event. Wow, it’s been one hell of a (horse) ride since then! And we’re just getting started.”

HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books received attention from award-giving bodies. So, I wondered how Mikey thinks these recognitions will impact the success and reach of his much-anticipated novel. And, of course, his answer did not disappoint. Yet, again, he saw that innovative uniqueness in Kath that pushed the pedal for such an artistic crossover.

Mikey: “I aim for the high standards she does, and I admire her ability to balance art and commerce. I know that people will expect my genre fiction to transcend their roots because of my association with her.”

Seeing the novel ingenuity

Kath started HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books as a hybrid publisher, and it still is. Hybrid publishing can be defined simply as a form of publishing where authors contribute to the production costs of their book projects and, in return, receive higher royalties. They provide aspiring authors with an alternative option to publish their works.

Kath: “Hybrid publishers like us provide aspiring authors with an alternative option to publish their works. Instead of just higher royalties, authors get 100% of the sales from their books. They also get to be involved in the production process, which can be very exciting and overwhelming at the same time.”

The thing is– if you want to be a published author, HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books guide you, and show you how your books are made. With their small, in-house, printing press, they offer a unique opportunity for authors to witness the entire book production process. These include editing, designing, formatting, proofreading, printing, quality checking, binding, cutting, and even book marketing. 

Mixing passion and presentation

When Mikey was deciding to collaborate with a ‘dark horse’ publisher, there are two words that he mentioned: passion and presentation. In Kath, Mikey found an irresistible blend of passion and polished presentation. These instantly drew him towards a collaboration brimming with potential. He even went as far as likening her to a luxurious and opulent sports car manufacturer. And, trust me, that’s big.

Mikey: “Kath fuels my standards of quality. Some publishers remind me of a broken-down taxi cab. Kath is a Lamborghini.”

But, let me continue with that metaphor. Lamborghini, as a luxurious brand, stands tall amid the highly-competitive industry. They remain unfazed even when faced with vicious rivalries. Just like Kath who feels confident in the uniqueness of HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books. She veers away from the rat race and creates a niche of her own. Quality became the trademark which, then, attracted discerning authors like Mikey seeking elegance beyond comparison. Her unwavering commitment to quality made HS Grafik Print and PaperKat Books a beacon of distinction in the bustling market.

But, as I read Kath’s answers to my interview questions, I learned that despite the uniqueness that Mikey sees in her——she is undeniably humble. She doesn’t feel like they are the best——she believes that they still have a lot to learn. And, of course, that speaks volumes about her character and dedication in this ever-evolving industry. 

Kath: “We believe in lifelong learning! After all, as with any industry, technology requires constant learning. This is what I tell my authors: if you’re going to compete with anyone or anything, compete with the last work you did and try to outdo yourself.”

Learning blossoms with collaboration

Yes, believe it or not, learning blossoms with collaboration. And, she has seen that in her circles. As an example, she mentioned that as an indie publisher, they couldn’t afford a solo booth at the Philippine Book Festival. 

Kath: “FEU Publications, a very well-established university press, and Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema, a very popular indie publisher based in Naga City, opened their doors—their booths rather—for us to sell some titles and for some of our authors to have a book signing. And during this year’s Manila International Book Fair, we are partnering with FEU Publications and TAMS Bookstore again for bookselling and book signing. My authors keep telling me that I make their dreams come true. Well, our partners make MY publisher dreams come true! There are many stories like this, stories of collaboration. And, I am very grateful. That’s why I don’t believe in competition, after all, authors can write multiple stories! The pie is infinite! Real talk? Competition is for the insecure.”

Mikey Sutton and Kath Eustaquio-Derla harmonize in synergy

As mentioned above, HS Grafik Print and PaperKat books adopted a hands-on approach. They involve authors in the publishing process. And, that alone is quite distinct from the traditional model. Growing up, Kath has seen collaboration from her entrepreneur parents Homer and Soledad Eustaquio. They are the people who founded HS Grafik Print in 1983. With Kath’s background of seeing her parents collaborate to improve projects and her former role as an internal communications specialist for one of the world’s biggest tech companies, the collaborative approach between authors and publishers solidified. 

Kath: “As a publisher, it’s very fulfilling to see authors be part of the whole production process—from the colors to the font to the type of paper we use in printing. They are involved every step of the way, and it invigorates them. It makes them prouder to see the product.”

It feels fascinating that an author can work closely with their publisher, igniting that artistic crossover. Now, Mikey has the opportunity to be involved in every step of the publishing process. When asked about what he thinks he can benefit from this hands-on approach and what aspects of this process excites him the most, he mentioned the synchronized collaboration that he enjoys with Kath.

Mikey: “I’m enjoying the ability to bounce ideas off of Kath. That’s exciting to me. My comic book Dreamwalker became a TV series with Kate Valdez (who inspired it) and director Mikhail Red (who influenced it) after only one issue. I have to pick my partners carefully. I’m not here to play games; I’m here to win championships. Kath is on that level.”

Mikey: “I predict massive success for PaperKat Books. They will raise the bar for other Philippine publishers to follow, especially in terms of creative freedom.”

Many authors have limited involvement in the decision-making processes when working with traditional publishers. The collaborative relationship requires efficient communication and coordination. Kath’s team worked via email and Facebook during the first two years of the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic. But, that led her and her team to create a system for how they communicate and finish tasks. That gave her authors the knowledge about the next steps they have to take. 

Kath: “I believe that’s one of my strengths: I like building effective systems, thanks to my corporate background.”

The envisage of their artistic crossover

This collaborative relationship also ascends Mikey’s creative vision for Haunted Objects to new heights. And, as I was given a little bit of a teaser about the premise, this just made me anticipate it even more. In their collaborative alliance, he found inspiration to elevate his writing to match the visually captivating outcome that she would create for his novel. 

Mikey: “I’m excited about how the novel will look visually in terms of packaging. That’s crucial to me. And it makes me want my writing to rise to that level.”

This collaboration has me in a chokehold. It holds the promise of an awe-inspiring fusion, where imagination and creativity converge to craft an unforgettable masterpiece. Discussing some specific decisions or aspects where Mikey has made a significant impact on the development of Haunted Objects, he mentioned an artistic endeavor that Kath supported.

Mikey: “I told Kath that I want photos in my book that interpret certain scenes, which makes it a multi-media enterprise. She was all for it. I appreciate the openness to be on the cutting edge.”

Kath: “ I want our authors to feel as powerful as I do when it comes to their works. And honestly, knowing that they have the same executive powers as I do over their works helps a lot with their author branding. I let our authors be as creative and edgy as they want to be. Because if I keep rounding the sharp corners, my authors will lose their edge.”

A tantalizing glimpse of Haunted Objects… and a spin-off of Dreamwalker

Haunted Objects is a four-story horror anthology set in the Philippines, where haunted objects return to their rightful owners. As someone who gets easily scared by what her own imagination can come up with, I am only starting to become a fan of horror stories. So, I was curious about Mikey’s inspiration to explore this theme and how the cultural context of the Philippines influence the creation of these chilling tales. 

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Mikey: “The first tale, Into Your Arms, takes place in the mid-80s in Manila when I was there. So there’s this backdrop of EDSA and President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. being ousted. People Power. They add flavor and gravitas to the overall plot. Filipino superstitions play a role throughout.”

Anthologies offer a distinctive storytelling format, weaving diverse narratives into a single work. Within their pages, a tapestry of voices emerges, creating a captivating mosaic of emotions, genres, and perspectives. When asked about the common themes that connect these stories which could highlight the overall essence of Haunted Objects, he answered with one word and a short explanation that incited even more anticipation.

Mikey: “Love. Each story involves loss of some kind. Into Your Arms is a Gothic romance. We never forget our first.”

In a paranormal sense, I believe that people and objects can be haunted, not just people. And, haunted objects carry a sense of mystery and intrigue. When we watch horror movies and read horror stories, the protagonist always decides to keep a haunted object because of its beguiling mystique. Mikey provides an enigmatic sneak peek at what we can expect from Haunted Objects’ first tale, Into Your Arms.

Mikey:Into Your Arms is about a man whose fiance drowns before he marries her yet he has no memory of her death. When she begins haunting him, you ask why? Did he kill her? Is she back from the dead to see him again or have revenge?”

The graphic novel Dreamwalker centers on Kat, a vlogger who battles monsters. It’s worth noting that Kapuso actress Kate Valdez inspired the character’s appearance. This year, the comic even reached the top of the local Filipino comics charts. And, that success has led Mikey to write a spin-off, expanding upon the world and the characters introduced in the original story. 

Mikey: “There are a couple of spin-off novels planned based on the villains of the comic. Their origins, for example. One is called Alice: Blood of Angels, which is about vampires doomed to hell. In a book, I’m given room, more pages, to get into these troubled bad guys’ heads. It will be harrowing for me… The tone and style will match that of the comic books, definitely. They’ll see different sides to these villains, too.”

The collaborative fusion brought by Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books

The partnership between Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books births a new playground for Filipino and American creatives, especially authors and illustrators. Kath believes that this partnership will have an impact on fostering future collaborations and artistic crossovers.

Kath: “The partnership between Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books will not only provide international rights-selling opportunities to our authors, but it will also create new income-generating products for authors.”

Mikey: “It’s all about success. When they see us doing well, they’ll either turn into crabs or wisely use us as a model of how it’s done.”

Kath has even listed sci-fi and fantasy book titles that they have published in PaperKat Books. These include the novel of our ever-loving and ever-supportive editor-in-chief John Luke Chica, The Shadow Immortals. Aside from that, she has also mentioned perfect candidates for novels-to-comics adaptations like Dystopia Manila and Ric Eldrid I. Pabico’s Nobody’s Adventure. Her list also included a couple of jaw-dropping Filipino cyberpunk and fantasy manuscripts that they are currently working on Kadi Serafica’s The Awakening | Volume One of Alamat, A History of the Awakened, and Daniel de Guzman’s Neo Maligno

Kath: “One of the biggest advantages is that Mikey and I are both hands-on. And we’re able to do that because we’re both the decision-makers of our respective companies. We are not only going to engage readers, but more Filipino creatives, particularly writers, illustrators, and even movie and TV producers and directors. Just imagine!” 

Mikey: “We can cross over audiences on a global scale, which has tremendous potential.”

Mikey and Kath anticipate the partnership between Second Skin Comics and PaperKat Books. Surely, it will enhance the world-building and character development of certain books. And, I believe that this collaborative effort will shape the overall reading experience. 

Kath: “I remember what my mentor, Erwin Blanco of MAVX Productions, Inc., told me during our pitching sessions. In movies and TV series, you have a fixed timeline to make your point, tell the story, and show character development. In graphic novels and comics, the same can be said. Even the dialogues are shorter because of the space allotted for the text. In books, character development and world-building can be done across chapters. In comics, the visuals excite the readers more. A collaborative effort to bring the reader into the story through text and visuals, and even merchandise offers a more exciting reading experience.”

Mikey: “With the Dreamwalker books, I can expand that universe with a multitude of stories. For readers, they can see a universe expanding.”

Interviewing them and reading these answers makes me, a young writer, filled with exhilaration and anticipation. Each passage from these two creative visionaries ignites my imagination and kindles my passion for the written word. The creative expressions that they plan on this artistic crossover (leave me alone, they liked this phrase and I will use it until the day I die) unveil a vast universe of possibilities. Their wisdom and expertise inspired me to push the boundaries of my own craft. And, that alone is a wonderful privilege to have. 

Congratulations, Mikey and Kath! I am excited about what you guys have in store for us with this artistic crossover! Ahhh, can’t wait!

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