Eternal life. It's popped up in everything, from modern day classics like "Harry Potter" and "Indiana Jones" to ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend. Now, in his original graphic novel "Maximum Lifespan," Dr. Ed Park seeks to inform the public that extending the lifespan of humans is here and it works - and after three years, his graphic novel is up and running. With the eBook already available and the limited edition hardcover debuting August 18, Park's story is about to be heard in a big way.
The central conceit of Park's graphic novel is telomerase, and enzyme which is linked to aging. Through certain treatments, humans can unlock the potential of their telomerase to extend their lifespan, a practice that brings with it a number of new philosophical questions to light, questions Park explores in his story. "'Maximum Lifespan' was born from the whole idea of life extension. I became aware that there was an enzyme called telomerase that lengthened peoples' lifespan," Park told CBR News. "That idea spurred a bunch of other questions, like 'How would people treat life if they were 160, 200, 300 years old?' What would be the problems, like replacement organs, how would they do their jobs and [what would happen to] their reproduction and families. I went to Hollywood and pitched the screenplay and I wrote a few others. It gradually dawned on me that trying to sell a screenplay, let alone make a movie in Hollywood, has a very low probability. It would probably be easier to get struck by lightning twice. I basically saw that graphic novels were being made into movies and I decided in 2010 to make a graphic novel."
The graphic novel Park produced became a blend of his screenplay and events unfolding in the real world. "This is actually a case of art imitating life - or maybe life imitating art - because back in 2007, I became aware that there was a product that was claiming to help people turn on their telomerase," he told CBR. "If you do that, then you basically cure aging. It's funny, because in the comic book, the hero wins the Nobel Prize for telomerase activation. Actually, 2009's Nobel Prize was awarded to the scientist who discovered telomerase. So it's kind of like art and science colliding."
Many of the questions that Park explores with "Maximum Lifespan" are ages old, dealing with the tricky and sometimes disturbing concept of mortality. "I think it's one of the first stories told. Going back toward Gilgamesh when people realized that they were going to die and [asked] what if they could do something to not die or live longer," the writer explained. "It's a story that's always been told. I think aging and trying to get a maximum lifespan is an obsession of people once they pass thirty. Just to get the story out there, asking what would life be like in terms of identity or meaning in the human condition if we could transfer our bodies into computers. That's been done in several movies. People are all on the same kind of thought-experiment track as I am. I really dig Philip K. Dick's stuff that taps into that consciousness and philosophical aspect of it. The Japanese have it too, like 'The Ghost in the Shell' - all those things that question whether a machine can be a person. These are really interesting questions and I think that's why it's important. Looking at people's mortality raises interesting questions. Hopefully, it's not too didactic and boring - there'll be kickass action, too."
For Park, "Maximum Lifespan" is a labor of love. While creating, publishing and promoting his graphic novel , he works full-time as a private practice physician specializing in anti-aging and cosmetics as well as raising and supporting a family. "My family has been very understanding," he said. "I've missed a couple of little league games, but I'm used to staying up late. Delivering babies - babies come at night, so I just work late, after the kids go to bed, and if you omit television from your diet, a lot of time frees up, so I just don't watch TV, usually."
Creating his graphic novel was a unique experience in and of itself for Park - especially since he wasn't particularly into comics until very recently. "I was [a fan], but not any more than the average person. I bought 'Watchmen' and 'Dark Knight' when they first came out, but being in Med School and then being a doctor raising a family, it kind of gets in the way of your comic reading career and enjoyment. So, I have to say not really - but once I saw the potential there, from all the movies that were being made like 'A History of Violence' and '300' down the line, I said, 'Well, this is what the Hollywood producers want, so this is the best way to do a movie.' Actually, the writing of screenplays and the writing of comics can be very similar because they're both visual. That was actually a pretty easy conversion."
The physician-turned-screenwriter came across yet another new experience as he learned the ins and outs of self-publishing. "It's like anything else in life. You don't really know what you don't know. There were a lot of things I did inefficiently, but that's a part of the full journey and the learning process," he said. "I think the most important thing is to find people who are passionate about the project, because without that, you just can't go anywhere. When you get into contracting with people who are in it just as a job or just to get through it, it's just really draining. That's the number one thing."
Luckily, finding passionate people to partner with wasn't much of a problem. He discovered his artist, Jove, through an artist community website and was immediately impressed by the artist's talent and passion for his concept. "Jove did something that was just so far away better than everyone else," he said. "He was really just passionate about the kind of philosophical and hard science fiction topics in it. He was psyched to do it from the get-go, so there really wasn't much decision making on my part. Let's put it this way - he created a 3D rendering engine so he could make a full splash page of this scientific lab where they steal peoples' consciousness and store it in a computer. That was so far beyond what people were doing for an interview, I figured if this guy was that passionate about an unpaid audition, then he really gets it. This is going to be my partner going forward."
Another aspect of Park's strategy was to commission a trailer for the graphic novel through Hammer Creative, the studio responsible for the video game trailers for "Batman: Arkham Asylum," "Assassin's Creed" and "Dead Space." "I figured that guys who do video game trailers would be able to work in that medium of adapting static images using After Effects," said Park. "I went online and figured out which ones looked the coolest. I called them up, and they were interested in the project. From beginning to end, they were just as passionate about it as I was, and the quality of work they did was just awesome. That alone, I think, just takes the comic book into a whole other realm. Because you can overdub in different languages, I wanted to make translations - that was kind of a no-brainer. I think that as we move forward to the iPad, there are a lot of other conversions. Not only are movies taking to graphic novels, you can actually overdub your graphic novels now on the iPad or eBook. Some of them use interactivity and the line between images on the page - static images - is blurring a bit."
While "Maximum Lifespan" is available as a download from the creator's website, as a limited edition hardcover and through distribution on the iPad, Park is still in the position that many self-published print comic creators find themselves in: facing the challenge of raising awareness of his book. "The thing I learned is that [people often respond with, 'Yeah, it's cool,' and I've had a ton of people take a look, but in order to get people to click 'Buy,' it's a totally different thing. It takes a lot to nudge the whole collective consciousness," said Park. "People have to be aware of it. How many people buy the 'Twilight' graphic novel sight unseen? Once it reaches a critical mass, tipping point, whatever - people will buy. For someone without the publicity or the advertising resources, it's basically a non-starter. I wouldn't recommend people do what I did, because it's kind of a waste of time. Now that we have the iPad, I think the game has totally changed for independent publishers. The cost of putting it out there is nil."
"It's really hard to create buzz in order to be viral," the creator told us when asked about his online marketing strategy. "I think the trailer we did was a big part of that strategy. In order to be viral, it has to have some cute, timely hook and there has to be some kind of user incentive for propagation. They need to get something out of it or seem like the cool evangelist. It's really not that easy to get things to spread virally unless it's incredibly timely or has some unique appeal. I think I'm still tweaking that whole social media strategy."
While getting the word out about "Maximum Lifespan" is important to Park, what he really hopes for is to increase the awareness of the general public about telomerase and its ability to increase the lifespan and quality of life for humans, something with which he has first hand experience with. "For the last two or three years, I've discovered that this actually works," he said. "I've lost 30 pounds, my cholesterol is normal - people don't even recognize me. It's been more of a science fiction journey for me as a person, as a physician. I was like patient #19 to get on this stuff. This is the central neurosis of people's lives. I don't want to live to 200 if the last 120 years are going to be a poor lifestyle. I'd like to make Heaven wait and live on if it's a good quality of life."
"I really want people to be aware that there is this thing out there that can make them younger!" he continued. "I think that's really a huge part of it. If I could give it away and make people aware of this new treatment, they wouldn't waste their time on some of the more hokey things that people believe work, like Acai Berry or antioxidants and Omega-3. They can take a look at something that is logically and scientifically at the heart of why people get old. It's actually a very concrete goal, just to raise awareness of that."