Joe Illidge wants THE EPIPHANY ENGINE to shake up the comics industry

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How does one reverse engineer a new comics multiverse? To start with a reality-shattering clash of universes as a way to introduce a whole new ecosystem of heroes, villains, and incredible characters is not what many would call an industry standard. Common practice leans on starting small and then building up to seismic crossover events where already-established characters come together for maximum effect and visibility.

This is not what Joe Illidge is interested in. With his new comics project, a massive collaborative endeavor featuring 45 Black comics publishers called The Epiphany Engine, what Illidge is going for is a big bang of comic book imagination that hits the ground running at light speed.

Currently being funded on Kickstarter, The Epiphany Engine is a 192-page graphic novel that introduces a multiverse of Black superheroes that have grown and found a home in the indie market. It’s a crossover event that covers decades of Black comics history and is now being assembled under the banner of Advent Comics, whose mission statement is “Putting the SOUL back into comics.”

The story follows the McKali family, a Fantastic Four-like unit of brilliant scientists that work to uncover the mysteries of the universe. Their research leads to the discovery of a cosmic threat called Abzylom, a being that wants to collapse time and space. Nothing short of an army of heroes will be able to stop this big bad, which is what the McKali’s set out to do. And thus a multiverse is born.

The Epiphany Engine will feature an all-star cast of Black creators, both well-established and up-and-coming. Among them are Alitha Martínez, Jamal Igle, Rodney Barnes, Colleen Douglas, Brian Hawkins, John Jennings, Marcus H. Roberts, and many more.

The Beat corresponded with Illidge to talk the many moving parts of The Epiphany Engine and what exactly goes into bringing a Black comics multiverse into existence.


RICARDO SERRANO: The Epiphany Engine feels like a community project aimed precisely at the community that’s been supporting Black comics creators for years. Can you comment on the unique fanbase that carries and how it can bring in new readers as well?

JOE ILLIDGE: The Epiphany Engine graphic novel is the largest-scale collective effort in comic books and graphic novels created by the Black community of publishers, writers, and artists, and in a very real way it’s a reflection of the unique and vast fanbase of mainstream Black consumers and entrepreneurs. The fanbase goes back at least 30 years with the “Black Age of Comics” and the renaissance of publishers which included Big City Comics with Brotherman and Milestone Comics with Static.

We now have 45 publishers unified with Epiphany Engine, which speaks to the growing imprint of Black comic book publishers on the overall industry, and that imprint is the foundation for bringing in new readers.

Epiphany Engine is a culturally rich story with universal themes about family, exploring the unknown, and overcoming extraordinary adversity with help from your community. Much in the same way that Marvel Studios’ Black Panther film was steeped in African culture and acted as a story with multi-audience appeal about civic responsibility and how children are traumatized by the loss of family.

At the center of the Epiphany Engine story is The McKali family, a group of super-science heroes and explorers who protect the world from extraordinary and multidimensional threats. When a mysterious enemy named Abzylom scatters the family across different parallel universes, it will take the multiversal village of Black superheroes to aid the McKalis in reuniting their family to learn the truth about Abzylom.

The story themes, quality, and availability are all gateways for new readers.

The publishers

SERRANO: What led to the decision to go for a full-blown multiverse rather than a series of smaller scale team-ups that would then slowly come together?

ILLIDGE: To celebrate the last 30 years of Black comic book publishers in a way that spoke to the legacy of their work, a story of multiversal scale was the best choice. DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths was as much a story about the Golden and Silver ages of their publishing legacy as it was a cosmic-level saga, and Epiphany Engine follows in that tradition with a twist. This is a graphic novel in the true sense of the term, a 192-page story of an epic scale with character journeys and heart.

A miniseries would have a different kind of pacing and effect than a graphic novel will have. Additionally, through the structure of the Kickstarter campaign, we were able to lean into one appeal of the comic-buying audience, which is variant covers. The collectible market and art admirers really love having options, so with different tiers in the campaign we have covers from some of the best and innovative artists of the craft. Chriscross, Alitha E. Martinez, Keron Grant, Sean Damien Hill and Marcus “The Visual” Williams are just a few examples of the powerhouse team of artists we’ve brought together for this historic book.

The creators

SERRANO: The Black experience in comics has been garnering more and more attention thanks to yearly events like the Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival and Jersey City’s own Black Comic Con, which had its inaugural show on June 29th of this year. How have these events influenced your vision for Epiphany Engine?

ILLIDGE: First off, it’s great to see more Black-founded comic book conventions! Our vision for Epiphany Engine is for the book to be a gateway for readers to discover the collection of Black publishers, and the expansion of Black entrepreneurship in the convention sector is perfect for the project’s Third Stage.

The First Stage was the activation and initial seed funding by Project Lead Tony Kittell and his publishing company Advent Comics, allowing us to go to the global community with a Kickstarter campaign that showed the book’s development and massive team of contributors. The Second Stage is the post-campaign continued development and completion of Epiphany Engine, which speaks to the ongoing efforts of myself as Editorial Director and Co-Art Director, along with team members Marcus H. Roberts of Second Sight Publishing, Jiba Molei Anderson of Griot Enterprises, and Brian Hawkins of BlaX Trauma Productions.

The Third Stage begins in the start of 2025, when all of the backers of Epiphany Engine will have their books, retailers will have copies, and dozens of creators who are part of the overall Epiphany Engine project will have copies at their tables at conventions.

We’re very excited about the next 18 months!

SERRANO: Along the same lines as the previous question, what do you think the book brings to the table regarding the presence of Black comics and characters in the industry? How does it push the needle forward?

ILLIDGE: Epiphany Engine is the largest collaborative effort ever of the minds behind the Black comics and characters, so what it brings to the table is the culmination of over thirty years of surviving and thriving in the comic book industry in celebratory fashion.

It pushes the needle forward by being the next multiversal saga for lovers of high-stakes stories, to sit on their bookshelves and coffee tables alongside Marvel Comics’ Secret Wars and DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths as a timeless adventure with evergreen appeal.

The way that Milestone Comics have inspired multiple generations through its various publishing iterations across the decades…that’s the kind of beacon Epiphany Engine can be 10, 20, even 30 years from now for new generations of comic book creators looking for stories of ambitious creative collaboration.

SERRANO: What does the future hold for this new multiverse?

ILLIDGE: Right now, we’re all focused on the present-day mission that is creating the Epiphany Engine graphic novel. When the readers get their books early next year and tell us they want to see more…

…we’ll prepare to power up The Engine again!

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