It was a strange and fruitful blip in the online comic community. Writer Warren Ellis’s comic book message board The Engine ran from early September 2005 to Aug. 31, 2007, birthing in its short life new comic books, ongoing collaborative superteams, Eisner and Harvey Award-winning projects, and at least one marriage.
My affectionate memories are not only those of a participant, but of one of six hand-picked moderators (or Filthy Assistants, or Enforcers, or Attack Wombs, or…) from its birth to retirement. I spent hours a day reading, enforcing, and talking Engine, so it looms large in my memory as a crucible of comic history. The Engine was uniquely suited to making things happen, not just talking about them, and I’m heading back into the mid-aughts to explore what made it such fertile ground and why its echoes affect comics to this day.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”
The Engine’s original charter called for a unique structure: protected sections for published or contracted-to-publish creators working outside the superhero genre. Somewhere in the mid-aughts web small indie fora devoted to a particular creator’s work no doubt puttered along nicely, but major comic sites simply didn’t excise superheroes.
A few days before The Engine went live, Ellis expounded on his two primary intentions in 8/29/05’s Bad Signal e-newsletter:
[The Engine] serves two purposes: a point for conversation about FELL, DESOLATION JONES and my other adult-oriented, non-superhero, creator owned works. There are loads of other places for people to talk about PLANETARY, NEXTWAVE, JACK CROSS, ULTIMATE SECRET and all. And also a stage for like-minded creators, involved in original non-superhero work, to talk about what they’re doing. That, you’ll note, is not an all-inclusive and all-welcoming stance, and I’m going to be selective about it, too. There’ll also, with luck, be a space for pros to talk that’ll be read-only to everyone else: there are conversations worth having in public that wouldn’t survive thread-drift from the audience.
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