This week saw some literally history-making hiring happening in the oft-homogenous comics industry. IDW Publishing, recently plagued with challenges in its highest ranks, hired Disney Publishing veteran Nachie Marsham as its new publisher, taking primary responsibility for the line. Likewise, DC Comics created a new position for Daniel Cherry, a veteran of the esports world, reporting to Pamela Lifford. Cherry will address many of the day-to-day operations of the publishing line, freeing up comics legend "Jim Lee, the chief creative officer and publisher, to take on expanded responsibilities surrounding the overall DC brand."
Marsham is no stranger to licensed properties and making nice with their rights holders, working with the Marvel imprint on prose and picture books. He also had a stint at DC editorial and at Wizard Magazine.
In the announcement of his hiring, Cherry showed his deep reverence for comics lore, saying he learned the work of comics from his father. That he was standing on the shoulders of like Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Neal Adams, and Harry Lampert, among other creators.
Why is this news? People get hired and — in the case of DC Comics of late, let go with some regularity. The difference now is that, in the light of literally global protests over the murders of Black people, two of the top five comic book publishers in the comic book industry are now Black.
A bit of background: the first Black person who became a comic book editor was Christopher Priest, who joined Marvel's editorial department in 1979. Let's take a look at that: after the New X-Men, after debuts from Black Lightning and Luke Cage and Black Panther, there were no Black people working in editorial for the one of the two largest comic book publishers until 1979, and none at DC for years after that. During his tenure there, staffers in the Bullpen would rub his head for luck, which was just one of scores of microaggressions and casually racist things he endured from some of the most beloved names in comics.
There is a case to be made that he is the first African-American writer in mainstream comics as well. Which again means that 46 years passed since Famous Funnies kicked off the comic book industry in 1933 without any Black people having a writing voice in what appeared on the page.
There have been Black editors at certain points: Milestone Comics veteran Joe Illidge has enjoyed tours of duty at DC Comics, Valiant, A Wave Blue World, and currently is at Heavy Metal. Eisner nominee Karl Bollers was an editor at Valiant and Marvel, Harvey Richards was famously an assistant editor at DC for many years.
Thirteen years shy of the century mark, Black people have assumed the primary positions of power at two of the biggest publishers. Is this a great milestone that we've finally achieved, or is it weird to still be looking at "first Black person to get a job" things in the freaking 21st century?
Likewise, given noted disparities in the hiring of Black people to write comics, will this mean that you'll see Black people hired to write based on their potential and not their accomplishments?
Time will tell if this will lead to actual change in the systemic exclusion of many underrepresented populations or if it will face the challenge of Chief Diversity Officers in the corporate world.