By Travis Clark
Harvey Richards and Lateef Ade “L.A.” Williams have a lot in common. They both grew up reading comics with aspirations to work in the industry one day. They both ultimately nabbed roles on the editorial staff of DC Comics in the 1990s.
And they are both Black men who say they never achieved their full potential at DC Comics because of their race.
There are differences in their stories — notably, the time periods. Williams exited his role as an assistant editor in 2000 after six years without a promotion, while Richards spent 22 years at the comics giant with just one promotion before he was fired in December 2019.
But the similarities that cut across those two decades are striking and speak to how little has changed for Black editorial staffers at DC Comics and in the comics industry at large.
Richards was the only Black staffer in the main DC editorial department at the time of his exit in 2019, which included about 15 people, he said. He added that DC had since hired a Black assistant editor. DC declined to comment on personnel matters.
DC, which is home to Batman, Superman, and other iconic characters, is much larger than its comics editorial department, with around 200 employees on the publishing side. But the small team of editors shape the comics and characters that inspire lucrative movies, video games, TV shows, and merchandise.
“You need [Black] editors to help nurture talent to foster diverse characters,” Richards said.
Besides being the only Black editorial staffer at the time of his exit, Richards felt stymied in his own career, he said. In his 22 years at the company, he was only promoted once. He began as an assistant editor and 12 years later, in 2009, he was promoted to associate editor.
L.A. Williams can relate.
“My personality and work style is different than Harvey’s, who is different from every other name I could rattle off,” Williams said. “But no matter how different our work styles or personalities are, the reality is that every one of our stories ended up the same. When it keeps happening year after year, person after person, you have to ask yourself what all of these people have in common.”
A Latinx former assistant editor, who exited in 1999 after five years without a promotion, shared similar concerns with Business Insider about a lack of a career path forward at DC and a sense that her work was undervalued.
The stories of these three former DC editors are also similar to that of Charles Beacham, a former Marvel editor who spoke with Business Insider in July. Beacham was one of two Black editorial staffers Marvel had employed in the last five years and quit in 2017 because he felt his voice wasn’t heard.
For Richards, there were many instances during his time at DC when he felt he was treated unfairly. He recalled specific instances with Paul Levitz, the DC publisher at the time, like when Levitz told Richards he had “grammar problems,” and when Levitz told him “some people think you deserve this” when Richards won an award. Richards was never promoted while Levitz was publisher and president.
Williams also described a confrontation with Levitz, in which Levitz told Williams that he would never be promoted as long as he was publisher.
In response to a request for comment, Levitz said: “I’m not going to comment on decades old incidents. I’m proud of the increasing diversity at DC in my time as an executive there, and while we didn’t achieve an ideal balance, I think much changed for the better.”
Since Richards’ departure, DC has taken some steps to promote diversity and inclusion.
Two women — Marie Javins and Michele Wells — were named interim editors-in-chief after recent layoffs. DC recently hired former Activision Blizzard exec Daniel Cherry, who is Black, as its new senior vice president and general manager, overseeing marketing, sales, and more for the company.
DC is also reviving Milestone, a division of DC that focused on Black characters like Static Shock and was founded in 1993 by four Black men. It ceased operations in 1997 but will return in February.
But for Richards and Williams, it’s essential to have Black voices on the editorial front to help inspire change and champion a diverse set of voices and characters.