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Kevin Keller Conquers Comics

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Archie Comics’ gay character gets his own series
by Neil Ellis Orts

Nearly two years ago, I first spoke with Dan Parent, the creator of the new Archie Comics character Kevin Keller. Since that time, Kevin has starred in a successful four-issue miniseries and has just started his own ongoing series. On top of that, he’s made an appearance in Archie’s magazine for older readers, Life with Archie, which chronicles the adventures of the adult Archie gang. In that issue (#16, for those still looking for it) the adult Kevin, now a decorated military hero, gets married. It’s not just a gay wedding, either, but a gay interracial military wedding. (Since this interview was conducted, the conservative One Million Moms organization called for a boycott of that issue, which led to it selling out. So much for boycotts.)

I thought it was time to check in with Kevin’s creator again to see who the audience is for Riverdale’s first gay teen, how he’s developed, and where controversies are found.

Neil Ellis Orts: Tell me about the last year and a half.
Dan Parent: It’s been pretty eventful at Archie, with Kevin and some other things going on. But yeah, Kevin really took off. When the issue with Kevin’s first appearance came out, Veronica #202, the issue sold out. It was the first time in Archie history that we’ve had to go into a second printing. So there was a lot of interest in the storyline. Fortunately, people stuck around afterwards for Kevin’s second appearance, and after that we gave him a four-issue miniseries, which came out last year and also did very well. So people seem to have welcomed the addition of Kevin into Riverdale. That led into the first issue of his ongoing regular series, which has just begun.

Have you been able to determine how much of Kevin’s popularity is with Archie’s 8- to 12-year-old target demographic, and how much is with people like me who are older gay folk who grew up on Archie comics and are reliving their childhoods with storylines that now reflect us?
I don’t know if they’ve traced that. Kevin definitely has younger fans, the regular age group, because I do a lot of conventions and I get a lot of kids coming up to me to sign Kevin books. They’re with their parents, so if the parents were bothered by the fact that we had a gay character, they’re over it. They’ve read the storyline and they know it’s safe for kids to read. So we have our regular fans, [but definitely we also have an older readership who became] interested in the character after hearing about it. Like everything else that’s Archie, it’s probably a little bit all over the map. I know subscriptions on Kevin are really high, so people are subscribing to the magazine.

I’m interested in watching new characters develop. Are there ways that Kevin has changed as you’ve written the stories?
You do learn along the way. I think as you see the character develop, you’ll find he’s not so perfect. At first everyone thought he was so perfect. He was the best-looking guy, he couldn’t do anything wrong. We’ll start to see he has his flaws like everybody else. But he’s still a good role model, the guy next door—that’s going to stick because it’s Archie Comics. But as we get a little deeper into the stories, the character evolves in the way he interacts with the rest of the Archie gang. In Kevin #1, he hangs out with Reggie for the first time.

Can you name a flaw that you see developing?
We establish that he’s not good at dating. He appears to be smooth and a good-looking guy, but because he’s moved around so much, he never really had a chance to form any long-term relationships, so he’s kind of a wreck when it comes to dating. He’s a bit klutzy. We’ve added a little more slapstick to the recent issues I’m working on because you want to keep the stories light and funny.

Have there been positive and negative points over the last year and a half?
Creatively, it’s been great. You do the best you can do and hope people like it, and fortunately it turned out that way. I guess the only negative is that every once in a while someone doesn’t like what we’re doing—they think we’re betraying the values of Archie, which I completely disagree with. You can’t make everybody happy, so that’s par for the course. I’ve actually gotten more negative response after the storyline where Archie marries Valerie, the African-American girl from Josie and the Pussycats.
I was at a convention last week, and people were coming up with the Kevin books and having them signed. Every once in a while, I’d see a kid pick up a Kevin book and the parent would say, “No, I don’t want you to read that.” But those are so random that the number of people admiring the book far outshines that.

It’s encouraging that Kevin isn’t all that troublesome, but it’s troublesome that Valerie is…troublesome.
Yeah, I didn’t expect that. I’m thinking of one occasion when I was in Florida last year at a convention and this guy came up to me and kind of gave me a hard time about it. He asked me what my social agenda was by marrying Archie off to an African-American girl. Social agenda? The only agenda I can think of is that we kind of want them to be in the 21st century.

Archie has been getting a lot of press, at least in the comics press, about how they’re pushing some boundaries with an interracial romance, gay characters, a gay interracial military wedding—and there’s this surprise. Archie? Archie is the leader? You get the feeling that there’s some fresh new movement at Archie.
Definitely. Definitely, because these ideas have come up before and they’ve not been okayed. But most of this has to do with our new CEO, Jon Goldwater [son of John L. Goldwater, original co-owner of Archie Comics], who has been on board for three years now. He’s really the one who has put forth the change. He grew up in the family owning half the Archie empire, so he knows the Archie story but he also wanted to see Archie evolve.

Well, it’s great to see a character like Kevin succeed so quickly. I mean, how long did it take for [lesbian superhero] Batwoman to get her own series?
It’s funny, because there was an article in Rolling Stone, and they were pointing out how Kevin and Batwoman were the two positive role-model gay books. I think the Batwoman book is really good, so I’m happy how they pointed it out. Because we’re really committed to doing a good job with Kevin, and I think J.H. Williams has the same commitment to Batwoman.

Now there’s a cross-over waiting to happen!
That would be cool!

Neil Ellis Orts is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Neil Ellis Orts

Neil Ellis Orts is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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