We need to talk about Kevin Keller

Dan Parent, the man behind Archie comics’ first (out) gay character talks to Cult MTL about Riverdale’s biggest controversies.

Photo by Rhiannon Brock

It was tough getting answers out of Archie comic writer and illustrator Dan Parent. It’s not that he wasn’t accommodating, it’s just that he didn’t want to keep his fans waiting. From tween girls to 50-something Québécois men, they shyly stepped forward to buy prints and get his autograph. And to thank him.

Because while he’s been at the comic for over two decades, in the last few years Parent has turned Archie from a wholesome comic about family, dating and school into a wholesome comic about family, dating and school… with an out homosexual lead character who, in one series, marries his ex-military boyfriend. Riverdale’s come a long way from Archie’s first ever appearance in 1941. Here’s how Parent helped get it there.

Rhiannon Brock: So Kevin Keller is the first out gay character in the Archie universe. Who’s still in the closet?
Dan Parent: Well, the one people always say is Jughead…

RB: Of course. Too obvious. And Midge? Big Ethel?
DP: No characters are going to come out of the closet, but we will add more gay characters. After all, Kevin’s got to date.

RB: You must have expected a little controversy when you introduced Kevin Keller.
DP: Not really. I knew One Million Moms protested the Ellen show. But it was a surprise. A very pleasant surprise, because when they protested, the book sold out.

RB: What were they angriest about? Kevin being gay, his gay wedding, his boyfriend being in the military or his boyfriend not being white?
DP: I’m sure it was a combination — though they obviously couldn’t say that. They didn’t want it sold at Toys R Us because it would corrupt the youth of America.

RB: Has Archie ever corrupted anyone, ever? I don’t remember it ever being controversial, before unless you count Betty being into “women’s lib.”
DP: The only controversy I can think of was back in the ‘80s, before I was on board, when they introduced Cheryl Blossom. She was very… not promiscuous, flirtatious. She wore little bikinis and was stripping on the beach. I think her brother was drinking beer. For Archie that was pretty risqué. So they got some complaints and kind of put Cheryl away for a little while.

RB: You didn’t just create Kevin, you were also responsible for the first interracial romance in the series [Archie and Valerie] and you put Obama and Palin in an issue before the last U.S. election. Was that well-received?
DP: Obama was a transformative figure, so we had an issue of Veronica where she met him, which did very well. We didn’t want to seem one-sided, so we threw in Palin. There was an image of Obama and Palin sharing a soda — that created a lot of controversy. It was nothing offensive really, but I guess if you were extremely on either side you didn’t like it. Though it was mostly the conservatives who didn’t like it, from what we heard.

RB: You’ve created Archie crossovers with KISS and one coming up with Glee. How come, when I read Archie as a kid, it was always “Jon Bovy” and “Rad Stewarts”?
DP: They used to be very careful about using real names or properties, but technically you can use the name of someone as long as you don’t use it in the logo, or if it falls under the rules of parody. Mad magazine does it all the time. But it’s always more fun to get the original.

RB: Any other pop culture icons you’ve been longing to bring to Riverdale?
DP: I’d love to do The Big Bang Theory. That would be perfect for us.

RB: Yeah, with Dilton! Any you’ll never do, like Jersey Shore, maybe?
DP: Ha, well, we did Jersey Shore. It was actually really fun, but it was right at the beginning [of the show]. I think I’d refrain from ever doing something with the Kardashians. That would be overkill. That show, when it comes up, I just… I turn the channel.

RB: And any other social issues you want to tackle?
DP: Alex Segura wrote a story about the Occupy Wall Street movement — the Occupy Riverdale issue. It’s still very simple and wholesome. Obviously, a tragedy, an assassination or war, is harder to translate.

RB: Any chance we’ll see Kevin in his own show?
DP: There’s been talk about that, live-action. It’s about time for a gay teen to get his own show.

RB: But everyone’s so friendly to him. Where’s the drama?
DP: At first, we were trying to show that he was like everybody else. His experience is obviously more pleasant than it is for a lot of people — we’re saying that’s how it should be. But you’re going to see a little bit of a change in 2013. Kevin’s going to get a regular boyfriend. He’s not going to be a bad boy, exactly, but you’re going to see some conflict with his parents. He won’t be so agreeable.

BONUS FANGIRL QUESTION: This has been bugging me forever, because the second someone pointed it out, it was all I could see. Why are there no periods at the end of any sentences in Archie comics? They all end with a question or exclamation mark! Why?
DP: When I first started [at Archie] I wondered the same thing, but never found out why. Then after about a month of working there I just fell right into it. The fact that you pointed it out made me realize I hadn’t thought about it in 15 years. ■

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