It’s been a little over a week since the internet nearly exploded with sparkly streamers and pink confetti over the news that the first gay (at least, openly gay anyway **wink, wink Jughead**) character would appear in the Archie Comics’ Universe. As an avid internet troll who spends the bulk of my 8 hrs stuck to my super-boring desk job reading numerous websites and blogs to pass the time, I can say with confidence that every single site (whether it be gay, comic book related, entertainment related, general news related or otherwise) I’ve clicked over the last few days has mentioned this little dollop of queer comic book news. It’s everywhere, people. It’s the Susan Boyle of comic book news.
For better or worse, it seems everyone has welcomed Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s newest fab teen with open arms! To this I say: Goodie! Set to appear in September’s Veronica #202, in an amusing story entitled “Isn’t it Bro-mantic?”, Kevin Keller comes out with as much aplomb and ease as Ricky Martin did a month or so ago – minus all the “She Bangs, She Bangs” jokes.
As an openly out and proud comic book reader for the past (gulp) 28 years, and as an equally out-ter and proud-er gay man for the past 8 years (yay), I personally take much delight in all this hoopla. I would venture a guess that nearly every longtime comic book fan who started reading comics as a child has read an Archie Comic. For most child-into-adult comic readers, Archie was, and still is, the safe, soft, sweet, welcoming comic book universe that invites any and all to pick up a book and enjoy. Archie Comics was the perfect training wheel to prepare us devoted fanboys and fangirls to transition over into the more mainstream superhero fare and beyond.
For me, as a boy, I was drawn more to Betty and Veronica then I ever was to anything starring Archie (despite my love for men with Ginger hair) or Jughead, or the rest of his boy gang of goofballs. Something about these two girls spoke to my adolescent self; I think it might have been their fashions and their frenemy-like relationship. There’s something to be said for being able to pick up an Archie comic at any time and know that the characters will still be just the way you remembered them.
As perhaps the last ongoing bastion of “good, clean, innocent” 1940’s Americana, Archie Comics has a formula that has worked for the company’s 60 plus years: their comics are simple, easy to read, and fun. They never challenge a reader’s mental, political, or emotional views, and nothing in an Archie comic will raise an eyebrow or ever offend. To some this is boring, uninspired, safe storytelling. To others it’s wholesome, innocent, safe storytelling. Personally, I feel both ways about Archie. While I respect their comics and their success and their ability to stay true to their formula, I also wish they would sometimes give their stories a more modern, realistic, teenage take on the 2000’s. I’m not talking teen pregnancy and Jersey Shore-like drunken antics, but it would be nice to have the kids deal with realistic situations and themes that challenge the characters and their ‘stuck-in-amber’ state.
But, however you might feel about Archie Comics, I’m happy to say - since I was lucky enough to read an advance B&W, un-proofed preview of the story – the inclusion of openly gay Kevin into this bubble of a more innocent time is nothing sort of glorious. I rather enjoyed the book. For those who feared that a gay in Riverdale might taint the wholesomeness of the Archie gang, they can sit down, relax and shut up. The story is just another typical Archie comic: it’s light, it’s goofy, it’s cheesy, it’s G rated to the max. And also it’s super cute. The entire gay issue is handled expertly and is, in fact, not an issue at all.
The plot centers around man-hungry rich-girl Veronica, hot-to-trot for the newest Riverdale resident; the aloof but nice, uninterested hottie Kevin who sports tight T-Shirts, Tank Tops, pompadour hair and panache for eye-rolling – which, I noticed is the main way Kevin exhibits any queer traits or ‘acts gay’ (as if there is a general all-encompassing way gay people act, being that gay people, like, well any people really, all act differently and uniquely). I counted, and Kevin rolls his eyes 4 times throughout the story and tends to have a constant amused/surprised/expressive look on his face.
Personally, I love it. I love that Kevin isn’t a bland character whose mannerisms and over-all look isn’t indistinguishable from any other straight male Archie character. I know some gay advocates will cry foul and claim that Kevin is a stereotype – the typical good-looking, hot-bodied, super-kind, well-coifed, fashion-forward gay boy – and to these critics I also say: sit down, relax and shut up! It’s freaking Archie Comics, people. Get a grip! Veronica is your stereotypical rich, hyper-smooch-happy, snooty, teenage girl. Betty is your stereotypical sweet, tom-boy-with-curves, blond girl next door. If we’re gonna have a stereotypical gay character in a comic, at least he’s in good company. Besides, one gay in Riverdale is a big enough statement as is. Maybe ten years down the road we’ll have Kevin making friends with a variety of inclusionary gay characters, like a hairy bear-type gay, a skinny, young twinky gay, a big leather-clad muscle daddy gay and a ‘straight-acting’ jock. Until then, let’s be grateful for the baby-steps here!
Also, to those who complain that Kevin doesn’t hold hands, or kiss, or hug, or gaze-longingly at another boy, I remind you that San Francisco wasn’t built in a day! Give it some time. At least Kevin actually utters the words “I’m gay.” There’s no clever subtlety or page after page of carefully implied actions and coded-words that reveal his sexual-orientation. He comes right out and says it. That’s something to celebrate. And the fact that his gayness is used as a key plot-point in a non-After-School-Special-way is a tremendous moment in comic book history. Sure Kevin is gay, but that’s no more shocking or offensive in the story than Veronica hunting Kevin like her hunky-man-prey, or the on-going, slightly pervy relationship between Betty and Veronica and Archie. (As a side note, it’s humorous to me that gay men are often viewed as promiscuous, sex-crazed deviants incapable of being in a monogamous relationship, but has no one stopped to consider the merry-go-round that is Archie dating both Betty and Veronica? How is that not considered to be left-of-center in terms of traditional, monogamous relationships? Double standard, anyone?)
When all is said and done, everyone wins in this PR-y media firestorm: comic books get a shot in the arm from the non-comic-reading-media and non-comic-reading-rubberneckers, gays get a chance to feel that we’re becoming more and more a part of ‘acceptable’ society (if you ask me I’ve always been acceptable, but whatever) and Archie Comics wins a huge coup in getting much needed buzz and attention. It’s a win, win, win all around! So how about we don’t over-think the whole deal and we, as in comic lovers and gay comic lovers both, just be grateful people are talking. With all the gloom and doom regarding the future of the printed comic book, it’s great to have something that lets outsiders know that comic are still an important part of our culture! And that is something to cheer about!