For a company that hasn't strayed too far from their formula since World War II, Archie Comics has received a major amount of mainstream media coverage for several bold moves in the past two years, and writer/artist Dan Parent has been at the center of most of them.
Parent has been with the company since 1987, and in 2010 paired Archie and Josie and the Pussycats bassist Valerie — an interracial romance, rare for the publisher at the time. He also illustrated the currently unfolding “Archie Meets KISS” storyline, written by Archie marketing’s Alex Segura and featuring the unlikely team-up of comic book’s perennial teenager with the ‘70s rock icons.
But the biggest attention-getter in recent years at Archie has been Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the company’s history. A new student at Riverdale High, Kevin has been lauded for presenting a positive, non-stereotypical gay character to Archie’s young readership.
Parent created the character, and this week, Kevin Keller #1 — the first issue of a new ongoing series — debuts in comic book shops. Parent is writing and drawing the bimonthly series, and talked with Newsarama about what he’s looking to explore in the book, the upcoming sequel to his Archie and Josie story, and how Archie has evolved in his quarter-century at the publisher.
Newsarama: Dan, with Kevin Keller’s ongoing series debuting this week, that puts him in select company with the likes of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica as the only Archie characters to carry their own solo books. Even though the character is still relatively new, do you see him in that upper echelon?
Dan Parent: I would say so, yeah. Even though it's been a fast rise for him, he's brought in a lot of new fans because of the publicity he's gotten. They seem to be sticking around. First, we attracted a lot of the readers because of the novelty that we never had a gay character, but the people are turning out for the Kevin books, so it appears that he has a loyal following.
Nrama: And this series looks to be dealing with his orientation directly, with the character dating for the first time. How are you approaching that aspect?
Parent: We're taking it sort of slow, because we've established the fact that Kevin hasn't dated yet. It's a good chance to show Kevin interacting with the other Archie characters; everybody has their own take on how Kevin should go on a first date. It's kind of a mix of the old and the new.
Nrama: So since we’ll be seeing him dating, that obviously means we’ll see other gay Riverdale High kids as well, correct?
Parent: Yes, you will.
Nrama: The Kevin Keller miniseries ended a bit ago — other than dating, what other topics are you looking to explore in the ongoing series?
Parent: He is the class president, so there are issues we can explore there. The second issue is a prom issue — those are a staple of Archie Comics. Then we'll get into summer time, that's another Archie classic, our summer time stories are always our most popular. I'm working on a story now where he's a lifeguard. We'll see his interaction with the gang there, and new friends coming along, him and Cheryl Blossom kind of sparring with each other.
It's interesting because we're covering old, familiar ground, but in a new way. The fact that he's gay adds somewhat of a new twist, but the stories still focus on Kevin growing up — him being gay is still just a part of it. We're not trying to make it all-encompassing.
Nrama: The character of Kevin Keller has gotten Archie a lot of positive attention, but with him being super-popular with his peers and the class president, have you also gotten any criticism that it’s a little too rosy of a picture to paint for a gay high school student, given the reality of how difficult that is for many? Obviously Archie Comics aren’t realistic to begin with, but I imagine there has to be something of a balance there.
Parent: Sure. There have been comments like that, that maybe we should have shown a real struggle with him growing up. We did show him struggling with his sexuality, but it's still the Riverdale version. We are trying to explore the issues, and sometimes we explore them through other characters. We'll show him helping out other gay kids, who maybe aren't having such a rosy picture. But at the end of the day, it's still an Archie comic. We don't want to get too heavy, but at the same time, we are dealing with issues a little more seriously than in regular book. So we're trying to play it down the middle a little bit.
Nrama: Coming up in March is a sequel to the Archie/Valerie romance story from 2010, which I think was sort of the first of the current wave of bold Archie moves.
Parent: I think the first thing was the Archie wedding that really got the ball rolling. When Jon Goldwater took over, we were encouraged to try new things, and one of them was Kevin, of course, and the Archie/Valerie romance was another one. When I wrote that story, I just thought it was an interesting idea. It really took off. I think it was the fastest story I ever wrote. I think it was just because there was an interesting dynamic there.We haven't explored Valerie's character that well, even though she's a really, really interesting character. Exploring her character really was interesting, and the chemistry with the two clicked — both characters being musicians. I think she's really the first serious threat to the Betty and Veronica love triangle, even though Cheryl Blossom kind of was at the time we did the "Love Showdown." There's not a real lot of substance between Archie and Cheryl; Cheryl's attributes are pretty obvious. But Valerie's kind of got it all — she's smart, she's sexy, and she's a musician.
Nrama: And part of it is an alternate future, Life with Archie-type story, right?
Parent: Part of it, yeah. The story starts out where Archie and Valerie meet up again, and Valerie’s family moves to Riverdale. We also meet Valerie’s brother, too. With them being back together, Valerie starts to do her walk down memory lane, and she sees what her potential future with Archie could be like. So that’s for about an issue, issue-and-a-half of the four issues.
Nrama: While all this is going on, the “Archie Meets KISS” story that you illustrated is wrapping up, which is another big deal you’ve been involved with — how was the signing at Golden Apple in Los Angeles with the band?
Parent: That was a lot of fun. They were wonderful to work with, and it was a real thrill. I didn’t know what to expect, I had never really been on a signing before with any celebrities, but they were really great.
Nrama: You’ve been at Archie for a long time now, but the past two years have to be fairly unprecedented in terms of the type of mainstream attention brought to the publisher.
Parent: It has been. Every once in a while, there’s a project that pops up — every four or five years, there would be a big project — but in the last three or four years, there’s been five or six projects that have taken off.
Especially right at the end of this year — we had Kevin Keller, Archie and KISS, and the Valerie thing. Last year, we got a lot of attention for the Obama/Sarah Palin story, and Kevin had debuted around that time, too. This year has been crazy.
Nrama: How long have you been with Archie at this point? Since at least the early ‘90s, right?
Parent: It’ll be 25 years in June, I believe. I started there in 1987.
Nrama: Which was right around the time of wacky Archie series like Archie 3000 and Explorers of the Unknown.
Parent: Yeah, those started shortly thereafter. Archie 3000, R/C Racers, Jughead’s Time Police, Jughead’s Diner — that was really out there.
Nrama: Was that after the one with the Riverdale High faculty as superheroes?
Parent: That was right around the same time. Faculty Funnies. I think Faculty Funnies was the biggest bomb of all of them. Veronica lasted, that was the beginning of her book. Archie 3000 was around for a few years, that did fairly well.
Nrama: Didn’t [Jughead’s dog] Hot Dog have his own series around then, too?
Parent: Hot Dog had his own book. I think that lasted about five issues. Hot Dog and Faculty Funnies, the world wasn’t ready for that.. [Laughs.]Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!'