Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead have a new friend: Archie Comics' first openly gay character.
Kevin Keller, who first appears in Veronica #202 released on September 1st, 2010, is a teenager at Riverdale High School, the fictional universe that has been entertaining kids of all ages since 1939.
"In the last year or two, we've been introducing a lot of new characters: Diverse characters, characters with different ethnicities. With trying to be diverse, we wanted to have everybody at the table," said cartoonist Dan Parent, who's writing and drawing the issue. "We knew at some point we wanted to introduce a gay character, and when I came up with the story idea, we felt it worked in context with this story."
In his introductory story, titled "Isn't it Bromantic?," Kevin's good looks get the attention of Veronica, who doesn't know he's gay because he's the new kid in town. Her thwarted attempts at winning his attraction amuse the other characters – particularly Jughead.
"They just like watching Veronica making a fool of herself, trying to get this guy to like her," Parent said. "At the beginning of the book, Kevin tells Jughead first that he's gay. And Kevin feels kind of bad and wants to tell Veronica why he's not interested. But Jughead keeps saying, 'No, you should wait to tell her,' because he's enjoying watching Veronica's antics."
Parent said the story works because it's wasn't something radical concocted just to introduce a gay character. "The story is very much in the true context of our Archie stories," he said. "It's Veronica being Veronica. The fact that there's a gay character in the story isn't a big deal to the characters. We didn't do something with turmoil. The guy just happens to be gay, and the characters accept it, and that's it."
The longtime Archie cartoonist said Archie Comics wants to reflect what high schools are like in America, where being gay "isn't a big deal anymore."
"My daughter has openly gay kids in her high school and it's accepted," Parent pointed out. "Obviously this isn't the case everywhere in the country. There are struggles that gay people have. But gay kids in high schools isn't the big deal it used to be, and we want to reflect the way being gay is accepted in today's society."
In fact, the writer thinks one of the reasons Jughead is the first person told about Kevin's sexual orientation is that he was always a "different" character in the Archie universe. "Jughead's got a mind of his own. I think he'd be the first person to be accepting of a gay character," Parent said.
The introduction of a gay character comes on the heels of several notable changes in Archie Comics. After a redesign to update the characters a bit for modern audiences, Archie Comics titles have started doing parodies of current pop culture stories and just introduced an interracial relationship for icon Archie with Josie and the Pussycats character Valerie.
"We're trying to show that Riverdale is an accepting community, that everyone is welcome in Riverdale," he said. "We're trying to show that Riverdale is that ideal town that everybody wants to be a part of."<li>Comics4Kids Brings Archie to iTunes</li> <li>ARCHIE, Stan Lee Team-up for New Superhero Comics, TV</li> <li>Perry Moore: Looking at the Gay Hero Landscape</li>