When Archie Comics announced last year that they were debuting an openly gay character named Kevin Keller, skeptics suspected it might be a publicity-driven move, with the character showing up once and then quickly fading into obscurity.
Now the character's starring in his own four-issue miniseries — simply titled Kevin Keller — detailing both his life as a new addition to the familiar cast of Riverdale High, and his past as an Army brat.
"We were pretty conscious not to make the character a one-off kind of thing," Dan Parent, creator of Kevin Keller and writer/artist of the miniseries, told Newsarama. "Fortunately, he did hit a mark with the readers, so we were able to continue with him."
Parent said that Archie has gotten "98 percent positive" feedback regarding the introduction of Kevin Keller. The character has attracted widespread mainstream media attention, including Parent appearing for a live interview on MSNBC.
Kevin's status as the son of a military man — and his desire to follow in his father's footsteps — has brought further attention to the miniseries, during a time where the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is pending repeal.
"That's really something that we never covered, having a family member who was in the military," Parent said, adding that the idea for the military connection came from long-time Archie editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick. "It being Kevin, we knew it would get a little more attention, politically speaking. "While the character's initial introduction in last fall's Veronica #202 was lighthearted fare in the Archie tradition, the miniseries delves into more serious territory, like Kevin coming out to his parents. But Parent said they weren't looking to be preachy with the material.
"We tried to not hit people over the head with it," Parent said. "We just tried to show that he's an all-American kid who wants to be in the military. He's gay, but it's not like the whole story revolves around that."
Kevin's coming out story is seen in Kevin Keller #1, and both of his parents are completely accepting of the news. Parent acknowledges that not every kid's experience is that easy.
"I know a lot of people's coming out experiences aren't as rosy as that," Parent said. "But at the same time, the major thing we wanted to show is that Kevin is a gay kid, but he comes from a very positive family, like Archie. When you're a kid, and you read Archie Comics, everybody wants to be in Riverdale. "
TV shows like Glee have dealt directly with bullying issues, and Parent said it's something they're addressing in this miniseries, as well.
"In the fourth issue he tackles it head on with another student at Riverdale High," Parent said, noting that they couldn't make a regular Archie character — even one with an antagonistic reputation like Reggie — homophobic.
Kevin Keller is a change of pace for Parent, whose work for Archie tends towards the silly side, like last year's Jersey Shore parody.
"My stories are usually really goofy and off the wall. So it's a little more serious, but it's the right avenue to do it in," Parent said, comparing the miniseries in tone to the magazine format book Life With Archie. "You're talking about a gay teenager and his experiences, so you have to get a little serious."
With Kevin, Parent said that Archie Comics is "trying to avoid stereotypes as much as we can." In his introduction, the character was seen to be as much of a fast food addict as Jughead. At the same time, Kevin is handsome, well-groomed, and has become best friends (and shopping buddies) with Veronica.
"His whole being is not about being gay, but at the same time you have to address it," Parent said. "Otherwise, what's the point? It's got to be part of who he is."
Parent has been working for Archie for 24 years, and said that the period starting last year, with the introduction of Kevin, Jon Goldwater on board as co-CEO, and same-day digital release for their monthly comics, has been the most exciting for him.
"The whole company made a change," Parent said. "There were a lot of really positive things going on at once."
For the writer and artist, Kevin Keller has been the biggest thing in his career.
"Before this, it was the Love Showdown thing back in the '90," Parent said of the 1994 miniseries where Archie was forced to definitively choose between Betty and Veronica. "This definitely has eclipsed that."
Kevin Keller #1 is on sale in comic shops and on newsstands now.