“The audience is everybody,” Pellerito said. “A distributor once asked me at our Archie booth what our audience was. In one corner of the booth you had sweet old ladies, a tatooed biker with his wife and kids, cool-looking teenagers, a camp group of little kids and a bunch of people dressed like crazy cartoon characters.”
Representatives of those demographics were present at the panel, which included Pellerito, Archie Comics writer and artist Dan Parent, “Jayson” creator Jeff Krell and former Archie Comics employee Nina Kester, alongside moderator Ted Abenheim.
The panel started off with Kevin Keller’s origin story as told by Parent, his creator.
“We wanted to diversify Archie and add new blood,” he said. “A few years ago when Jon Goldwater took over as CEO of Archie, he opend up the floodgates to do all sorts of new things. He wanted to diversify and add characters with new ethnicity. We brought up the possibility of a gay character and Jon was like ‘go for it.'” That meant making sure Kevin Keller would not be a big stunt, and that his introduction would spring up naturally within the story.
“The storyline came first,” Parent said. “The basic plotline was that Veronica has the hots for the new guy in town, but he’s gay.”
The panel stated a lot of thought went into getting Kevin’s first appearance right. The excitement that erupted around the diverse Archie office made everyone confident the character would fit in nicely at Riverdale. “We had a smaller committee that went over the storyline and made sure it was absolutely perfect when it came out,” Kester said.
Publicizing the story came next, and former director of new media at Archie Comics Nina Kester spoke to the unique way they went about getting the word out about Kevin Keller.
“We wanted to get a hook into celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, so we kept doing really gossipy stories and tried to send some of them his way and thought that would be the hook,” Kester said. “We tossed out the issue with Kevin Keller and that’s where he got really interested in Archie. He actually chose to push Kevin as a good cause, and that’s where we were able to develop that relationship.”
“Kevin reinforced in a strong way what Archie is,” Pellerito said. “Archie is about cool kids, and you’re welcome at the cool kids table.”
The character struck a chord with readers, leading to an overwhelming amount of fan mail, which hasn’t stopped to this day.
“We still get a lot of physical fan mail in the office,” Kester said. “Actually, I still have the letter we got from a little kid — it was a short letter where he wrote, ‘Jughead, it’s okay. You can come out now too.'”
Not all reactions were positive, however, and Mike Pellerito provided one example of a phone call from a fan that had to be persuaded to give Kevin a chance.
“The caller was really upset about this Kevin character, and at this point only a press release had been put out,” Pellerito said. “I asked him what his issue was and he replied, ‘Well, you know, it’s the sex!’ I said, ‘What are the three hottest sex scenes in Archie Comics?’ He goes, ‘There’s none!’ And I said, ‘Exactly.'”
Kevin’s also played a big role in the “Life with Archie” series, which takes place in the future of two timelines, following Archie’s life had he married Betty or Veronica. In the series, Kevin has found a partner in Clay.
“We spent a lot of time trying to figure out Clay,” Pellerito said. “Everyone loved Kevin, so you don’t want the guy’s husband to be any less likeable than Kevin.” Kevin met Clay after being wounded in the military, which led to Archie’s highly publicized gay wedding issue. In the main Archie universe, set at Riverdale High, the creators found the pressure to make Kevin date as soon as possible overwhelming.
“I feel like there was an intense pressure to make him date right away,” Pellerito admitted. “At panels people were asking why he wasn’t dating. He just showed up! Give him a break!”
“When we brought Kevin in at first, we wanted to see how he got along with the Archie characters,” Parent said. “We wanted to see him forming friendships with Veronica and Jughead — that had to be worked on first.” Kevin has found someone, though, in a character named Devin whose experience being gay in Riverdale differs from Kevin’s in that his family’s unaccepting of his lifestyle.
Attention then turned to Jeff Krell, the author of the long-running “Jayson” series dealing with gay characters in a style inspired by and similar to “Archie.”
“When I was a kid, I wanted to live in Riverdale forever, but I never saw myself there,” Krell said. “I was one of those kids who did not have an ideal situation, so I escaped to Riverdale. When I wanted to tell my story, I thought there was no better way to do it than through an Archie-style comic.” Krell admitted he thought a character like Kevin Keller was a long way off, and was pleasantly surprised when he debuted.
“A few months earlier there was an interracial relationship storyline between Archie and Valerie from ‘Josie and the Pussycats,’ and I thought that was groundbreaking,” Krell said. “I thought, ‘Wow, things are really changing at Archie.’ Two months later, they came along with Kevin and blew that out of the water. I couldn’t believe it, and couldn’t be happier.”
Kevin’s brought great success to Archie, earning Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award recently. Now with a major motion picture on the way form Warner Bros., fans wanted to know if they’d get to see Kevin Keller on the big screen.
“I was under the assumption Kevin will be in the movie,” Parent confirmed. “At least that’s what screenwriter Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa told me.”
“Every character’s going to have something in this movie,” seconded Pellerito. “Kevin’s important. He’s going to be in the movie.”