Dan Parent Takes Archie's Diversity Beyond "Kevin Keller's" Kiss

Last week, Archie Comics latest star Kevin Keller broke what may be the last barrier in his long streak of newsworthy adventures when his first kiss was featured in the pages of "Kevin Keller" #10.

And to hear cartoonist and Kevin creator Dan Parent tell it, the story -- which was inspired by real life protests against the character's appearances at Archie -- was less about thumbing their nose at the naysayers and more about further deepening the diversity at the publisher. CBR News caught up with Parent on the floor of Wizard World Chicago this past weekend, where the artist admitted that the whirlwind of mainstream press accompanying each of Kevin's major stories has become part of the flow of his creative life. "I'm used to it," he said. "It's fun, and I don't mind promoting my work and talking about issues."

But it's not all issues-driven work in the "Kevin Keller" series, even as the latest issue brushed up against activism with its parody of the slightly less populous than its name organization, One Million Moms. Within the pages of issue #10, Kevin confronts a woman outraged by him kissing his boyfriend in public, and the resulting conflict took the series as close to a gay rights platform as it's been. "I don't think as a whole we do that," Parent said. "I think this issue was a little more political because of the theme and where the story went. But one issue may take on a political issue while the next one is just 'Kevin's car breaks down.' So we're not going to get too politically active."

In fact, Parent's own concerns over making the comic too political were reflected in the feelings Kevin had about his own public image. "In the story, Kevin doesn't want to be the poster child for public kissing, and I don't want to be the public spokesperson for gay rights in comics," the artist said. "Though I'm not afraid to state my opinion either. I guess there's just a fine line. You have to take it as it is. I'm happy to talk about this stuff if someone wants to talk about it, but the most important thing is that we do good stories. They're entertaining, and they still fall in the traditional way of Archie storytelling. That's the primary goal. And every so often, a serious issue might come up, like with this kiss."

As for the kiss itself, Parent viewed the moment as one of the last pieces to fall into place to make Kevin a fully fleshed member of Riverdale's ongoing soap operatics. "We knew we had to do it. It's inevitable. It came up that Kevin can not be equal to the other characters in dating if he can't kiss his boyfriend. You're saying there's something wrong with it if you don't show it. So you show it when it needs to happen and when it feels right. And Kevin has been dating in the book for a year now, so the timing was right."

And perhaps most tellingly in the story, all of Kevin's troubles stem from adults who don't understand him, while the children of Riverdale seem unfazed by his romantic relationships. This is another real-life parallel Parent discovered while working on the character. "I still say primarily the audience is kids, even though we have a pretty diverse audience," he said of Archie readers. "And the kids are pretty much on board with Kevin. We don't have to worry about their opinions. They haven't formed any prejudices yet. But they've always been on board with Kevin. Usually, any negative reactions we get are from older, more conservative people -- a lot of people who don't read Archie but just read about the stories somewhere else. And most often when they read the stories, they find they're a lot less jarring than they thought. When Kevin first came out, some people were very nervous about it, but when they read it, they realized it was nothing to be worried about."

Moving forward, Parent's work with both Kevin and the rest of the Archie gang will continue to be a mix of teenage comedy and relationship drama. "Veronica will always be a pain," the artist laughed of the end to issue #10. And though Archie Comics are often viewed as being somewhat set in amber, Parent argued that new status quo shifts like the redhead's relationship with Josie & The Pussycats bass player Valerie are always there to help define the stories of modern Archie. "The Archie/Valerie relationship came in handy this issue because we were talking about tolerance and acceptance. They fit the story a little bit. But the fun thing about Archie is that we can revisit things when we want to. With Archie and Valerie, we can wrap one of their storylines and then revisit it a few months later with a new twist or a new tour or a new plotline. That's the great thing about the characters."

Speaking of new tours, the next major Archie arc for Parent after recent stories like "Archie Meets 'Glee'" will be "World Tour" -- a globe-hopping battle of the bands storyline that will both feature Archie music acts new and old. The arc, which starts in "Archie" #650, will also reintroduce a diverse group of characters Parent created before Kevin Keller was on the scene. "'World Tour' is showing more of the characters I brought in over the last few years. They've got all kinds of different ethnicities and backgrounds," Parent said. "That's the way the world is. Places like Riverdale in the '50s don't really exist anymore, or if they do exist, they're a little closed off. And that's not what Riverdale is all about."

But for old school Archie fans, the story will also dust off the music of some former four-color pop stars. "I didn't know a lot about the Madhouse Glads. I had a few issues of that, but it required a little research on my part," the artist admitted. "The Bingos I knew because I used to read 'That Wilkin Boy' when I was young. Of course, Josie everybody knows. And we're going to be bringing in some new bands too -- a couple of concoctions that you'll see which are in the works. Even last year, we did the story where Valerie left the Pussycats to be with Archie, so Veronica took over. And of course, she wanted to take over and make it 'Veronica & The Pussycats.' That's always fun to mix things up, and they've let me do that the last few years. We're a comic book company, so we should be doing that!"

And there will be more on the horizon from Parent who said he completes about 30 pages of interior art a month in addition to his covers and script work at the publisher. "'Kevin' [which is bimonthly] is my constant, and I do issues of 'Archie' here and there," he said. "We've got an issue coming out called the 'Mirrordale' issue which is sort of like Bizarro world Archie where they see the other versions of themselves, like a funhouse mirror. That's a one-shot, and it's a lot of fun. It's random stuff, though I'm pretty steadily writing 'Betty & Veronica.' But I'll work wherever they place me."

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