Response to the new Archie character, Kevin Keller, has been so strong that starting this June he will be starring in his own four-issue miniseries by writer/artist Dan Parent. If you had said to me two years ago that Archie Comics would one day build a miniseries around the first openly gay character in the company's history, I would not have believed you. But clearly (as noted in this 2010 CBR News Parent interview) the fine folks at Archie Comics want "to make Riverdale more diverse while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotypes and parody". So to find out more about Parent's plans for this new miniseries, we conducted a quite enjoyable email interview. As an added bonus, Archie's Alex Segura was generous enough to share an exclusive preview of issue 2's variant cover. If you happen to be at the Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend, be sure to visit Parent in Artists Alley, where he'll be doing sketches and signing books.
Tim O’Shea: Is it challenging to build comedy around an openly gay character, or is it a non-issue as if I was asking you "is it hard to build comedy around a left-handed character"?
Dan Parent: It's not really that challenging, since we have the core Archie characters to play off of. Their familiarity helps us build a story around Kevin.
O’Shea: You recently did a slew of conventions--did you encounter any new Archie fans who had checked the books out for the first time due to the introduction of Kevin?
Parent: A lot of them! National media coverage can move a lot of books! And everyone who came up to me really loved the story, many longtime fans and some newbies too.
O’Shea: In getting to develop a miniseries around Kevin, are you hoping that some folks struggling with their sexual identity might be buoyed by the book? And when I ask this, I know Kevin's orientation is merely one small part of the tale, given as you said in a recent CBR News piece "the story has to read as an 'Archie' story, It has to have the same humor and warmth that our other stories have had for decades now"
Parent: I've had quite a few gay people tell me they wish they had a role model in Archie comics when they were growing up. One post on Facebook said he felt like he could finally be part of the Archie universe. And after a couple panel discussions I did at some conventions, I’ve had some very emotional people tell me how much something like this means to them.
O’Shea: The introduction of Kevin was just one aspect of an ongoing effort to further diversify the Archie universe. As a storyteller, how liberating is it to be able to expand the number of characters you can work with in a story?
Parent: It's extremely liberating! When the doors open to new characters and new experiences, the stories you can do are so much better.
O’Shea: I'd say you have a uniquely formed sense of humor, as there's not many people who would put "Strangers with Candy" (a Amy Sedaris/Stephen Colbert vehicle) at the top of their list of favorite TV shows. In forming your ability to do comedy in comics how long did it take you for you to consistently gauge comedically when a joke will work with your audience?
Parent: I have a very twisted sense of humor, although I love mainstream comedies too. I just go with what makes me laugh. The top of the list for me is the ongoing battle between Jughead and Veronica. And don't underestimate slapstick. That always works.
O’Shea: Can you talk a little bit about who will make up the supporting cast of Kevin's miniseries?
Parent: We'll meet his family. We'll see the close bond he has with his father. We'll also meet his friends Wendy and William, who stuck by him in tough times in the past. And he has 2 sisters, a cute little 7 year old and a 13 year old.
O’Shea: Going forward with the miniseries, we're going to learn about Kevin's pre-Riverdale days. Did you already have a lot of his back history percolating in your mind when the character was introduced last year? Or did you start building up the character's backstory once there was such positive response.
Parent: I had a lot of time to think about it, so I had notes with ideas on his past. Then we had some editorial meetings up at Archie on what worked and what didn't.
O’Shea: Do you think getting to help build this new character and embarking on this miniseries has allowed you to have greater confidence in your writing voice?
Parent: For sure. Writing long form stories can be tough, but it allows you more room to develop characters, and I’ve had to learn to write more serious subject matter than ever before, and to balance it with comedy as to not overreach.
There's a lot more freedom, thanks to our CEO Jon Goldwater pushing our creativity. I could write all the Kevin stories in the world, but without Jon nobody would know Kevin exists! But it's been good therapy to write these Kevin stories, since it's pushed me out of my usual comfort zone.
O’Shea: Since Kevin's been introduced, has there been any standout positive "wow" moments for you in terms of hearing people's response to the character?
Parent: The biggest moment was a couple days after we announced Kevin, when a kid called me at home (thanks to Google, I guess) and said , "Mr. Parent, thanks for Kevin". He hung up pretty quickly, but I could tell from his tone he struggled to make the call, but he was moved emotionally. And at Free Comic Day last year, I had some parents of a gay teenager thank me ( and Archie) for Kevin, and how much it meant to their son, who cried when he read the news. Pretty much at each show , there's someone who shares a story of their past, and what this would have meant to them years ago.
O’Shea: If response is strong enough, would you be open to an ongoing series with Kevin?
Parent: That's my goal. I'm thinking past the mini-series and Kevin's regular title! I just have to get Archie to go along with that!
O’Shea: Your final thoughts on the Kevin's miniseries?
Parent: I'm really proud of it. And thrilled that I got the opportunity to do it. I've learned a lot, and met a lot of great people who support the project. I think after reading the mini-series, people will see Kevin is here to stay.