The debut of Kevin Keller to the world of Archie Comics has been nothing if not a whirlwind of activity. Since the introduction of the gay teenager to the pages of their "Veronica" title, the character has launched his own mini series, connected with his U.S. Army officer father and stirred up plenty of discussion (and PR) for the family friendly comics company. Next up comes the marriage of Kevin in the grown up Riverdale soap opera that is "Life With Archie" magazine #16 in January.
While the incoming story may seem like a well-planned and well-timed bit of cross promotion, the people behind Keller's nuptials say the move is thanks to the big splash the character has made rather than as a planned rollout for the topical teen.
"When you enter into new territory -- and frankly, we were the first company to really enter into this realm -- you're just never certain how it's going to go, and you're never certain how the character is going to develop," said Archie CEO Jon Goldwater. "There's a myriad of things happening simultaneously where you're getting tons of information between feedback from fans on the character, feedback internally from our staff and of course from Dan Parent, the writer of the 'Veronica' series who's developing the character."
All the attention afforded the character did call for an all hands on deck scenario where everyone from Goldwater and Parent to Archie Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick and of course "Life With Archie" writer Paul Kupperberg. "We all needed to sit down and discuss this and get on the same page," Goldwater said. "We had to share a similar vision about how this would move forward, because it's an important story. This is not just another Archie Comics story. It's another groundbreaking moment not just in the history of Archie comic books but in the history of all comic books, quite frankly. We are the first company to do something on this level, and when you do something this newsworthy, you have to work together.
"We certainly consulted with Dan on how this was going to be positioned in 'Life With Archie.' We're very sensitive to the fact that this is his baby, and we're not going to cut him out of the process. He was involved in talking to Paul, and frankly, before we went forward with Paul, we asked if he was cool with it. And more than being cool with it, he said 'That's fantastic!' He was incredibly enthusiastic, and he knows that 'Life With Archie' is Paul's book so he was extraordinarily supportive."
Kupperberg told CBR News the task of penning "Life With Archie" #16 had many moving parts even outside the wedding bells, but that Kevin's status as a brand new character wasn't an impediment at all. "It made it a little easier in a way. I talked to Dan about Kevin as a character in general, and he created Kevin's spouse Clay Walker and came up with a persona for him, and I took it from there," Kupperberg said. "The Kevin of the teenage Archie world if very different from the version we see in 'Life With Archie.' Now not only is he grown up, but he's also a decorated military hero who has seen his fair share of action and been wounded in battle. Once I got into it, it wasn't tough writing the character. The first scene I wrote for him involves Kevin reflecting back on his time in the Middle East, and as I was doing it, I thought, 'He's Sgt. Rock now! I'm not writing Kevin Keller so much as I'm writing Lt. Kevin Keller, United States Army.'"
Since "Life With Archie" is split between two ongoing serials -- one where Archie marries Veronica and one where he marries Betty -- the writer had to be creative in how and where he unfolded the backstory of Kevin and Clay's relationship. "When Kevin and Clay show up for the wedding in #16, it's in the middle of a story where we're resolving the whole multiple reality thing we've been playing with," Kupperberg said of the current plot thread where Riverdale science whiz Dilton has started to make a physics connection between the two future storylines. "That gives me the opportunity to set up the wedding in the Veronica story and finish it in the Betty one. And when we begin to follow them and Kevin comes back to Riverdale [as a full-time cast member], we'll see that all in the Betty story line. I didn't want to duplicate the story in both strips. That'd be a bit redundant."
The writer joked that keeping the two serials and their changes to the Archie cast straight was "Confusing! I sit there, and sometimes I'll start writing a scene, but by the time I'm halfway through it I'm going 'Midge and Jughead aren't married in this continuity, right? I've had to make a big master list of who's doing what in each continuity." But plotting the story of Kevin's marriage was overall a much more simple piece of the larger puzzle.
"We need to be true to ourselves, to Riverdale and to the other characters," Goldwater said of Archie's simple intent. "Obviously, the acceptance of Kevin from our readers is very important, but on the other hand, all these decisions were made in terms of doing what's right for the comic book. Whether that be the 'Veronica' series that's morphed into the Kevin book or in 'Life With Archie,' it's all about making him a part of Riverdale and what the town is. Riverdale is a place where you are socially accepted. We don't make any political statements around here."
While certain segments of the public may balk at the idea of what they see as a kids comic dealing with gay marriage, both Goldwater and Kupperberg were more than ready to hear whatever reactions are headed their way. "In 'Life With Archie,' we did have quite a reaction to the announcement that he'd be appearing and getting married. It was quite an intense reaction, but I suspect that will subside and he'll be accepted just as he was in the other comics," the CEO said.
"There's ways to deal with these issues in a G-Rated way," Kupperberg added. "Somebody's always going to be offended because there are a lot of stupid people out there. But for the average reader, there are ways to tell these stories without rubbing this in anyone's face or running any kind of agenda. Everyone knows what you're talking about. Just tell the story. And if people want to get upset and be pillorying me for writing this, that's great because that's promotion and it means maybe they'll buy it. In fact, somebody directed me to the comments section on a Fox News page, and a person there wished me -- not by name but a person who would write such a story -- to get AIDS. I thought that was really cool! By writing a little comic book story, I have provoked someone to wish me to die. How much power is that? It's ridiculous."
The ultimate plan with Kevin Keller remains the same in the wake of "Life With Archie" #16 as the publisher wants to continue to feature and develop the teen as much as possible in his own right. "The problem comes when the character becomes all about being gay instead of just being a person who happens to be gay," Kupperberg said. "While I was talking with Victor about the upcoming storyline, we got rolling on a story about Kevin and Clay dealing with being accepted in their neighborhood. It's not that easy, especially for Clay who's totally a new guy -- a doctor who goes to work for the local G.P. to find people are coming in but going, 'Oh, we'll just wait for old Doc Baker.'"
Goldwater said he's happy for Keller to have multiple storylines and happy for any ancillary sales that could rise up for the newsworthy nature of his next appearance. "We're so proud of the book and the effort that goes into the stories. And $3.99 for the fans is an incredible value. So I'm hoping that the attention from Kevin brings in some sales because it adds attention overall to the comic and the story. I'm really hoping that whatever extra eyeballs we can get on the magazine is good news."
"Life With Archie" #16 featuring the wedding of Kevin Keller ships in January from Archie Comics.