Since being launched in the world of Archie Comics with much fanfare in the pages of "Veronica," the publisher's gay teen character Kevin Keller has been doing what he can to stand on his own two feet. From taking on a miniseries to last year starring in his own bi-monthly ongoing comic, the blonde-haired boy next door has been working overtime to stand as more than "Archie's gay friend." And so has his creator, Dan Parent.
With the release of "Kevin Keller" #7 on sale this week, Parent is adding some new wrinkles to Keller's romantic life and his supporting cast with the introduction of a new boyfriend. The move is only the latest addition to the world of Riverdale that tips things in the favor of Kevin's solo star status, and as the artist explained, it's another step in making the character stand out as his own franchise, much like Josie & The Pussycats or Sabrina The Teenage Witch before him.
CBR News spoke with Parent about the new issue and the road that led to it. Below, the artist explains what Kevin's geeky background has done to flesh him out in interesting and unique ways, how plotlines with Kevin's new boyfriend and secret admirer will lead the teen into a love triangle of his own and what other major changes are in the works as the book enters its second year.
CBR News: We're about to hit a big story turn for the "Kevin Keller" series with the romance stories coming up, but I feel like you've been building to this for a while. The book feels more serialized than some of the classic Archie series. What's been highest on your list for long-term goals for the book?
Dan Parent: We knew when he got his issue of his ongoing series -- which was about a year ago now -- that the first year would be him entering the world of dating. The four-issue miniseries before that was basically just introducing Kevin and his background, but last year we starting introducing him to that world of dating -- not giving him a boyfriend or anything, just getting him out there. It's kind of like what we did with Archie way back when. In the old stories, it was all about the mishaps he'd have while dating, and we basically did that formula with a twist.
Now that we're into the second year, we've kind of explored the dating, so we thought it'd be good to give him a regular boyfriend.
You do seem to walk a fine line because you want the wacky dating setups of classic Archie stories, but you often come into territory about what its like to grow up as a gay teen and how to navigate the social pressures wrapped up in that. What's the most important lesson you learned in the first year as it applied to all that?
The thing you've got to be careful with is that first of all, it's an Archie comic. We wanted to make sure he was a well-rounded character. This wasn't just about him being gay. He's the boy next door. He just happens to be gay. At the same time, you don't want him to be non-sexual or have no interest in dating. You want a balance.
I think we've done well by that so far. I think that now that we're seeing Kevin dating, he'll get more interested in guys. And we want to keep things light. We tend to get a little serious with some of the storylines, but this is still an Archie comic. We want it to keep the other characters involved and have some light humor. And you want to have some heart in your stories too. We want to use his family and friends, because that's what Riverdale has always been about is friends. That's what we always go back to – a strong foundation of friends.
So we'll see where this boyfriend leads him. It may be long term. It may be short term. I mean, these are teenagers.
We've seen a few different boys come into Kevin's life over the first six issues of the series. Is this new boyfriend someone we've seen before, and how will it impact his love life in those classic Archie "love triangle" terms?
His boyfriend is a new character. Devin is his name, and he's not quite what you'd expect. I wouldn't say he's a bad guy, but he's not who you'd expect Kevin to be dating. He's not as clean cut, and he's not as lucky to have grown up with Kevin's family. His coming out was a very different experience. There's a lot of baggage with this character, and Kevin kind of takes that all on. His parents are concerned because in any scenario, your parents want you to be with the best person you can find. We'll see how that plays out.
Then the other character who likes Kevin -- Paul, the secret admirer -- has issues too. So we're introducing new characters, and like every other character in real life and in the Archie books, they have flaws. That makes them more interesting. Even Kevin has flaws. I know it can seem like he's perfect, but we're trying to break that down a little too.
How do you plan on lining up these new characters with the traditional mold of Archie characters? How will they fit in with those classic archetypes?
We're mixing up the characters. In the series, we've got these kids Wendy and William who are Kevin's best friends he's grown up with his whole life. And in the story I'm working on now, Wendy hangs with Veronica. It's all about mixing up the classic Archie characters with some of these newer characters. That's fun. I'm seeing how I can use the classic Archie characters to play with Kevin. Veronica works the best with Kevin because she's kind of his BFF, and they've got this rapport going on.
A minute ago, you said something that stood out to me in that teenagers are always hooking up with someone and then breaking it off a moment later. Is that one of the core things about writing Archie stories that connects with you?
Absolutely. And thank God for that because it enables us to tell some different kinds of stories. With just Archie, Betty and Veronica, you've got one thing, but now we've branched out and are telling stories with Archie and other girls too. We can do the same thing with Kevin if we want. A lot of this is dictated by how the storyline will go. It's still to be seen whether Kevin and this boyfriend will get serious or whether it'll take the approach we've taken with Archie. We'll have to see how that one goes. But I do love the idea of them being teenagers. I have teenagers myself, and you can tell that they're in love with a different person every other week.
Last month, we had the George Takei issue of the series, which was a celebration of the nerdy side of Kevin's life. Is that something you'll be working back in as we go along as well?
Oh, sure. We try to point out that for as popular and good-looking as Kevin is, he was not that way growing up. He was kind of a mess. And you always have that in you when you grow up that way. It never quite leaves you. And we'll always go back to that stuff.
You've also had some input on the version of Kevin that appears in "Life With Archie," but moving forward will that older character evolve in his own way while you focus on the present day stories?
Pretty much. When they first put Kevin in "Life With Archie," I helped map out the marriage storyline, and I created the guy who would become his husband. I worked with Victor Gorelick, the editor, and with Paul Kupperberg on that, but as it's progressed on, that world has a whole story of its own going on. Paul does a great job with that book, so I let them handle that, and I worry about teenage Kevin.
Overall, is there one thing that's become the cornerstone of the "Kevin Keller" series for you? Your favorite thing about working on it every other month?
I just like the idea of creating a new environment within the Archie world. You know, you've got your Sabrina world and your Josie world, and they all kind of coexist with Archie. Now we've got the Kevin Keller world that we're creating, and I really like that. And I just like the great support we've gotten form the gay and straight communities. Everyone's been very welcoming, and it's great to hear from readers who never had anyone they could relate to in the media when they were growing up. Of course, now it's a different world, but it's good to hear from people about that. I'm also thrilled we got a GLAAD nomination this year. Hopefully we'll win, but if we don't, being nominated is still fantastic. It's just been really great Kevin has been embraced the way he has been by readers young and old, gay and straight -- everyone across the board.
"Kevin Keller" #7 is in comic shops now from Archie Comics.