Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1244- Dan Parent: Archie's Pal Kevin Keller

In recent years Archie Comics has done a lot of exciting things, creative and even critically acclaimed things, but that doesn't mean they've forgotten their moneymakers: those cheaply produced digests that kids (like mine) buy like candy at the supermarket till.

While Kevin is included in those non-mainstream titles, his first introduction was to meant to make him "part of the gang," not to be a one-off character brought in for a gay story-line and then pushed away from the limelight. I would say Dan Parent's Archie's Pal Kevin Keller accomplishes that in spades. After this book, Kevin simply feels like he belongs there, in Riverdale, front and center.

Parent establishes this quite well. Giving a glimpse of Keller's dorky past and of his relationship with his parents, we get the character's history, but making him a best friend of Veronica and competitive eater against Jughead, we see how he fits into the present. (Oddly, despite being "Archie's Pal," Archie plays a very minor role in these stories.) At the end, Kevin Keller sort of feels like he's been there all along. Another clever idea was the addition of a variant retro cover, showing Kevin drawn in the same old-fashioned style as the rest of the gang, playing at rewriting history.

To make him also a supermarket digest sort of character, I think it was important to present the character light. The rest of Archie and friend never have any real drama in these magazines, it's all fun and bit too perfect. But on the other hand, to suggest that a gay teen even with improvements in society acceptance wouldn't have some unique challenges would have felt disingenuous. Parent ran the risk of ignoring reality and alienating some readers but also of making this a "serious book," fine for critics but not necessarily for the market. Once again, however, I think he excelled at finding the balance. Keller, we're shown, was bullied as a child and still has occasional bigots treating him disrespectfully. But fortunately the fun is never far away, both in the art and stories, and fun remains the overall focus. Kevin Keller's well-adjusted and immensely likable.

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