Archie comics’ first gay character gets own novel

"Kevin" by Paul Kupperberg

In the minds of many readers, Archie, Veronica, Jughead and all the citizens of Riverdale symbolize old-timey America. After all, Archie’s very first appearance was in 1941. Kevin Keller, the series’ first gay character, challenged this notion when his debut in 2010 became the first comic in the franchise’s history to sell out.

Kevin Keller’s popularity with readers led to his own four-part comic series titled “Kevin Keller.” Comics veteran Paul Kupperberg introduced a grown-up version of the character in “Life With Archie No. 16,” which saw Kevin returning to Riverdale as a decorated war hero and getting married. The much-anticipated issue became the second comic in “Archie” history to completely sell out. Now Kupperberg is working on a young adult prose novel about the character, simply titled “Kevin.”

“It’s Kevin in middle school, and it deals with him being the new kid in town, being kind of overweight and geeky and having braces and bad skin at that age, and also fitting in and coming to terms with his sexuality and dealing with bullying issues as well. It’s a different take on the character. It’s sort of the secret origins of Kevin,” Kupperberg said.

Secret origins are something Kuppenberg knows all about. Over the course of his long career in comics he has written stories about Superman, Superboy, Green Lantern, Doom Patrol and even Aquaman. He admits that though all that high-flying action is a lot of fun, writing about normal people with normal problems is a nice change of pace.

“When I was writing ‘Superman’ and ‘Superboy,’ I always had more fun writing the Clark Kent scenes. It’s more fun for me to be grounded in reality and to write characters who can’t take the easy way out. ‘Life with Archie’ is all about reality and the world and how tough it is to live in the world. I’m dealing with marriage and job security and economic difficulties, breast cancer and gay marriage. Those aren’t things you can conquer quickly,” he said.

Writing such well-known and beloved characters as Superman and the Archie gang could be quite the daunting task for a writer not familiar with the long history of the characters. Fortunately for Kupperberg, he grew up on a steady diet of comic books.

“Whenever you’re approaching a character for the first time there’s always a little nervousness. But once I actually started working on the story it was easy. Archie? I know this guy. Veronica? Absolutely. I read Archie all my life. I probably had as many Archie comics as superhero comics in those days,” he said.

Not everyone was pleased by Kupperberg’s “Life With Archie No. 16,” which depicts Kevin and his husband-to-be holding hands. A boycott of Toys “R” Us stores, one of the places where the comic was sold, was led by the Million Moms group.

“Their big thing was that it’s not right that parents should have to explain to their 5-year-old walking through Toys “R” Us why those two men are holding hands. But that’s the world around you, there are men out there and women out there holding hands, and your kid is going to see them, and they’re going to ask eventually,” Kupperberg said.

While the older generations may still have reservations about same-sex couples, Kupperberg points out that kids today just aren’t as concerned about it. He feels that diversity is the future, and that it only makes sense for pop culture and Archie Comics to reflect that.

“Media is going to reflect the real world, and these days the real world is moving closer and closer to the acceptance of ‘get your nose out of everyone else’s business and just let people be.’”

“Kevin” will be published by Penguin books and goes on sale on April 18. In addition to his ongoing “Archie” work, Kupperberg is currently working on a shared universe anthology about the old gods returning to the modern world (and expecting to be worshipped) titled “ReDeus.”

More information about “Kevin” can be found at http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780448458526,00.html