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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Comic Special Edition: Kevin Keller From Archie Comics

Normally, I would use this spot to talk about Saturday morning cartoons, why I miss them, and what life lessons that I have learned along the way from watching them as a child.  Today's blog entry kind of goes along with that, as the subject is a comic book character.  You might even recall that when this blog began, the Sunday Jukebox section used to be called the Sunday Funnies special.  The reason I changed it was because I felt it redundant to have two separate days dedicated to basically the same thing.  Quite a few cartoons were either made from comic strips, or got their start in comic books.

Recently though, there's one comic character that is still being talked about, even though he was created almost a year ago.  Some of the reactions to this comic character inspired this very post.

I'd like to introduce you all to Kevin Keller.  Nice looking guy, isn't he?  All-American looks, clean cut appearance.  The last thing I would describe him as is threatening, or a disgrace, or even disgusting.

Yet, that's exactly what some people out there seem to think of him.  Without even so much as reading the comic books that he appears in, they have made these judgment calls about him.  Some have called for his character to be removed from the series he appears in.  Some have claimed that he is a threat to their children.  Some have even accused the company of ulterior motives just based on the creation of this character alone.

I suppose you're wondering what the heck this character has done to warrant such a controversial reaction from a group of people who claim to be fans of the comic.  Why is Kevin Keller the subject of such hatred and disgust from people who won't even take the time to get to know him?

Alas, I'm getting to that.  But first, a little bit of background information.

To get to the story of how Kevin Keller came to be created, we have to go back in time all the way to the first few months of 1989.

1989 was a year of change for Archie Comics.  It was the year that the company released eleven new titles to join the more classic selling 'Archie', 'Jughead', and 'Pep' comic books that kids had bought for decades.  There were plenty of risks that the company took, and many of the new creations that Archie comics had come up with for the 1989/1990 fiscal year were doomed from the start.  Among the list of the titles that failed were;

Archie 3000!
Archie's Explorers Of The Unknown
Archie's R/C Racers
Dilton's Strange Science
Faculty Funnies
Jughead's Diner
Jughead's Pal Hot Dog
Jughead's Time Police

There were some that lasted longer, and only two are still being published.  The Betty and Veronica Annual Digest managed to last until 1997, and Jughead's Double Digest just released its 172nd issue.

And, then there's this other survivor.

In early 1989, the decision was made to give Veronica Lodge her own title.  It was quite a move for Archie comics, as Veronica was the last of the core five to get a solo title of her own (Archie, Jughead, and Betty currently have their own titles, while the last one Reggie had ended in 1995). 

And it has been successful ever since.

The Veronica title has sold steadily since 1989, and more than two hundred issues have been published.  Over the years, the Veronica title has evolved.  The first eighteen issues of the Veronica title showed her gallovanting around the world having exciting adventures in each place.  In the first issue, she visited Paris, France, but she went to other places.  She went to American places such as Texas, Hollywood and New York City.  Sometimes, she visited international cities, like Rome or London.  She even took trips to Canada, Africa, Greece, and the Bahamas.  In fact, if you can find copies of the Veronica's Passport Digest Magazine, you can see some of these adventures in reprint form.

I particularly liked the Veronica series at the beginning of its run, because not only was it fun to see Veronica react to world culture, but it also made lots of historical and cultural references along the way.  Imagine that, a comic book that could be educational.  Go figure.

Beginning with issue #19, Veronica stopped her world travelling excursions, and decided to stick closer to home, having adventures in Riverdale, U.S.A.  She'd occasionally travel in the series, but not as much.  During the next few issues, Veronica continued to have adventures that the rest of the gang wished they could partake in.

She got to finance her adventures with a big bank account...

She got to meet celebrities.

She even met the president.

But, there would be one character that would be introduced to Veronica's world that kickstarted this whole blog post in the first place.

In September 2010, the Veronica title would be the one where Kevin Keller would be introduced.  Veronica #202 was slated to be like any other story you may have come across.  Veronica is walking by Pop's Chocklit Shop, when she is called inside to witness a hot-dog eating competition between Jughead and Kevin.  Veronica is immediately smitten by this new much that she doesn't even care that he has mustard on his face.  She introduces herself to Kevin, and Kevin seemed receptive to it, but every time Veronica tried to impress Kevin, she felt he didn't quite get the hint.

Kevin was popular enough.  Archie and Betty liked him well enough, and after Kevin beat Jughead in the hot-dog eating competition, Jughead had a whole new respect for him.  In fact, Jughead seemed to notice that Kevin wasn't as reciprocating towards Veronica as Veronica was towards him.  To Jughead's surprise, Kevin admitted that he was aware of what Veronica was doing, but he just wasn't interested.

And here's why.

Yep, you saw it right here, folks.  Kevin Keller is gay.

Actually, Kevin Keller is the very first openly gay character to ever appear in Archie comics.  When it was revealled that an openly gay character was being brought to the world of Riverdale, the reactions were quite strong.

Many people welcomed the addition, saying that it was long overdue for a gay person to appear in the comic books, and many praised the company for showing diversity of all kinds in the comic serial.  Here's a little video commemmorating the event.

You might have noticed that in the video that you saw a description of Kevin as one who 'despises musicals, loves comic books, and adores eating challenges.  And really, that's all that we really need to know about him.  I like the idea that Archie Comics isn't making a big deal out of him being gay.  It's just one of the things that makes Kevin who he is, which is a typical teenage boy who hates High School Musical, and loves competing in eating challenges.

I also happened to find this interview with the man behind the creation of the Kevin Keller story, Dan Parent.  I think this will give you more of an idea behind why Kevin was created.  It starts around the 2:50 mark.

Let me tell you some stats about Veronica #202.  The comic completely SOLD OUT.  And, I can attest to this because I myself could not find a copy of Veronica #202 (though I have read the story in online format).  In fact, for the first time in Archie history, Veronica #202 issued a second printing of the comic.  Never before had that happened in its 70-year-history.  It just goes to show you just how much of an impact Kevin Keller had upon his creation.

Kevin Keller reappeared in Veronica #205 to continued critical success.

And beginning with Veronica #207, the title was temporarily changed to Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller, as a four-part miniseries starring Kevin debuted.  It's slated to last until Veronica #210.  Then beginning in 2012, Kevin Keller is slated to get his own solo title.

So I think it's a safe bet to say that Kevin Keller will be staying in Riverdale for a while yet. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has been as receptive to the idea of Kevin Keller being in the town of Riverdale, and it's that dissent that prompted me to write a rebuttal of some form.

If you log on the Facebook page for Archie Comics and click on any link that has to do with Kevin Keller, you'll likely see one of three things.  You'll see a whole bunch of people clicking on the 'Like' button.  You may also see some people praising the story because it promotes diversity, and because having a gay person in the comic book serial was long overdue.

Then you see comments that are attacking both the character and the company.  People saying that the introduction of Kevin is not appropriate for their children to be reading.  People who have sworn never to buy another Archie comic again because they are not as 'innocent and pure' as they once were.  People who have gone on the offensive and called anyone who support this venture sick. 

Things really hit the fan when it was announced that in the Life With Archie Magazine, Kevin Keller would make an appearance by showing him marrying another man (since the issue of gay marriage has been in the media lately, it makes sense that the topic would be covered).  Apparently, it spurned yet another backlash of the character, saying that the company is forcing its beliefs on them unwillingly, and that the idea of promoting gay marriage in Archie comics is disgusting and that the company should be boycotted.

Well, I have my own opinion on the storyline and the character, and I will state my opinion below, as well as some thoughts towards some of the people who have commented on this storyline.

I am a 30 year old, heterosexual white male from Canada, who has been a fan of Archie comics for twenty-five years.  I come from a conservative minded family and live in a very small town filled with like-minded conservative people.

And I'm in agreement with those who want Kevin Keller to stay in Riverdale.

Just based on my own experiences with the world of Archie comics and the world of Riverdale, part of the reason why I was so drawn to Archie comics is because to me it was the ideal place to live.  It was a place where neighbours looked out for neighbours.  Where teachers taught students life lessons in addition to math lessons.  Where kids of various backgrounds, economic status, and ethnicity could hang out together and be friends. 

Where people were judged by how well they treated others.

That to me was what drew me in.  Riverdale was a town that I wanted to live in because it was a place where everyone got along.  I knew that whenever I had my feelings hurt, or that I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere, I could always pick up an Archie comic and temporarily escape to a world where everyone fit in, and everyone was friendly with one another.

Well, provided you didn't hit on Midge, and then you'd have Moose on your tail.

The fact is that I applaud the company for deciding to bring in Kevin Keller, and I applaud Dan Parent especially for creating a character that has blended into the town of Riverdale beautifully.  The whole purpose of introducing Kevin Keller to Archie comics was not to promote a political agenda (a common argument that the anti-Kevin camp like to bring up).  What I find awesome about the way Kevin was introduced was the fact that his being gay seemed to be a secondary character trait.  He was gay.  That's it.  Instead of focusing on that, they developed other aspects of his personality.  And to me, that was exactly the way to go.  I certainly have a couple of gay friends in my inner circle.  I certainly didn't become friends with them because they were gay.  I became friends with them because they had qualities that I liked having in friends.  They were compassionate.  Kind.  Fun to be around.  That should be what matters most in friendship.  In fact, if you look at the conclusion of Veronica #202, everyone was very receptive of Kevin, and Veronica and Kevin ended up forging a great friendship out of the deal.

In all honesty, I think the creation of Kevin Keller is a fantastic addition to the serial.  In recent years, we've seen several teenagers and young adults commiting suicide over being harassed over their sexuality preference, or because they were outed by someone who had no business outing them in the first place.  So to have Kevin Keller appear in a comic book and be accepted by his peers and his may give teenagers who might be confused about their sexuality or who are afraid of admitting that they are gay to their loved ones an idol to look up to. 

I always said that there's some character in Archie comics that anyone can have an idol in.  Certainly, my idol growing up was Jughead because we were both offbeat characters who had way different interests than anyone else we knew.  But I always figured that if Jughead could make his eccentricities work to his advantage, then I could very well do the same.

So, maybe if a gay teenager sees that someone like Kevin can find love and friendship in the town of Riverdale, then maybe s/he can believe that the same thing will happen to them.

Kevin Keller brings people hope that everyone can be accepted for who they are.

It would seem that quite a few people agree with this.  There are small pockets of dissent though, and yes, I plan on dissecting each and every one of them because it is my blog, and I can say whatever I please on my blog.

First off, to the people who say that the introduction of Kevin is inappropriate for children, I ask this.  Why do you feel this way, exactly?  Are you worried that if your kid reads about the adventures of Kevin Keller that s/he will end up gay or lesbian?  Do you just want to keep them in a bubble-like world where everyone acts the same?  Do you not want the responsibility of explaining what being gay is to a child?  Seriously, what is the big deal? 

I would think that you would be thrilled at the idea of Kevin being introduced into the comics.  He's a great character.  He can beat Jughead in eating contests, and he's the only male character who doesn't swoon over the sight of Veronica Lodge.  That alone can make for some funny storylines.  Of course, those are storylines that you'll never enjoy because you've already censored the books he appears in and making judgments about him WITHOUT READING THE STORY FIRST.

I have read the story, and I do not see anything for parents to be worried about.  Nothing.  But, hey, apparently some people see the idea of loving people for who they are and not judging them for what they may be as 'inappropriate' for children, so what do I know, right?
Then there's the argument that the comic series isn't as innocent as it once was.

Innocent?  Really?

Some of those people making those shots really must revisit the world of 1960s and 1970s Archie to fully understand why I find this argument a little lopsided.  Earlier Archie stories were a lot more grittier in nature.  Sure, they had the classic Archie slapstick comedy and Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle.  And, they were still a great read.  However, some of the comics that came out around that time make current Archie stories sound like Sesame Street segments in comparison.  Earlier Archie stories showed more instances of nudity (though it was still slightly covered), more violence, more guns, and there was even one memorable story where Archie and Jughead happen to find a bag of drugs inside a trash can, and they get involved in a police operation.

I'm not making this up.  It really existed.  Of course, reprints of these stories have been altered to make them seem more family friendly (which is another issue altogether), but the point is that at one time, the comics were a bit more risque and got away with things that they couldn't get away with now. 

But, yet, having a gay character in the series is a threat to the innocence of children?

So, lemme get this straight.  You won't allow your children to read a comic book that has a gay person inside of it being treated by his peers with respect and love. Yet, you have no problem with letting your kids read older Archie comics where people pull weapons on people, where women in hysterics get slapped, and where teenage characters go off to war, or find themselves in the middle of a drug operation?

Good to know.

Oh, and all those people who have planned to never buy another Archie comic again because of Kevin?  Good.  Don't buy them.  That leaves more copies for the REAL fans anyways.

The argument that the company is forcing its political beliefs on us is another argument that is absolutely unfounded. 

Above is the cover of Archie #616, showing Barack Obama sharing a soda with...Sarah Palin?!?  Love them or hate them, they do represent both sides of the political spectrum in the United States, and both politicians were fairly portrayed, so nobody can accuse the company of political bias.  This really has nothing to do with the Kevin Keller theme, just wanted to state that there is no bias within the company.

And, even so, the topic of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle has been in the news for quite some time.  It was only inevitable that Archie comics would tackle the subject.  The sad thing is that it would have been a Catch-22 situation for the company anyway.  Had they chosen to ignore it, the company would have been accused of being stodgy, and ignorant to gay rights.  Instead, they're being attacked by conservative groups who claim that the addition of gay people in the comic book is morally wrong.  Damned if they do, damned if they don't. 

I know they made the right decision though.

What I find really telling is that the majority of the ones who are opposed to the storyline and who seem to be using the forum as a way to attack the storyline and those who defend the storyline seem afraid to use their own personal accounts to say it.  They hide behind faux Facebook accounts, or screennames to spew bile, hatred, and vitriol about Kevin Keller.  I mean, if you're going to have a strong opinion, whether or not people agree with you, at least have the cojones to own it. 

What probably angers me more are those people who try to justify their anti-gay stances with assertions that they don't have a problem with gay people, but they don't want to be forced into seeing media 'throwing gay people in their faces'.

News flash.  People who think like that DO have a problem with it.  And no amount of sugarcoating, backtracking, or cries of being misunderstood can change the writing on the wall, really. 

I'm certainly not going to try to change anyone's opinion on how they feel about this storyline.  I could argue with them until I was blue in the face for all the good it would do me.  When someone has a belief in their head, it's nearly impossible to get someone to back down from it.

I certainly don't hate anyone for having the opinion that gay people don't have a place in Archie comics.  I may not like the stance they take (and believe me, I disagree completely with the closed-mindedness that they possess), but there's very little I can do about people having that opinion.  It's when they use that stance to verbally harass others, and to bully people who think differently from them that I do not find okay.  I cannot stand it when people hide behind moral codes and religious beliefs as an excuse to act like a complete jerk to someone else.  I will NOT respect or support that.

In closing, I will say that this blog entry will knowingly have an effect on the readership following this blog through Blogspot or Facebook or wherever else links to this entry are posted.  I imagine that some of you will be okay with the idea of Kevin being in the comic book, and some of you won't be.  I will just state this right now.  Any derogatory comments towards me or anyone else who comments on this entry either on here or my Facebook page will immediately be deleted.  I'm all for healthy debate, but not when people get hurt in the process.

I will also state that Kevin Keller may be one of the most controversial characters in the Archie world, and it's hard to predict just how much staying power this character will have. 

Just personally speaking, Kevin Keller has made an impact in the world of Riverdale, and in the real world as well.  He's showed all of us that anybody can be accepted, and that anyone, whether it be gay, straight, or whatever can find a place in this world.

As long as Kevin can continue to thrive in the series, and be proud of himself for the person that he is, he is welcome to stay in Riverdale for as long as he wants to.

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