Here’s the thing about Archie Comics: they’re everywhere. Even if you don’t visit your local comic shop, it isn’t hard to find an Archie digest: they appear in the check-out line at the supermarket, the periodical stall at the airport, or the spinner rack in the hospital gift shop. The introduction of Twelve Cent Archie by Bart Beaty compares Archie to air: “he is everywhere, but he is very little remarked upon.” This ubiquity is part of what makes Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in Riverdale, so important.
Meet Kevin Keller
Kevin Keller was created by Dan Parent and made his first appearance in September 2010’s Veronica #202. The issue proved so popular that it spurred Archie Comics to run a second printing for the first time in its history (especially impressive when one considers that Archie’s appearances stretch back nearly seven decades, having made his first appearance in December 1941’s Pep Comics #22).
Parent is fond of pointing out in interviews conducted at the time that while the comics featuring Kevin may touch on some serious subject matter, they would always strive to be funny and entertaining first – just like every other Archie comic.
This is an essential aspect of the way Kevin has been presented: not as an anomaly, and not as an unassailable paragon, but rather, as another teenager in Riverdale. Like Archie and Reggie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead, too, Kevin has continued to appear in the short digest comics and Archie Comics crossovers.
In 2013, Kevin’s ongoing solo series, Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller, won a GLAAD Award. When the nomination was announced, Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito said in a statement, “Riverdale is, and will always be, a place that embraces diversity.” The fact that Kevin has been regularly included in stories (and given plenty of his own) since his introduction demonstrates that Archie Comics is serious about this sentiment of inclusion.
The Married Life
Some of the most important moments for Kevin took place in the second volume of the Life with Archie series, “The Married Life,” which ran from 2010 to 2014. The series jumped forward from the usual high school time frame, offering a window into the adult lives of the Riverdale gang. The story was presented in two parallel timelines, one in which Archie married Veronica and one in which Archie married Betty.
In the future timeline, Kevin has followed his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the military, where he meets his future husband in a military hospital. In issue 16 of Life with Archie, Archie and his friends attend Kevin’s marriage to Dr. Clay Walker. The wedding takes place in both parallel timelines.
In the penultimate issue of Life with Archie, issue 36, Kevin has recently been elected to the position of Senator and has been pushing for stricter gun control laws. During an appearance at Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe, a stalker attempts to assassinate Kevin, but Archie throws himself in front of the bullet in order to save Kevin’s life.
Like the wedding of Kevin to Clay, the death of Archie takes place in both of the timelines. The fact that Archie is willing to sacrifice himself in order to save Kevin’s life underscores how important Kevin had become to the Archie universe: like Betty, Veronica, and Jughead, Archie considers Kevin to be one of the gang, even when the stakes are life and death.
Life with Kevin
However, not all of Kevin’s appearances have been so serious. On June 22, 2016, Kevin’s solo book Life with Kevin, by Parent and inker J. Bone, premiered online (a paper version was later published, as well). That story is also set in a post-high school timeline, following Kevin as he fulfills his dream of becoming a journalist in New York City.
Like Kevin’s first appearances, Parent emphasized that it was important for him to ensure that, while the series may cover some serious subject matter, it would also be fun and enjoyable to read. This gives the chance for Kevin to experience silly moments, which are essential when portraying queer characters: while there can be pain associated with living one’s authentic life, there are also many moments of joy, and by presenting this balance in comic form, Life with Kevin can offer a more honest examination of its eponymous protagonist.
While the role Kevin has played in the series has varied in scale over the show’s four seasons, he has always been presented as a well-rounded character. He is not perfect – particularly in the early seasons, he is seen sneaking off to the woods for trysts that occasionally seem questionable – but this is directly in line with the portrayal of the rest of the Archie gang on Riverdale (another first season subplot sees Archie himself involved in a torrid affair with the music teacher, “Miss Grundy”).
The Legacy of Kevin Keller
Like the rest of the Archie gang, Kevin has joined the ranks of the Riverdale archetypes, and it’s clear that he’s here to stay. In addition to appearing in whatever version of Riverdale the rest of the Archie gang might find themselves in, Kevin has been something of a queer ambassador for Archie Comics.
In 2016, Kevin was featured in a comic that appeared in the Love is Love anthology to support the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub.
And in 2018, for National Coming Out Day, Archie Comics worked with It Gets Better to release a series of comic strips modeling how allies can better react when a friend comes out to them.
While the real world may still be populated with the occasional ignorant individual who believes that “a family is only a man and a woman,” in Riverdale, everyone is accepted for who they are, regardless of their sexuality or gender. Eventually, the outdated bigotry that tarnishes reality will be eradicated. Until then, it’s nice to know visiting a more inclusive and accepting world can be accomplished simply by opening the nearest issue of Archie Comics.
Fortunately, those things are everywhere.