How Gay Kevin Got to Riverdale

Paul Kupperberg's new YA novel based on the popular gay Archie Comics character. | GROSSET & DUNLAP

Paul Kupperberg's new YA novel based on the popular gay Archie Comics character. | GROSSET & DUNLAP

Gathered among the 18 miles of books at the Strand Book Store on Lower Broadway, comic book geeks turned out for Archie Comics’ unveiling of “Kevin,” a new young adult novel set in the Riverdale Universe. The book, released in tandem with Grosset & Dunlap, features the early adventures of the critically acclaimed Archie gay character, Kevin Keller.

Archie writers talk about their new story arc that sells out the shelf

Readers will find out about Kevin’s pre-Riverdale days as an army brat before the novel tackles every awkward coming-of-age situation that middle school has to offer — first love, prom, and, true to the Archie canon, a love triangle, all with a gay twist.

The April 18 event featured Archie Comics’ Paul Kupperberg and Dan Parent. Kupperberg is the author of “Kevin” and a former editor at DC Comics. Parent is the creative writer and illustrator behind Kevin. The two said the decision to write an “origin” story was a natural. Since the character’s introduction in issue #202 of “Veronica,” he has gone on to star in his own series, as well as making regular appearances in the other Archie titles.

As for the character’s growing success, the creators claim it is quite simple — Kevin is not just a gay character, but rather a character who happens to be gay. The rest stems from following the Archie formula. That explanation understates the Kevin phenom. The only Archie comics that have ever sold out belong to the Kevin storyline — the first being his freshman issue in the “Veronica” series and the second his wedding special in 2012, part of the “Life of Archie” story arc, a sub universe that focuses on the adult lives of Riverdale’s heroes. It is fair to ask: Is this the result of superior writing? Or is does it represent Archie’s resoundingly successful attempt to stay relevant?

Paul Kupperberg reads from “Kevin.” | GAY CITY NEWS

Paul Kupperberg reads from “Kevin.” | GAY CITY NEWS

The reception for Kevin has not all been positive. Upon the release of the wedding issue, One Million Moms, an organization with right-wing affiliations that attempts to bring in a broom to sweep media clean on behalf of children, protested the exposure of young minds to gay marriage. Kupperberg and Parent aren’t concerned. They joked the group is actually a handful of moms making good use of a fax machine. If anything, the outcry again Kevin only caused an increase in sales.

In contrast, fans at the Strand event claimed that Archie has not gone far enough, insisting the comic push the envelope more. In particular, they said Kevin’s first kiss, one of the teased plots for an upcoming issue, should have already happened, especially as there was a wedding issue. But Kupperberg and Parent stood their ground, claiming that part of what has made Kevin such a good character is that he’s been developed gradually, like other iconic Archie characters before him.

The reading ended with a Q&A, which mainly focused on future storylines and the road ahead. Patrick Yacco from Geeks Out, however, changed the subject, asking about DC Comics’ recent decision to hire the unabashedly anti-gay Orson Scott Card to write the latest Superman arc. Not missing a beat, Kupperberg said that DC was likely unaware of Card’s extreme views and that ideally his work would be published and simply not sell. Parent added, “Ditto.”

So — the Superman flap addressed — what’s next for Riverdale’s new popular character?

Kupperberg and Parent clearly believe the sky’s the limit. They riffed about the possibility of Kevin becoming the first gay president and “starring in” a live-action Archie movie. As for “Kevin,” the fun, light-hearted novel is available wherever books and Archie Comics are sold.

KEVIN | By Paul Kupperberg | Grosset & Dunlap| $9.99 | 160 pages