My daughter loves comics. She’s a geek, and she’s being raised by a geek (You’re welcome, kid).
Two years ago, I took her with me to Comic-Con here in our fair city of San Diego for the first time. I was thrilled to bring her into the Geek Community, and she couldn’t have been more excited to be a part of it. She was 9 years old.
It had already been a big year for the girl. Six months earlier, I’d sat her down and had a carefully constructed conversation with her, in which I told her I’m gay. In the weeks that followed that talk, she quickly got comfortable with the idea of having a gay dad, thanks to a lot of talking, and an all-questions-are-allowed-no-matter-how-awkward policy. She was adjusting well, but I was watching her carefully. When Comic-Con rolled around that summer, it was a big, bombastic, colorful distraction from all the changes she’d been dealing with.
At the con, we made sure to stop by the all the best kid-friendly booths on the main exhibit floor. But there was one in particular we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss.
See, my daughter loves Archie.
All-American, redheaded and red-blooded American teenager. Lovable misfit. Driver of a beat-up jalopy. Best friends with a guy named Jughead. Forever caught in a classic love triangle between Betty (blonde ponytailed girl next door) and Veronica (vivacious, raven-haired seductress). I myself loved Archie comics as a kid. The world of Riverdale, USA was sweet, dorky, and funny. It was a cozy, comfortable place to spend time. Archie’s gang was my gang. And when she received a box full of my old comics, my daughter became a fan, too. The torch was successfully passed.
But general fandom aside, the real reason I wanted to make sure we stopped at the Archie table at Comic-Con on that day two years ago was that I wanted to get a first look at Kevin Keller.
In 2011, Kevin Keller moved to Riverdale and became Archie’s first gay friend. That may not sound like a big deal in a time when every TV show on the air has at least one carefully constructed gay supporting character, and the pop culture zeitgeist itself is all about saying Gay is OK! But it was a big deal. I was excited about it. I thought a gay character in Archie’s world would be a great way to help normalize the idea of gay people for my daughter, who I know was still struggling with the concept of having a gay dad, no matter how well she seemed to be adapting. I knew it was hard for her. So when we saw the first issue of Kevin Keller’s own comic at the Archie table that day at Comic-Con, we bought several copies.
After we got home, my daughter took the comic into her room and read it several times. When I asked her about what she thought about Riverdale’s newest resident, she said she thought it was cool that Archie had a gay friend. She played it cool, but every few weeks after that, I would glimpse her reading the comic again. Two years later, it’s still on her shelf.
Not a lot happened in that first issue. There was a new character named Kevin. Veronica saw him and went all ZOINKS! for him. She was dismayed to learn he was gay, but then quickly christened herself his new best friend.
Beyond that, readers simply followed along as Archie and the rest of his friends learned Kevin was gay… and didn’t care. They simply became pals. End of story. Welcome to Riverdale.
Kevin Keller got a lot of great stories in issues over the next couple of years– all timely, all handled with grace by Archie’s writers and artists. (Notably Dan Parent, who’s credited with giving Archie his current contemporary vibe, and creating Kevin Keller himself.) Kevin handled gay bashing at the beach. He met and found a boyfriend. In an issue of Life with Archie, which portrayed the teens of Riverdale in the future as adults, Kevin got married to a fine upstanding former military man.
My daughter has loved the entire storyline. I’m glad, of course. If the gang from Riverdale has made her feel half as comfortable and safe as they made me feel when I was young, I couldn’t be happier. And the fact that she’s gotten to know a gay character in that setting is all awesome.
What my daughter doesn’t know is when Archie comics introduced Kevin to its readers, they were denounced by, you guessed it: One Million Moms, the organization that claims its mission is to “protect” children from filthy media content— like showing gay people being accepted by the common culture.
For the last couple of years, I believed part of my job as a gay parent was to protect my daughter— protect her from the ugliness and homophobia that’s still pervasive in this country, fueling groups like One Million Moms. I really wanted her to live in a world like Riverdale: simple, sweet, and bigotry-free in all its primary-color glory.
I know, I know. She needs to know that there are people in the world who are going to think unkind thoughts about me for being gay, and about her for being my daughter. It’s smart to teach her that, so she isn’t surprised when someone, someday, says something hateful to her.
But it turns out that Archie is going to help me out with that.
See, in last week’s issue of Archie (Issue No. 10), readers got a story about Kevin and his boyfriend Devon which includes a panel showing them— gasp— kissing.
As you can see, it’s a pretty chaste smooch. Most kisses in Riverdale are.
Here’s the fun part. As the story unfolds, not only do Kevin and Devon share a little PDA, they also get the evil eye and criticism from a woman who happens to catch sight of the kiss right there in the malt shop. She covers her child’s eyes and tells Kevin he should be ashamed of himself. Turns out even the tranquil little town of Riverdale has a chapter of One Million Moms lurking.
At first I was saddened. Riverdale has always been a safe haven from such harsh realities, even when its creators gave Archie contemporary issues to deal with. That was always part of its charm. I was momentarily bummed to see that my favorite pals were going to have to deal with this mom, who’s clearly meant to portray the rest of the alleged “million” who want to shield kids from… well, people like me.
But of course, Dan Parent knows that now is the time for the Million Moms to come to Riverdale. And get soundly trounced in some way.
So how do Kevin, Archie, and the rest of the gang handle homophobia in their hometown? I don’t know yet. I’ll have to buy the issue and see. I do know that I trust Archie and the gang to handle the situation just right. And I can’t wait for my daughter and I to find out together.