From ‘Love Showdown’ To Kevin Keller & Beyond: An Interview With Archie Comics’ Dan Parent
Archie and the gang have been facing quite a bit of adversity lately. They've taken on the forces of the undead in Afterlife With Archie, covens in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and, perhaps most fearsomely of all, the creeping ennui of adulthood in Life With Archie.
In the center of this maelstrom is Dan Parent, longtime Archie writer and artist. It’s tempting to say that he is the placid, controversy-free sun around which the Archie system orbits, but that isn't exactly accurate — Kevin Keller, Archie’s first gay character, is his creation. In fact, Parent merges the opposing forces of change and status quo at work within the publisher into a harmonious whole. ComicsAlliance sat down with Parent at New York Comic Con to discuss the legacy he inherited, the present he’s shaped, and the future to come.
ComicsAlliance: Dan, how did you get started in comics?
Dan Parent: Well, I've been a huge fan of comics all my life. I grew up on comics, like everyone at this show. I was an aspiring artist my whole life, and went to the Joe Kubert school. What happens there is, they come looking for people with talent to work on the books, and being an Archie fan my whole life, I had Archie samples ready to go. They came to the school, and I've [now] been working for Archie for 27 years.
CA: You created the Love Showdown arc, correct? I read the hell out of that as a kid.
DP: Yep. That was one of the first stories we did that got a lot of media attention. The internet hadn't really cracked yet, but gossip shows like Entertainment Weekly covered it, and the Today Show and newspapers. Everyone wanted to know who Archie would choose — and we know now that it was Cheryl Blossom, for a short time. That was my first experience with a big, big story line.
CA: Archie Comics is unique among the major publishers in that it has a very set house style. What’s it like working within that, as an artist?
DP: For me, I always loved the style and it suited me well. As a kid, I liked superhero comics, but my style was in between. I liked the cartoony lines and the super realistic style, but I never liked all the rendering they did in superhero comics. Archie was the perfect fit for me, because it was right in the middle. It suited my art style really well.
CA: Who would you name as big influences on your work?
DP: Well, the biggest one is Dan DeCarlo. He’s the one we all aspired to. He was my favorite Archie artist—he drew the girls so beautifully. Harry Lucey is another favorite, his stuff is so comical and funny. Sam Schwartz was the Jughead artist. And there are other artists in the superhero realm I liked to and grew up with like, Curt Swan and Neal Adams. But DeCarlo is the top of my list.
CA: One of the things you've become best known for is the creation of Kevin Keller. Where did the idea come from for his character?
DP: When Jon Goldwater came aboard five years ago, we were looking to diversify Archie a little bit more. We were looking too white bread and we needed to add more characters.
I had suggested bringing in a gay character a few years before, and it was nixed quickly, but Jon wanted new characters. When I suggested Kevin Keller, he was in. He told me to design a story and the characters and to go for it. And the character took off. People were ready to meet Kevin Keller. He’s one of the main Archie characters now, and has been embraced by everyone. Not just LGBT people, but everyone. Kids love Kevin. There was some backlash from some conservative groups, but we followed our instincts and hearts and were smart to do that. People have embraced him.
CA: A lot of characters like that can become a bit of a gimmick. How do make a character like that stick?
DP: That was our main goal — to not make it a gimmick. We knew creating him would get attention, because we’re Archie comics, but we didn't want to make a gay character and then you never see him again. I was bound and determined to make him one of the gang.
So we fleshed out the character really well, and tried to avoid stereotypes, but at the same time acknowledge that yes, he is gay. A lot of work went into creating Kevin, and the main goal was always to make him a part of the Archie universe. Now people say, oh, there’s Kevin Keller, they don’t make a big hoopla. But yeah, we didn't want to do the gimmicky one-off thing. And not to toot my own horn, but I've been an Archie fan for years, and I didn't want to do anything to damage the company as a fan. That was part of it.
CA: You have a storyline coming up called, "Farewell, Betty and Veronica." What’s going to be happening there?
DP: Michael Uslan will be writing that, who was behind the Archie wedding. He’s done so much great stuff for Archie comics. It’s kind of messing with the dynamic of Riverdale. Betty and Veronica are going to boarding schools, and a couple new girls come to Riverdale to… not to take their place, because no one can take their place, but to fill the void.
Once again, we’ll see that great dynamic of Betty and Veronica is a new situation. The fun part is, they swap identities—Betty gets a dark wig. They sort of realize they have the same faces, which of course has been the joke for all these years. It’s fun seeing them trying to live as best friends. As similar as they are, they’re very different.
CA: Archie’s been in the headlines a lot these days for doing very different stuff — the horror comics, the death of Archie, all that. But you keep the classic heart of the company going. I think Archie occupies a very unique part of the comic book landscape — it's often the only comic accessible and welcoming to kids, especially little girls. You keep that core going. What’s it like maintaining that tradition?
DP: I love it. I’ll always be more associated with the classic Archie. I am very contemporary when it comes to storylines — I’m not in my twenties anymore, but I have a youthful spirit — but at the same time, I’m old school.
I like where Archie’s gone, because it shows the strength of the characters — people will follow them whether it’s horror, or adulthood, or even as little kids. People will follow the characters wherever. Even when we've had years where we weren't in movies or on television, the comics have always been so strong.
When you do something like, oh, Archie’s going to die, or get married, it resonates. If people didn't care about the characters it wouldn't work. Archie is part of Americana. I’m just thrilled to play a part in Archie’s history, because I grew up with Archie and even if I wasn't working for them, I’d still be the biggest Archie fan.
CA: Do you have a favorite Archie character?
DP: It changes, but my immediate choice is Jughead. Everyone kind of related to Jughead, and growing up I was kind of an outcast, and Jughead’s an outcast himself, but he’s happy about it. Of the girl characters, it’s definitely Veronica. Well, and then there’s Kevin, who’s my baby. He has a special place in my heart. Any character can be your favorite when you’re working on them, but those three are my favorites.