10 December 2011

The Wrap-Up Show - Thoughts on FMF: Kevin Keller #2

Hello hello! Welcome to the [FMF] Wrap-Up Show, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Flashmob Fridays, with commentary from our group of writers on how this week's feature came together, and how it turned out.

Alan David Doane:

"In the behind-the-scenes discussion for this week's edition of Flashmob Fridays, I suggested that having a gay character in Riverdale and addressing very topical issues like gays in the military and gay marriage were inherently political. Upon further reflection, though, I think my biggest disappointment with this comic is that it is so profoundly apolitical. It doesn't seem to have anything to say about anything at all." -- Yan Basque

When I chose Kevin Keller #2 for our second Flashmob Fridays (you'll pardon the pun) outing, I'll admit as an editor I was attempting a zig-zag away from the expected; we started off with reviews of Mark Waid's generally-recognized-as-excellent Daredevil, and I suppose it would have been really, really easy to go from there to some well-regarded New 52 title from DC, assuming any of them rise to the level of well-regarded, which I'm not entirely convinced of. But with an openly gay writer onboard our FMF team, and another who is a regular reader/reviewer of Archie Comics, I knew I could count on at least a couple of really interesting takes on a fairly significant contemporary comic book, Kevin Keller.

In looking back on the published reviews, I think we all mainly agreed about the basic good of having a gay Archie character vs. the non-good (it's debatable whether it descends to the level of harmful or not) inherent in the toothlessness of it all. Yan Basque really honed right in on that aspect and conveyed perfectly the dilemma Archie's writers and artists have in trying to faithfully depict a true gay character in a universe of cheerfully sexless American icons. I don't mean to be condescending in saying I wanted the perspective of a gay writer in talking about this issue and this character -- I asked Yan to join us on FMF because I have admired his writing about comics for many months -- but I think he really brought some welcome depth and frankness to the subject. That said, I can't think of many more important issues facing the world today than diversity and acceptance of all kinds of people, and I am glad Archie is trying, but I, too, like Yan, and like most of the rest of the FMF team, wish the end result felt a little more real, a little more convincing, and a little more important to the ongoing dialogue.

Johnny Bacardi:

I didn't get anything together; I was deathly ill [the night of the deadline]. It's just as well; I couldn't really think of anything to say about it other than while it's good to have any sort of positive examples of gay people in comics, as a comic that's some weak sauce. Bland art, too concerned with staying on that Stan G./Al Hartley/DeCarlo model and doing so very stiffly and super-obvious and a super-careful script with a lead that is so carefully crafted to be NICE and LIKEABLE that he comes across as too good to be true.

I read my share of Archie comics growing up; in the '60s I really liked the Pureheart the Powerful stuff, but, like Gold Key and Harvey comics they were always second and third fiddle to the Marvel and DC stuff. Several years later my wife would buy the occasional digest at the grocery, which of course I would read, since, well, they were comics. Comics my wife bought! But overall, I've never been particularly interested or excited by Archie comics, and while I commend their forward thinking the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Hey, that reads like a review, doesn't it?

Chris Allen:

I guess when all is said and done, Archie Comics deserves a bit of credit for introducing a gay character to squeaky clean, asexual Riverdale. Maybe it was a gimmick, maybe it was just the cold calculation of realizing there must be some sort of gay demographic they weren’t previously reaching, or maybe someone just recognized that Riverdale needed to reflect a bit of our reality, however sanitized and forced through the typical Archie filtering.

To start picking at Kevin Keller for not having a sexual life, or encountering real trauma and hatred for being openly gay, is to really just start pulling at the thread that holds all of Archie Comics together. None of these characters are meant to be real people. They’re stuck in high school, don’t have sex, don’t get in any kind of trouble with their parents, the law, or substance abuse. Moose is likely never going to have a career-ending football injury. The Lodges won’t lose their house due to poor investments. Archie won’t watch his mother die. Jughead won’t get diabetes. And Kevin Keller will probably not be seen with his tongue in another guy’s mouth.

For the record, I’m only rooting for that last example to happen. So I think we can take this one issue on its own as a well-intentioned effort that suffers from being too nice. It’s hard to appreciate the struggles of an openly gay teen like Kevin (whose father was also not around a lot when he was growing up) when those struggles are unrealistically soft, and overcome so easily. It’s a little like superhero comics when they try to tackle real world issues like war and hunger. There’s probably a way to do it that doesn’t seem pat, awkward or stupid, but it would take time and a great deal of sensitivity and talent. Likewise, I’m not sure Dan Parent is the writer, or Archie Comics the publisher, to explore anything close to a three dimensional gay character in their light, humorous escapist comics. On its own, there isn’t a lot to recommend the book. It’s inevitable that one sees it as a starting point towards something a little deeper, but expectations have to be pretty low that that will happen.

Buy Kevin Keller HC from Amazon.com.


  1. I had said in my blogpost about joining FMF that I had ambivalence about joining. I'm even more unclear that having a gay character in a comic book per se is political. But I'm not naive enough to think it won't be perceived as such.

    Oddly, the first thing that came to mind was Julia, a TV show (1968-1971) with Diahann Carroll as a widowed nurse taking care of her son while working. Totally void of much real politics, but was noteworthy because Carroll was black. It was pretty non-controversial, and that was the point. Later iterations of the "black" comedy could/would go further, but it was the right show at the right time.
    Kevin Keller, in the Archie universe, based on that one story, fits in there similarly.

  2. I agree with Chris that today's Archies are soft and comfortable, but in the 1970s, there were stories in dedicated titles that tackled the issues of the day. (For example, I earlier wrote about a comic where Archie gets drafted and they discuss the question of draft dodgers.) I'd like to see more of that, but the closest we've come in recent years were the slightly more modern "New Look" stories, and they were so ugly I don't want to recall them.

  3. Roger, to be clear, I don't think that putting any gay character in any comic book is necessarily political. But my argument was that this particular instance is - because it's a first in Archie comics, because he was conceived specifically to fill that void, and because it was accompanied by press releases that said: "Hey! Look at us! We have a gay character! We're relevant!"

    Also, maybe we have a different understanding of what it means for something to be political. I feel like if something is perceived as political, then it basically is (regardless of intentions).