New gay character brings Archie into 21st century

April 29, 2010


And what shall we say about the fact that there is to be a homosexual in Riverdale?

You know where Riverdale is, of course. It lies at that junction of wholesomeness and Americana where, for almost 70 years, it has been home to Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones and the other eternal teenagers of Archie Comics. Last week, the company announced a new addition to the cast. In September, it said, in Veronica 202, Kevin Keller debuts in a story that finds the titular spoiled rich girl mysteriously unable to get his attention despite using all her feminine wiles.

“She’s not so bad,” Kevin confides to Jughead. “I’m just not interested in dating her. ... It’s nothing against her. I’m gay.”

And what shall we say about that?

A handful of those who commented on CNN’s Web site didn’t have to think twice. Or, for that matter, once. One vowed to ban Archie Comics from his or her home, in order to protect children from “perversion.” Another moaned, “This is crazy, why do they have to bring gay people into everything.”

Of significantly more interest was a piece on Salon.com by Douglas Wolk, who has written a number of books on comic books. Wolk put a skeptic’s spin on the news, noting correctly that Kevin Keller is hardly the first openly gay character in comics — just the first in Archie’s world. And he predicted — probably also correctly — that poor Kevin is doomed to be Riverdale’s token homosexual, allowing the company to crow its commitment to diversity while he exists on the periphery, never breaking into a core cast that hasn’t changed since the Roosevelt years, much less getting to kiss a handsome boy.

But even stipulating all that, it would be a mistake to dismiss what’s happening in Riverdale. This looms as a watershed moment.

That’s precisely “because” Riverdale exists at that junction of wholesomeness and Americana. There are few entities in mass media more conservative than Archie Comics; indeed, some years back, the characters were licensed for a Christian evangelical series of books. So when it comes to introducing Riverdale’s first openly gay teenager, the salient issue isn’t how well they do it or what they stand to gain from doing it, but that they are doing it at all.

Can you imagine the company feeling compelled to introduce this character 20 years ago? Or even 10? Of course not. Twenty years ago, homosexuality was dangerous, 10 years ago, it was risque. The appearance of a gay character in Archie Comics strongly suggests that it has become, is becoming, mainstream. Even safe.

So people like those on CNN’s message board must surely know they’re fighting the rear-guard action of a battle they’ve already lost. When a Kevin Keller enrolls in Riverdale High, that’s a white flag running up the pole, enemy soldiers raising their hands.

Which is not to suggest the fight for full gay citizenship is won. But it is to suggest that the parameters of that fight have changed. It is to suggest that, message board malcontents notwithstanding, we are at least done contesting the very right of gay men and lesbians to simply “be” — and to be seen, being.

Occasionally, and understandably, one hears gay people complain about the slow pace of their progress. But progress has this way of sneaking up on you, of suddenly being there when you didn’t see it coming. We think progress is a lightning bolt and sometimes, it is. But more often, it is a series of incremental changes whose full importance we see only in hindsight.

This will likely be one of them.

So what should we say now that there is a homosexual in Riverdale? How about:

Welcome to the 21st century. We’ve been waiting for you.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


geekin_topekan 8 years ago

They had two gay characters already.

independant1 8 years ago

got one of those "i'm normal" moments coming on

Kris_H 8 years ago

I think that's a hilarious comment, "Why do they have to bring gay people into everything?"

Dude or Dudette, gay people already are in everything. Having your head in the sand for the past forty years hasn't done much for your brains, has it.

BorderRuffian 8 years ago

I don't think that is a posture I'd adopt. Kinda leaves one rather vulnerable...

bruno2 8 years ago

Really Pilgrim, when did he tell you that? Jesus comments on gays = 0. Or maybe you're thinking of some other God? Let's see, Buddha = 0, the Goddess = 0, Shiva = 0, who else, oh yeah, the Old Testament? The one that says kill your kids? Sure, go with that...

bruno2 8 years ago

The same Bible also says: “Blessed is he who smashes their little ones against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9)

Pilgrim, I sincerely hope you read this and learn something about the underpinnings of your prejudice.

You quote Leviticus, third book of the Hebrew bible. Yeah, like I thought, you go with the Old Testament. LOTS of great advice in there. Seems a lot like the Koran to me. So, if you believe we must follow the teachings of the Old Testament, when are you going to kill your children? How about raping your slaves and your neighbor's virgin daughters?

You bet, I'm gonna follow the directions in a book written by a bunch of misogynistic bloodthirsty barbarians 3-4 thousand years ago. VERY smart. Here's a few more choice directions on murder, mayhem, and rape from your "good book":

"kill every male dependent, and kill every woman who has had intercourse with a man, but spare for yourselves every woman among them who has not had intercourse." Shortly later, God gave Moses instructions for distributing the captive virgins among the fighting men and the community. When they wanted more virgins, God told them to hide alongside the road and when they saw a girl they liked, kidnap her and forcibly rape her and make her your wife!

"Spare no one; put them all to death, men and women, children and babes in arms, herds and flocks, camels and asses."

Isaiah quotes God as promising to send the Medes to attack the Chaldaeans and have "their houses rifled and their wives ravished."

There are no end to such abominations in the Old Testament, yet you use a quote from this book to justify your hatred of people with a different sexual orientation than yours?

One of the founding fathers, Thomas Paine said: "To read the Bible without horror, we must undo everything that is tender, sympathizing and benevolent in the heart of man."

Take a clue from old Tom and start to love your neighbor as yourself, even if you don't understand them.

Thinking_Out_Loud 8 years ago

Comic books are now recognized by many authorities as a form of art, representative of contemporary culture. They are studied by scholars in fields such as communications and rhetoric. Several universities, including the University of Florida and UC-Santa Cruz, offer academic programs in Comics Studies.

Game Studies is also an academic pursuit--the University of Indiana is one of the universities that offers a certificate in this discipline.

Something is not necessarily a waste of time simply because it is outside your capacity for comprehension and understanding.

tomatogrower 8 years ago

Years ago in a philosophy class we had to buy a comic book and discuss the philosophical concepts represented in the comic. It was an eye opener.

bruno2 8 years ago

Hey, I thought you said all his columns were about blacks and racism? Guess you need a new drum beat.

Thinking_Out_Loud 8 years ago

Saturday is "Free Comic" day. You might want to go to a comic store and pick up a freebie or two and think about it critically (which is not the same as being critical of it).

Mike Hoffmann 8 years ago

Honest question here; Who actually reads Archie comics? I had no idea they still existed. I'm in the mood for some Andy Capp Cheese Fries now!

Kirk Larson 8 years ago

This will probably boost sales among kids who rightly thought they were stuffy and out of date. They will see it as making them more relevant to their real lives.

Kirk Larson 8 years ago

That's not a white flag going up the pole. It's a rainbow flag and about time (although I always suspected that Betty and Veronica experimented).

RoeDapple 8 years ago

I haven't read Archie for 50 years, but even back then it was obvious he was having a threesome with Betty and Veronica.

jonas_opines 8 years ago

You know what would be newsworthy? When something like this happened and it wasn't newsworthy.

BruceWayne 8 years ago

and when can we expect Kevin to be featured in the LJW Style Scout? does he wear Capri pants?

Liberty275 8 years ago

Next on the agenda, Scooby humps Shaggy's leg.

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years ago

Aren't "token" characters just patronizing the groups they represent?

ivalueamerica 8 years ago

Have you read the comic? Do you see anything token about him. It appears he will be a regular member of the Archie Gang.

You know just saying something at random does not make you right, it makes you silly.

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years ago

No, I haven't read the comic, not a fan. I think you must have a different meaning for "token" than I do.

I just think it's a little patronizing that after 68 years, they decide to add a gay character just so they can say they have one.

Are we supposed to think that the writers of this comic are truly progressive?

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years ago

If this is what you've been striving for, then by all means, excuse me for offending you.

Maddy Griffin 8 years ago

I'm glad to see it. The more you understand something, the less likely you are t fear it. Down with homophobia! Hug a Gay!!

independant1 8 years ago

No fear here. I man hugged Marvin Gay. Feb.2, 1968

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