Since he began working for Archie Comics in 1987, Dan Parent has risen from being a utility player to become the company’s best-known contemporary writer/artist. From initially assisting legendary Archie artist Dan DeCarlo to working on such interesting failures as Faculty Funnies and Jughead’s Diner to shaking up the traditional Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle with 1994’s The Love Showdown storyline, Parent has repeatedly shown not only an understanding for Riverdale’s residents, but a deep compassion for as well. This is best illustrated by his creation of Kevin Keller. Introduced in issue 202 of Veronica in 2010, Keller became Riverdale’s first openly gay resident. In the process, Parent helped kickstart a new wave of interest in all-things Archie that has allowed the company to take risks — such as the forthcoming horror comic Afterlife with Archie — that seemed impossible a decade ago. These days, Archie is the most interesting company in the comics industry. Seriously. Their progressive mindset and dedication to keeping characters fresh and challenging expectations is downright compelling given their woefully out-of-date reputation as being just for kids not old enough to read superhero comics.With Kevin Keller continuing to get acclaim — most recently winning a GLAAD award for Outstanding Comic Book, I thought I’d check in with Parent to hear his thoughts on working for Archie, the genesis of Kevin Keller and his future plans. Here’s What he had to say.
Chris Cummins: How did you first get involved with Archie Comics?
Dan Parent: Well I was about to graduate from the Joe Kubert School and was looking for work…and Archie was also looking for talent. So things lined up right and my career began.
CC: I can see (legendary Archie artist) Dan DeCarlo’s influence upon your work, but I am wondering how much the art of folks like Harry Lucey and Samm Schwartz impacted your approach to the iconic Archie characters. Was it hard defining your own interpretation of these characters given how well known DeCarlo’s house style was/is?
DP: I was definitely influenced by Dan DCarlo, because I liked drawing girls and he was the best artist for drawing them at Archie bar none. I also worked side by side with Dan, so his influence was right there. But I was a huge fan of Harry Lucey and Samm Schwartz, as well as a number of other artists. As time went on I sort of branched out into my own style. But it does take awhile before you have the confidence to loosen up and let your real style come out.
CC: Let’s talk about your work with Jughead’s Diner a little bit, as I find it to be absolutely bizarre (in the best possible way). What were your intentions with the series, and did you think you achieved what you set out to with it?
DP: Jughead’s diner was insane, and looking back it would appear that I was on drugs at the time. Which I wasn’t. That was a crazy experimental time, and that book was inspired by the craziness of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse kind of humor at that time.I do think we accomplished our mission, which was to let loose and go crazy.
CC: Another offbeat title you were involved with around the same time was The Carneys — a strange carnival family that included a two-headed girl and a bearded lady. What was the genesis of these characters and why did they fade away so fast?
DP: The Carneys was a creation of Bill Golliher’s and mine. It was based on the old fish out of water scenario where you get a bunch of outcasts — in this case circus freaks — and have them try to exist amongst normal society. They were around several years. I still love these characters and see potential with them. We actually had a holding deal with Cartoon Network in its early days but nothing ever came of it.
CC: You are best known for being the creator of Kevin Keller. Since introducing the character, he has been embraced not only by the LGBT community, but mainstream audiences as well. To what do you attribute this?
DP: Kevin has been embraced just the same way that in real life we integrate gay family members and friends into our lives; because we care about them and they’re a part of our family. Kevin is a part of the Archie family.
CC: What inspired you to create Kevin?
DP: A need for more diversity in the Archie world, and to think with a more 21st-century attitude.
CC: Was it difficult handing the character over to Paul Kupperberg for him to write for in Life with Archie? What are your thoughts on his Kevin novel?
DP: Paul is a pro, and I knew Kevin would be in good hands with Paul’s excellent writing. And his Kevin novel is really good, a perfect book for kids of all ages to enjoy.
CC: What is the current status of Archie vs. Kiss? Has that been cancelled?
DP: That’s been put on hold just to give us some space from the first series, which was a ton of fun by the way,
CC: What, if any, input will you have on the Archie movie?
DP: Well, they haven’t asked me yet. But I do understand that Kevin will be in the movie.
CC: As the most prolific Archie artist working today are there any specific Non-Kevin stories that you are especially pleased with? And on the flipside of that, are there any that didn’t turn out the way you hoped?
DP: Aside from Kevin my other baby is the Archie/Valerie romance. It works not just because it’s the first interracial romance in our books but because the characters have such great chemistry. Valerie is a great character that we never really got to know before. I also really liked my revamp of the Betty and Veronica Spectacular series. As far as projects that didn’t turn out so great there’s always a few. I guess Faculty Funnies would be one. I won’t go into the others!
CC: What non-Archie comics do you check out?
DP: Love and Rockets, The Rocketeer, Saga, Superman, Anything by Chris Ware and Parker by Darwyn Cooke to name a few.
CC: Are you working on any new Archie projects that you can talk about?
DP: The Archies’ “Rockin the World” tour, which is a four-parter that begins in Archie 650. And something really fun is starting in Kevin Keller 14, but you’ll have to stay tuned for that…
Thanks to Dan Parent for his time and to Steven Scott at Archie Comics for arranging the interview.