What do gay marriage, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the band KISS have in common? In the crazy world of comics, everything.
Newer, edgier titles have been known to push the boundaries of expectation or mesh disparate imagery and pop culture references, but it's a particular nostalgic title that's rocking out and rocking the boat politically at the moment: Archie.
Used to be, Archie's most probing debate was about who was hotter in Riverdale: Betty or Veronica. The eternal question about which girl Archie should choose continues and the writers have come up with a clever way around it: alternate story lines that explore the title character's married life with each gal. There's even a graphic novel about it called "The Married Life: Two Worlds. Two Loves. Two Destinies."
Coming mid-January, one of those storylines will see the ginger-haired protagonist break up with one of the gals too. But it will also see a historic union: the marriage of Riverdale's only (out) homosexual resident, Kevin Keller.
At a signing for Archie Meets KISS at Golden Apple on Melrose last month, the long-haired hordes in spiked belts hoping to get their issues (and their albums) signed by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley probably had no idea about the comic's much blogged-about gay character. They might worship dudes in makeup, but metal heads in general aren't known to be most tolerant when it comes to sexuality.
Clearly, Archies aims to attract a new, mixed readership. At the signing Stanley and Simmons were joined by artist Dan Parent and KISS series writer (whose also head of marketing at Archie) Alex Segura -- two fellows who've had a big part in the comic's evolution as envisioned by Archie CEO, Jon Goldwater (son of the original owner/creator).
"Jon's taken Archie into a very modern and relevant place, while still keeping the classic elements of the company intact," said Parent, who created the Keller character. "He's also been at the forefront to adding diversity and relevance to Riverdale."
Keller was briefly introduced in an issue spotlighting Veronica, the dark haired beauty. But he quickly became popular enough to get his own issue, and the response, according to Parent and Golden Apple owner Ryan Liebowitz, has been overwhelmingly positive.
"It's been very successful and well received by mainstream readers and it's brought new readers from the gay and lesbian community into comic shops like Golden Apple," Liebowitz told us. Surely, the gay marriage issue (see photo) will be the hottest seller of the series.
Though some blogs have suggested it might be a little soon for Keller to be walking down the aisle, the timing make sense with gay marriage legal in New York." Said Parent, "The decision to marry Kevin was for Life with Archie magazine, [in] which we are free to deal with more adult issues since the characters are adults in this series. And gay marriage is such a topical issue, we'd be crazy not to address it."
The final issue of the four-part KISS series (see photo) will be available in Feb. 2012. Of course, it's not the first comic KISS has been a part of. There was the infamous '77 Marvel debut in the band put their own blood into the ink, and later Todd McFarlane's dark and demented KISS: Psycho Circus series. The band's Archie's appearances are far more exuberant and colorful. Parent's style is somewhat old school and his rendering of the band fits in seamlessly. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who unwittingly conjures the band and a pack of monsters in the story, looks like a naughty school girl. Fitting.
As the "controlled chaos," as Liebowitz called it, of the KISS signing proved, the collision of rock and comics fans is unlike anything else. He said a Public Enemy signing at the store a while back was just as fervent fan-wise, and he cites releases by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (the latter will be in store on Janurary 14 to sign his work, called Orchid) as some "of the coolest books on our shelf."
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At the KISS signing, Simmons was literally mobbed all the way to his car in the rear parking lot. Of course, he can take care of himself.
Everyone knows Simmons is a stickler when it comes to the KISS brand and image. We asked Segura about his dealings with The Demon. "Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have been great to work with. They've been part of the process since the beginning, from pitch to script to pencils to inks," Segura said. "Their feedback's been helpful and they've been quick and responsive with any of our questions. It's been totally painless and a fun creative process."
"Fun" is what all the new Archie is ultimately all about. Whether they're dealing with witchcraft, rock n' roll, topical hot button issues or the complexities of love, there's an upbeat vibrancy about the characters and the brand that recall the good ol' days that's sure to stay in tact, no matter what they may tackle today, or tomorrow.
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