For 70 years, there was no homosexuality in Riverdale High School. At least nobody talked about it. Archie comics, the popular American strip about teenager’s life in a small-town high school, is introducing its first gay character. His name is Kevin Keller, and Veronica, a richie-rich girlfriend of Archie, has a crush on him.
Debuting on the comic’s latest issue, expected shortly in local bookstores, Kevin may get… well, just a guarded response in Delhi. “It’s no big deal,” says TV producer Pearl Toppo. “The comic is late in doing that.” A few Archie fans, however, are excited. “Wow, a gay character in Archie,” says Shantaram Dasgupta, an IT professional in Noida. “Veronica, take your hands off that guy. Kevin’s mine.”
To be sure, the comic strip is not wildly popular among the city’s teens. “We sell 50 copies every month,” says Srikant Verma, a book assistant in Bahrisons Booksellers, Khan Market. “Most buyers are girls but the sale isn’t what it was.”
The comic strip, available in three formats (weekly, monthly, quarterly), navigates in a mostly-white world teeming with carefree, happy teens. This escapist bubble had a huge following in the generation that has just moved into late 20s. But Delhi’s new-age teens prefer more experimental stuff, such as Japanese Manga comics, if they are into comics at all.
“I’m now into novels,” says Avantika Viswanathan, who like Archie is a 11th standard student, and who has outgrown the comic hero. “But I’m glad that they have brought in a gay character. The plot was always about Betty and Veronica fighting over Archie. Kevin’s entry will add substance. There will be a new angle.”
Delhi may not be hostile to Kevin. In the year since the Delhi High Court’s verdict repealing Section 377 that criminalised gay sex, the gay scene has come of age. The social life is more open.
The question is: how subtly can healthy fun be poked on a gay comic character without sounding offensive? “If Kevin is shown with all the stereotypes about gay people that we see in films, then I’m not interested,” says Ansh Wadhawan, a businessman in Dilshad Garden. “I’m not into Archie but I have an opinion on Kevin,” says BS, a 10th grader who requested anonymity, since he is neither ‘out’ at his home, nor in school. “We have gay actors, gay novelists, why not gay comic characters?”