As Comic Con India enters a licensing deal with Archie Comics, which will include the commissioning of exclusive India titles for the popular comic book series, the annual pop culture event spanning four or five major Indian cities is seeing one of the more prominent contemporary artists associated with the Riverdale mythos taking centre stage this year. American comic book artist and writer Dan Parent, best known as the creator of Kevin Keller, the first openly homosexual character in Riverdale, has been travelling with Comic Con India and has already been to two other Comic Con chapters this year – Bengaluru and Hyderabad. In an interview, he told Debarghya Sanyal why he was excited about Archie in India. Edited excerpts: Archie Comics is not new to India. Did you know the comic enjoyed such attention here? How do you feel about it? Well, we are very aware of the popularity of Archie. We have known that for a long time; it is great to come here and meet the people who have helped make Archie so popular. India, besides United States and Canada, is after all one of our most popular markets. The character of Archie has evolved immensely over the years. What do you feel is the one guiding factor – in terms of the audience's choices – that has been essential to this evolution? The whole thing with Archie is that it boils down to the popularity of the characters and what the characters represent today. It is all about just wanting to grow up in a town that is friendly, a place where the problems are pretty minimal. And the main aspect of Archie which everyone comes back to – whether the comic books or Riverdale – is the love triangle among Archie, Betty and Veronica. Those three are always the main gist of what’s going on with Archie. Little has changed. The characters and the interaction among the characters have remained very similar. What has really changed is the style of the artwork, the inclusion of technology or the shift in fashion choices, to match the times. You are credited with creating Kevin Keller, the openly homosexual character. What was the initial response to the character? Do you think his portrayal on the show does justice to the character you created? This was around the year 2010. We were trying to bring in more diversity to our comics and a gay character like Kevin, as well as bringing in other new characters, was important. We wanted the whole world of Riverdale to represent a modern town.
And I think the portrayal of Kevin on the show has been good. I think the actor Casey Cott is really good. This season he will be a regular character, too. So, I am happy with what they are doing on the show. Archie and the world of Riverdale have increasingly been a subject of darker interpretations and retellings – whether Ed Brubaker's Criminal: The Last of the Innocent or even the CW series Riverdale. Why do you think there is a need for this particular approach to the interpretation of Archie? Do you sense a disillusionment with what Archie represents or used to represent? I think that Archie works in different genres. The CW show is darker, but it fits that audience. If you want to be on a network Like the CW, there is a certain audience you are looking for – young audiences interested in more drama. But I think the classic Archie still works as far as with people wanting to get into comic books and going back. However, again with comic books, some people like Afterlife with Archie, which is a horror series. Some people like the classic because it is funny and simple, some people like ‘the darker stuff’ while some people like both. So instead of just one version of Archie for everyone, now there are several versions of Archie for whoever is interested. If you think about it, this (making Archie appeal to a broader audience) is smart marketing, to broaden your fan base. Are there any aspects which you think would be particularly exciting or challenging when interpreting Archie to the new Indian comic book reader? I don’t really think about anything in particular – just bringing Archie to a new place. We have done a few stories where Archie has been in India, which has given us an opportunity to bring in new Indian characters. This again widens our fan base and lets us do specific stuff for India because you guys are big supporters of Archie. I am looking forward to working on more projects with an Indian theme for sure. As you mention bringing in new Indian characters, you must be aware that Hari Kondabolu, an American stand-up comic of Indian origin, recently spoke out against racially stereotyping Indian characters like Apu in The Simpsons. How do you then approach this task of bringing in new Indian characters in something as classic as Archie? When I create characters… of course we do not want to do anything stereotypical. So far as the Indian characters we have had in our books are concerned, they have not been stereotypical, and we are very careful to keep it that way. Hopefully, we have been successful.