It was the shot heard around the world — at least in the comic realm.
Archie, of Archie Comics fame, was fatally shot while protecting his gay best friend. The famous freckled, red-headed comic book character was killed Wednesday in the latest issue of “Life With Archie” when he took a bullet from a gunman attempting to kill Kevin Keller, Archie Comics' first openly gay character.
“It's important that you see Archie, a straight, white male willing to die for his gay friend,” said Viktor Kerney, outreach director with Bent-Con, the Burbank-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender comic and sci-fi convention. “He's supporting his friend to the very end.”
Archie's death, part of a storyline about gun control, concluded the series that focused on the adult lives of Archie and his Riverdale pals.
“Archie Comics, a major publication and a very middle America comic — that appeals to a wide audience and wide range of ages — is dealing with extremely important life and death issues,” said Ted Abenheim, president of Prism Comics, a nonprofit public awareness group that promotes awareness of LGBT comics and their creators. “The introduction of Kevin was one of the most important milestones in LGBT comics.”
Keller was introduced four years ago and was monumental in the Archie universe as it represented another example of the mainstreaming of gay characters in comic books. Once banished to the closet or invisible to readers, gay characters are now taking lead roles.
On Saturday, July 26, Abenheim will moderate a panel on “Gays in Comics” at the annual San Diego Comic-Con International. In its 27th year, it's the longest, consecutive running panel at Comic-Con.
Apart from the convention, numerous gay-themed events and parties will also take place at clubs and various venues in Hillcrest, San Diego's popular gay neighborhood.
“A few years ago, there weren't any events at gay clubs in San Diego,” Abenheim said. “Now it's cool to be a queer geek.”
Archie's Kevin is part of an expanding group of “out” characters that have existed for more than 40 years. Some of the first modern gay comics were underground erotic comics in the 1940s.
But in 1954, the Comics Code Authority, a self-policing group that was part of the Comics Magazine Association of America, created specific regulations banning the depictions of gay and lesbian characters.
As result, the gay comic scene developed and flourished underground with gay publications and independent publishing houses.
“LGBT comics have been an uncensored, internal conversation within the queer community and provide a unique window into the hopes, fears and fantasies of queer people for the last four decades,” said Justin Hall, a professor of comics at San Francisco's California College of the Arts and author of “No Straight Line: Four Decades of Queer Comics.”
“These comics have forged their aesthetics from the influences of underground comix, gay erotic art, punk zines and the biting commentaries of drag queens, bull dykes and other marginalized queers,” Hall said.
By the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority's grip on the industry had loosened. In 1972, Wimmen's Comix, the first all-female comic anthology, published “Sandy Comes Out.”
“It was the first story about a queer person that wasn't not erotic or a gag strip,” Hall said. “It was the dawn of queer literary comics.”
Two decades later, Marvel Comics introduced gay X-men superhero, Northstar.
In 2002, gay characters Apollo and the Midnighter were married in the pages of “The Authority,” published by DC Comic's Wildstorm imprint.
Another milestone was crossed in 2011, when DC Comics' Batwoman and her alter ego Kate Kane became the first lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character to headline a monthly comic from a mainstream publisher.
The inclusion of LGBT characters was — and is — the result of new writers injecting reality into comic book pages, said Charles Christensen of Northwest Press, an LGBT comic and graphic novel publisher.
“A lot of comics don't exist in the real world. People wearing colorful costumes doesn't have much grounding in reality,” Christensen said. “People outside of comics have different ideas of how the world really works. They want to show a more diverse world.”
Contact Phillip Zonkel at 562-714-2098.