Toronto author inspires Archie Comics’ first disabled character

Archie Comics #656, released June 18, 2014, features Riverdale’s first disabled character, Harper.
Jesse Tahirali, CTV News
Published Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:13PM EDT

The timeless town of Riverdale is now a little more modern thanks to Harper, a disabled teen based on a real-life Toronto author.

Wednesday’s issue of Archie Comics features a visit from Veronica’s cousin, who gets around using a pink wheelchair and elbow crutch. Harper, a character inspired by Canadian children’s book author Jewel Kats, is the first disabled character in the comic’s more than 70 years of history.

Kats, who also uses a wheelchair, hopes Harper can be a role model to readers.

Toronto children’s author and disability advocate Jewel Kats was the inspiration for the latest Archie Comics character Harper, June 19, 2014.

“Harper, she’s just amazing. She teaches people that you can achieve your dreams,” Kats told CTV News Channel. “You can be anybody you want to be, even if that means reaching for the stars differently.”

The idea was born in 2013 when Kats confronted veteran Archie author and illustrator Dan Parent at Toronto’s Fan Expo comic book convention. Kats was running her own booth at the convention, and upon realizing Parent was in attendance, knew she had a bone to pick with him.

“I wheeled up to him, looked at him square in the eye and went, ‘Why isn’t there a character with a disability in Riverdale? How is that possible?’”

Though the character took some time to create, Parent and Kats exchanged contact information at the convention and eventually fleshed out a fashion-savvy girl who, as explained in the comic, was in a car accident as a child.

Kats, who is given special thanks on the first page of the issue, said Riverdale is becoming more representative of reality.

“Everybody knows someone with a disability, whether it’s a co-worker or a student in your class or your neighbour,” she said.

In 2010, Parent also introduced Archie fans to the franchise’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller. Kats said with these changes, Riverdale is becoming more inclusive, something Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater was aiming for when he first announced the introduction of Harper.

“Harper is the latest in a long line of characters we’ve introduced to make Riverdale feel like a city in today’s world,” Goldwater said in a May press release. “The fact that she’s disabled is only one part of her story, and we’re excited to welcome her to Riverdale and Archie Comics.”

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