Veteran comics writer Paul Kupperberg—who created the wildly popular issue of the Life with Archie magazine in which Kevin Keller, Archie Comics’ groundbreaking gay character, marries his partner—is releasing a new prose novel, Kevin, through Penguin’s Grosset & Dunlap children’s imprint on April 18. Aimed at kids eight to 12, the novel is focused on Keller’s life before he meets the Archie gang and follows him through middle school, where he deals with issues relating to his weight, bullying, sexuality and other sensitive teen issues.

This isn’t the first time Penguin and Archie Comics have teamed up for a prose adaptation. The two publishers have an ongoing licensing agreement, said Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater. “We have a great relationship with Penguin; they published the Betty and Veronica young readers books [Betty and Veronica: We’re with the Band and Betty and Veronica: In Each Other’s Shoes] and did a terrific job,” he noted. Grosset & Dunlap publisher Francesco Sedita echoed that sentiment: “We have a terrific relationship with Archie Comics and have published other titles in the Archie universe. A novel on the terrific new character of Kevin was a natural choice for us. We jumped at the opportunity.”

The novel is set before Kevin arrives in Riverdale. His father is in the military and Kevin has grown up changing schools. At the middle school he attends, his friends turn out to be “fellow geeks and nerds,” Kupperberg told PW. “Kevin was overweight, had braces, and collects comic books; he’s an outsider.” But he also becomes “friends with a popular kid who doesn’t seem to mind hanging around Kevin and his friends,” continued the author, adding, “The story revolves around Kevin trying to come to terms with growing up and becoming aware of himself and his feelings towards the popular kid.” Various kinds of “outsiders” populate the novel, which “deals with bullying, both emotional and physical.”

Kupperberg has written novels, short stories, and coloring books, and he began writing for Carlton Comics and DC Comics in 1975. He told PW that “Kevin was created to be a character who is gay, to illustrate the inclusiveness of the Riverdale-Archie belief system,” not just to be “controversial. [In Archie], he’s there to reflect the reality of the world.”

Archie Comics publicity director Steven Scott said that Archie and Penguin will team to promote the book. The Kevin Keller comics have been nominated for a GLAAD Media Awards (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for the third-straight year. The awards ceremony is May 11 in San Francisco, just after the book is published, and Penguin will provide 800 copies of Kevin for gift bags. Other initiatives include a book signing and panel discussion with Kupperburg and Dan Parent, longtime Archie artist and creator of Keller, at Strand Book Store in New York on April 18. There will also be full-page ads inside 10 Archie comics in March, April, and May, and shout-outs on the Archie Facebook page (178,000 fans) and on Twitter (8,000 followers). In addition, the publishers plan to mail the book to bloggers, teachers, and librarians, and Archie Comics will promote the book at both the San Diego, Calif., and New York Comic conventions, with lots of Kevin swag for the fans.

When Archie initially decided to publish a young reader novel about an openly gay character, it immediately turned to Kupperberg, who said that he “knew the characters as well as had some experience in young adult publishing.” The author added, “Kevin is a character who is gay, not a gay character. When you boil it down, it’s still an Archie comic, I didn’t even show them kissing. I’m not looking for controversy. I’m just telling a story.”