Last December, when Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., hired a black Santa Claus, everyone from Megyn Kelly to seething internet trolls had something to say about it.
In response to the “war on Christmas” cries, Daniel Kibblesmith – a writer for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” – tweeted that he and his soon-to-be wife would happily tell future children that Santa was black. “If we see a white one,” he tweeted, “we’ll say, ‘That’s his husband.’ ”
Illustrator Ashley Quach, a Matthews native, quickly tweeted back: “Boom, new children’s book.” She later sent Kibblesmith a hand-painted watercolor Christmas card of Santa and his husband. (They were already internet friends at that point; she’d drawn something else inspired by a different joke he’d made on Twitter.)
A controversial new book was born.
“After the holidays, he said, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ ” says Quach, 32, calling from the home in Los Angeles she shares with her husband, Paul. She whipped up a few drawings and a sample cover for Kibblesmith and his literary agent and the project took off, setting off more controversy when it was announced last spring.
In October, Harper Collins published the short, sweet, 32-page “Santa’s Husband.” Quach, who is credited as A.P. Quach, returns to her hometown’s Park Road Books Thursday for a book-signing event.
Since moving to Los Angeles four years ago from San Francisco, she’s been writing screenplays, publishing internet comics like “Boy’s Night” and “Sassquach,” and authoring a romantic comedy for internet radio, “Deck the Halls,” in the spirit of radio dramas of the ’50s. A sequel is currently in the works.
But Santa’s husband was a wholly different experience.
“It was like peeking into an alternate universe,” says Quach of the book world. “Every ‘yes’ in Los Angeles takes four years because 10 million people have to say yes and every yes is kind of code for maybe. With this we heard nothing until a week before it got announced.”
To those who knew Quach (her maiden name is Perryman) at Matthews United Methodist Church, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, or UNC Greensboro, her involvement with a playful, LGBTQ-friendly book that’s got conservatives in a tizzy may come as a surprise. But they probably haven’t read it.
“The part I liked best about Christianity – which I still love a lot – is the fellowship, the love, the singing. It can be comforting and give you a strong sense of person,” says Quach, who graduated from UNC Chapel Hill after studying theater and journalism. “There are things that unfortunately come hand in hand in tense church situations; a lot of times religion can be wielded to control, particularly women. And it’s used in strange ways to control the way people feel about sex. It’s carried to a further extent in the LGBT community.”
Santa’s relationship in the book is so wholesome, it seems like an affront to those who would take offense.
“What’s great about the book is it’s not a joke. I drew the most adorable book. Santa and his husband enjoy each other so much. They are the happiest, most adorable couple you’ve ever seen. If you hate it, you’re an a--hole,” she says, her smile almost emanating through her cellphone.
“I think there were people in the LGBT community that were worried it would be a punchline. People who’ve seen the other Christmas comics I’ve done knew it was going to be adorable,” she says.
Quach looked at her own marriage as a model.
“Daniel described a really good marriage. It reminded me a lot of my marriage to Paul. He helps me with Photoshop, cleaning up illustrations. That’s always been our rhythm. I’m a Luddite. Our skill sets help each other out,” she explains. “That’s what I saw in ‘Santa’s Husband.’ ”
She cast Santa as a graduate of MIT, an engineer, working in the factory and making toys, while his husband (who went to Stanford) takes care of the marketing and public appearances.
“I wanted to draw things to make this book for these families,” Quach says. “This isn’t a joke for grown liberals who are shopping at Urban Outfitters. It’s a book for families who want to see themselves represented.”
Event with the Illustrator: Ashley Quach - Santa’s Husband
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Details: 704-525-9239; www.parkroadbooks.com.