A story reverse-engineered to piss off homophobes and racists.
Image: AP Quach/Harper Collins
Less than a year after they were first posted, the tweets you see above are now a children’s book. What started as a joke became an idea, then a collaboration, then some concept art, and ultimately a book deal—all contained on that Twitter thread.
The plot of Santa’s Husband seems like it’s reverse-engineered from a homophobic racist’s nightmare. The story itself is the very innocent and sweet (and true, according to the book) tale of Santa and his husband and their life together, complimented by detailed and playful watercolor illustrations.
In classic Twitter fashion, the thread also contains a sprinkling of racist and bigoted comments (none from author Daniel Kibblesmith or illustrator AP Quach, to be clear.) Santa’s Husband, then, is a making of, by, and for the internet. News of the book was also met with hateful, sometimes anti-Semitic responses directly targeting the author on sites like the Daily Stormer and Gab.
A few weeks after Santa’s Husband went on sale, I checked in with Kibblesmith and Quach about how it all went down.
Motherboard: You guys knew there was going to be some backlash with the book. How has the response been?
Daniel Kibblesmith: The response, thankfully, has been overwhelmingly positive. Our Amazon listing, as of now, has only five and one star reviews. (note: There is now one 3-star review). It really is a quantifiable version of 'everybody either loves it or hates it.' There isn't a lot of in-between. That being said, more people seem to love it than hate it.
I saw a one star Amazon review, where they say the book is a waste of money, but they were reading it at their chiropractor's office, which seems like a joke.
AP Quach: What a strange thing to have in a chiropractor's office!
Kibblesmith: That's one of those details—you have to believe it because it's too weird to make up.
Do either of you feel like you get worse backlash? Daniel's the author, but in general, online, people tend to be shittier to women, has that been the case for the criticisms you've gotten so far?
Quach: Ashwin was asking earlier if I went by AP on purpose, so that people wouldn't know I was a woman. When I first started putting comics online, that was absolutely part of me going by my initials. I can't say for sure what it would be like if I had gone by Ashley. When I get emails through my website, they usually think I'm a guy. I don't know why, I draw pictures of myself all the time.
It's one of those things that may change as time goes on and the book does well. For the most part, I feel like a lot of the negative stuff has been directed at Daniel.
Kibblesmith: I think I'm a bigger, shinier object.
And I think that makes me easier to track down, and I also think there's maybe some assumption that as the author, rather than the illustrator, I'm the originator of this project, or the person to blame. I absolutely think it would be worse if I was a woman. Like, my wife and I make incredibly similar Twitter jokes all of the time, and the amount of really, really personal and frightening vitriol that she gets always eclipses the amount of negative ranting I get from strangers.
I was curious if you've had anyone deliver the book successfully to Megyn Kelly yet?
Kibblesmith: Unsurprisingly, we get this a lot. We talked to our publishers, and we have sent them copies, officially, as part of our media outreach, and I would be extremely interested in coming on her show, and having the actual conversation about it.
Have any of your friends with children who've actually read the book gotten any children's feedback?
Quach: Lots of my friends have children, I'm at that age. This is by far, my favorite thing now, is when people send us pictures of their kids reading Santa's Husband. A reporter from Entertainment Weekly took this amazing video of her toddler reading it, it's the very first few pages, and the toddler goes, "this is Santa, and this is Santa's husband." It's the cutest thing I've ever seen!
One of my friends from high school, a gay man in a very loving marriage, one of the first pictures I got was them reading Santa's Husband with their baby in a high-chair. I mean, that's why we did this. the best thing we could get from this book, is that this book represents families, and it becomes a part of their Christmas tradition.
Kibblesmith: It's incredible to put something out there, hoping for the best case scenario, and now people are sending us pictures of the best case scenario, every day.
If you actually read the book, it's insane to think it could make someone upset.
Kibblesmith: We were very careful not to have anything offensive in the book. The only way you can find the book offensive is if you find the premise offensive, which, we see as maybe a problem with the reader.
It's like a racism/bigotry inkblot test.
Kibblesmith: I will say, in fairness, there are some weird exceptions that I've encountered. I had an email exchange with a man who was very upset about the book. We emailed back and forth, and eventually I just asked point-blank if he was upset about the idea of having a black Santa Claus and/or the idea of a gay Santa Claus, and he took offense to that. He explained to me his brother came out at a very early age, and was a huge part of their home and their life. At that point, I couldn't really conveniently explain his outrage.
Quach: That's definitely an interaction that may be too complex for email.
Has this book’s response changed the way you digest stuff online?
Kibblesmith: No. I think everything, as with all things on Twitter, happens really quickly and impulsively. I think when it comes to online arguments, I get more depressed when it's people I fundamentally agree with on most things, or people I think I could have a real conversation with, who maybe we're only seeing one tiny online sliver of each other. It's not just monstrous people who are angry, everybody is angry.
There’s a blend now between what's a matter of taste and moral arguments online, where saying something like, "I think ranch dressing is better than bleu cheese for hot wings" will get the same amount of hate and intensity as an actual statement.
Kibblesmith: That happened to me when I slandered sweet potato fries and almost started the next civil war.
AP: I remember that.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity