Back in 1997 Jingles the Elephant was merely a Christmas card that I made for friends and family, colored with Prismacolor markers or watercolor. I’d been making hand-drawn greeting cards since I was in high school but Jingles was one of the first that cards I had created in Photoshop on my first Apple Macintosh: the Apple Performa 6200 with a whopping 256MB hard drive space.
The idea of an elephant wanting to lead Santa’s sleigh, with a sarcastic-looking Black Santa Claus was a riot. Seeing Santa as a Black person was no big deal for me-- heck, I used to draw Superman as a kid and color his skin brown with no afterthought.
Over the years, the idea of Jingles stuck in my head, like a bird in a cage that won’t stop chirping. Fast forward to the year 2012: Jingles slowly became a complete Christmas song, that bird in a cage was ready to be set free.
I methodically worked out the song during the summer in the style of Prokofiev’s “Peter and The Wolf” mixed with jazz: Jingles’ character would be played by jingle bells, his parents were played by the saxophone, and Santa was represented by the xylophone. Now all I had to do was illustrate the song in slideshow format. Who was all of this work for? It was for me.
I did it for the sheer joy of creating something new. After taking my vacation days in bulk, I cranked out the illustrations to put the video on YouTube and show my friends and family, probably no one else-- it was merely something I was compelled to do.
Once I did show the video to everyone, they suggested that I combine the illustrations into a children's book. You would think that, after illustrating textbooks for years, the thought would’ve occurred to me: but I was more into video production when I’d finished Jingles, my headspace just wasn’t there.
I’d recently read ‘Holidays On Ice’, a collection of humorous essays by David Sedaris. One of his stories recalls when he worked as a Xmas elf in a department store that hired a Black Santa Claus-- which, shall we say, had mixed reviews.
As I was finishing the book I thought about the great Santa debate: I knew Black people who preferred a Caucasian Saint Nick and White people who loved the idea of a Black Santa. And vice versa. So I thought...
And that’s when my one book became two.
I’ve been selling the book/s online for years without one negative comment-- both versions have equally positive reviews on Amazon. When I mention that I offer both Black & White Santas, people are excited! Which makes me glad that I took that leap of faith.
Then I got to thinking, what about the Asians, the Latinos and the Native Americans? How do I include them? The simplest way to be more inclusive is to create characters from different nationalities, all of whom will encounter a Black or white Santa. And maybe Mrs. Claus should make an appearance. Behind every great Claus is a Mrs. Claus, I think.
Either way the next few books are already in the works and I can’t wait to share them with the world.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Mankind.