Kingstone CEO Art Ayris with veteran Kingstone artist Danny Bulanadi and his agent Frank Baldervarona
Sometimes God gives you a dream or a task or a vision and you just know that it just has to be done. But sometimes, for whatever divine reasoning that will only be understood in another time and place, God also sovereignly allows daunting challenges in the fulfilling of that call and vision. That is the Kingstone story.
If a case could be made that another-world dark force wants to prevent something from happening, the Reverend Art Ayris might be a living proof text for that thesis. Several near-death experiences and calamities did not deter what would eventually become the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done.
Ayris and his mother Dr. Beulah “Boots” Ayris.
At the age of four the founder of Kingstone was walking behind his father as he was mowing. A piece of metal came roaring out of the mower penetrating the boy’s stomach and intestines. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to save his life. But with the amount of blood loss the hospital realized it did not have enough blood to save him and put out a call to the local community for blood.
The local prison brought in prisoners to donate blood, so the little boy would live. Ayris’s mother later remarked that as she saw all the prisoners lined up to give her little boy life-saving blood she would never look at prisoners in the same way again. Maybe that is also why Kingstone likes to donate their much-requested products to prisons and juvenile centers.
But another near-death call came right behind that. The hospital could not get Ayris’s temperature down as it rose to fatal heights. The doctors packed him in ice to try to bring down the temperature. Even though his lips turned blue as he shivered in the ice the procedure worked and Ayris lived.
At age nineteen the after results of that surgery came calling again as Ayris was diagnosed with intestinal gangrene based on scar tissue from the childhood surgery. A seven-day hospital stay extended into a twenty-eight day stay with a final procedure to try to save his life. Ayris emerged from the hospital at 135 pounds but with an entirely different outlook on life – and faith.
The founder of Kingstone, Art Ayris, was a small town pastor finding some measures of success in media. Winning screenplay contests, having his properties optioned for motion pictures, as well as writing and producing a film that won multiple film festivals and was broadcast in several languages, only fueled his appetite for more materials to connect with the next generation. Then came what the founder calls his “God magnet.” After a 40-day fast to clarify and discern God’s purposes in all this, he was led to launch Kingstone with the goal of becoming the largest Christian comics publisher worldwide, Ayris did numerous presentations to venture capital and investment groups.
One New York venture capitalist offered to get involved if Ayris would change the company logo because “It looked too much like a cross.” Ayris said, ‘No thank you’ and flew back to his small central Florida town where Kingstone is located and began raising capital. As Ayris unashamedly states, “It was truly a classic case of flying the airplane as we built it, with all the accompanying hard nose landings along the way.” Even though the company ran out of capital three times, the founder and his wife Kelly fronted money to keep Kingstone alive and the comics flowing. But finally a small group of visionary investors provided the capital needed to help the company blossom and grow to where it is today.
But soon the start-up journey escalated to an epic voyage through torpedo filled waters.
Ayris terms himself ‘Torpedo Number 1’ in that “he made just about every possible mistake that could be made in publishing.” But he kept having the sense “that God was teaching us and repeatedly parting the Red Sea, so we could go through.”
Kingstone central Florida warehouse
As Kingstone began making traction they received with the rest of CBA retail market the devastating news that Family Christian Stores was going bankrupt and withholding payments due plus inventory. “We know it damaged everyone but at the time Family was 30% of our business and was a major hit on the bow of our little ship. Torpedo Number 2 almost put us under.”
On the heels of this, Torpedo Number 3 arrived when another major book distributor for Kingstone went bankrupt, sending another capital hit to the fledgling company. But even as the financial winds were hitting and slowing the Kingstone Bible some new, deadlier, challenges emerged in the waters.
Torpedo Number 4 came as a complete surprise. Though an avid runner, the doctor was concerned about abnormal EKGs and a heart cath soon revealed Ayris had been born with an artery routed the wrong way. The cardiologist had just diagnosed another man with the same condition who had just dropped dead and recommended immediate open-heart surgery. Even though Torpedo Number 4 was challenging Ayris survived and went back to running and making comics.
Torpedo Number Five arrived almost exactly a year later when Ayris was hospitalized again for serious abdominal surgery related to the earlier accident. Then while in the hospital he developed an infection that resulted in the wound having to be reopened. “This was an especially dark and difficult time because I was totally incapacitated, in pain and could do nothing to grow the company or keep things moving forward. But during the time in the hospital I continued to sing praise to the Lord in the midst of the storm. One day Ayris talked out loud to God from his hospital bed, ‘I guess this is it Lord, this is the end. We need to go ahead and sell the company and let someone else carry the football across the line. I have done all I can do but I still trust you.’ Then two days before being released Ayris received word of their largest contract to date, enough to finish the 2,000-page graphic Bible they had had been laboring on for seven years.
Torpedo Number 6 came out of the blue as they neared the goal line of finishing the Bible. As they were about to start the book of Romans one of their top artists quit saying he didn’t want to do the Bible anymore. It was another serious delay as Ayris scrambled to find a replacement but, as always, God provided.
As the Bible released and work began on a multi-language global project with the Kingstone Bible Torpedo Number 7 shuddered Ayris with the news he had cancer. Melanoma was detected and he would need immediate facial surgery and a skin graft (Kingstone will forego the picture here!).
But neither the gale force winds of adversity nor the torpedoes of life stopped either Ayris or Kingstone. The Kingstone Bible released and began accumulating quite a few accolades, including Finalist for 2017 Christian Book of the Year. The epic graphic Bible is now not only the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done but it is also now the largest non-serialized graphic novel ever published in comics history. And at the rate of language partners being added each month the epic tome may soon be one of the top 20 translated books of all time.
“The truth is, I never envisioned myself as a comics publisher. But I did feel a compelling, divine, electromagnetic pull into media. As a former children’s pastor working with unchurched kids coming from marginal and challenging circumstances I was always scraping and struggling to find good resources to explain and teach the Bible to them.”
Out of all these circumstances Kingstone Comics was birthed as a way to explain Scriptural truth to not only kids but all ages and cultures.”
One of the key verses for Kingstone is Psalm 145:11-12, ‘They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.’ During the darkest of times the founder clung to that Scripture and many others. “God saw us all the way through. He is faithful. The Kingstone Bible is a graphic and visual testimony to that.”