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 be 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 a dark force wants to prevent something from happening, the Reverend Art Ayris might be a living proof text for that case. Several near-death experiences 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 his father did not know Ayris was walking behind him as he was using a mower and a piece of metal came out penetrating Ayris’s stomach and intestines. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery but as he was losing blood the hospital realized it did not have enough blood to save him. The local prison brought in prisoners to donate blood so the little boy would live. Ayris’s mother remarked she would never look at prisoners the same way again. Maybe that is also why Kingstone likes to donate their much-requested products to prisons and juvenile centers.
But another close call came right behind it. The hospital could not get Ayris’s temperature down as it rose to fatal heights. The doctors packed the little boy in ice to try to bring down the temperature. Even though his lips turned blue the procedure worked and Ayris lived.
At the age of nineteen the after results of that surgery came calling again as Ayris was diagnosed with intestinal gangrene generated by complications of the previous 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 at 135 pounds but with an entirely different outlook on life – and faith.
In founding a comics company, the central Florida pastor had little idea of the challenges (and torpedoes) that would lie ahead. 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 in involved if Ayris would change the Kingstone logo because “It looked too much like a cross.” Ayris said, ‘No thank you’ and returned to his small central Florida town where Kingstone is located and began raising capital. Like many start-ups, the company ran out of capital three times but each time Ayris and his wife Kelly would float money out of his pastoral salary to keep production going on the Bible and the lights on.
The company eventually completed the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done that is available in over 100 countries and on track to become one of the most translated books of all time. But the journey from beginning to end was a journey through torpedo filled waters.
Sensing a strong call to build the media company Ayris embarked on a season of prayer and fasting. Eventually this would include 7 separate 40 day fasts – as well as 7 torpedoes – to build a deeper reliance on God’s faithfulness in the midst of storms.
Ayris calls 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 taking the company through one Red Sea after another.”
Kingstone central Florida warehouse
As Kingstone began making traction they received, like the rest of CBA market, the stunning 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, we almost didn’t survive ‘Torpedo Number 2’.”
On the heels of this, Torpedo Number 3 arrived when another major distributor 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.
Though an avid runner, his doctor was concerned about abnormal EKGs and a heart catheterization 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 died suddenly and recommended immediate open heart surgery. Even though Torpedo Number 4 was painful, it saved Ayris’s life.
Torpedo Number 5 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 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. One day I said, ‘I guess this is it, Lord, 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 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 been laboring on for seven years.
Torpedo Number 6 came out of the blue as Kingstone neared the goal line in finishing the comprehensive graphic Bible. As they were about to start the book of Romans one of their top artists who had been with the company for three years quit, saying he didn’t want to do the Bible anymore. It was another serious delay as Ayris scrambled to find a suitable replacement but, as always, God provided.
As the Bible released and just as Ayris began working on their multi-language app and website SuperBible.TV Torpedo Number 7 shuddered Ayris with news he had melanoma, resulting in facial surgery and a skin graft (we’ll forego the picture here!).
But neither the gale force winds of adversity nor the torpedoes of life stopped either Ayris or the Kingstone Bible. The Kingstone Bible began accumulating quite a few accolades, including Finalist for 2017 Christian Book of the Year. The epic graphic Bible is not only the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done but it is now also the largest non-serialized graphic novel ever published. 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 company has begun motion comic animation of the entire Bible as well as other comics and graphic novels published by Kingstone Comics.
“The truth is, I never envisioned myself as a comics publisher. But I did feel a 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 was born Kingstone Comics as a way to explain the Scriptural truth to kids as well as provide some healthy entertainment.”
Ayris closes the story with a Scriptural reminder of 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 I would cling to that Scripture and many others – and God saw us all the way through. He is faithful. The Kingstone Bible is a testimony to that.”