Art Ayris is a man in a hurry. The founder and CEO of Kingstone Studios has a reputation for never sleeping – he jokes that he can’t wait to sleep in paradise. In the meantime, he is doing everything he can to reach people – especially young people – with the word of God in graphic form.
Its Kingstone studios not only developed the Kingstone Bible, a three-volume graphic adaptation of the scripture that rivals the best mainstream comics in quality, but it also sells a feature film in the international market and is in pre -production for an animation of the whole Bible.
Despite internet difficulties and jet lag, Ayris perseveres in communicating with me to tell me why he willingly provides his Bible comics for use in Australian prisons and his dream of having Kingstone’s Bible translated into Aboriginal languages.
It’s because God gave this Florida-based teacher, pastor, and football coach a vision to reach children and he wouldn’t allow multiple near-death experiences to get in his way.
“My mum said, ‘I’ll never look at prisoners the same way again. “” – Art Ayris
Ayris is still moved when he remembers his mother’s reaction when, at the age of four, he nearly bled to death and was saved thanks to blood donations from prisoners.
“I almost died when I was four,” he says. “My dad didn’t know I was behind him and he was mowing a lawn and a piece of metal came out, hit me in the stomach and went into my intestines. The metal is still in my stomach now,” he says.
“They had to wrap me in ice. My father threw me in the car. I was sitting there with my hands on the blood and everything. They took me to the local hospital…but they didn’t have enough blood because I was losing [so much] some blood.
“They called the prison and the prisoners lined up to give blood to this little boy. I remember my mother, who had a big, tender and compassionate heart for people, saying, “I will never look at prisoners the same way again. So if people want to work with me to put my comics in jails, that’s an easy yes for me.
Currently, through the generous heart of Ayris, 12 Kingstone comics are distributed by chaplains in Australian prisons covering topics such as Noah, Moses, Kings, Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles. A wider range of titles are available from Koorong.
Ayris came to Christ when, at age 19, he developed gangrene and nearly died from the effects of this childhood accident.
“All of that made eternity begin to shake, and I knew I wasn’t ready to meet Christ. And that brought me to the Lord.
God continued to spare Ayris through several more near-death experiences.
“I’m a runner and when I went to get life insurance I had a bad EKG [electrocardiogram]. The doctor said I had an artery the wrong way around and he said, “I’ve only seen this once in 20,000 times.” It’s the second time I’ve seen him. The other guy who got it just died. I said, ‘Take care of that thing.’ So within four days I was in the operating room for open heart surgery.
A year later Ayris had another metal crisis in his intestines creating problems and then a few years later he developed melanoma cancer which had to be cut from his face.
“So I’ve had several life-threatening things, but I’m really trying to hold this life loose and try to invest for the next life, you know.”
“God just gave me a vision to reach children.” –Art Ayris
Ayris had no idea of the struggles that lay ahead when, as a children’s pastor at a large church in Florida, he tried to find material that would connect with kids who weren’t nerdy or junky.
“And the kids we brought in were really wild kids – no Bible training, nothing and so we started creating a lot of our own material,” he says. Eternity via Zoom from the United States.
“The editorial arm of the Southern Baptists Convention brought me to Nashville. They saw what we were creating and they wanted to hire me. And I said, ‘No, I want to stay in this little town in Florida where I live.’ Anyway, God just gave me a vision to reach the kids. We had a huge kids ministry and I was seeing all these kids reading this manga and these graphic novels, which were really dark. So we have says, ‘There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a marvel of this market connecting these children to the gospel, to the Bible.’
“I was seeing all these kids reading this manga and graphic novels that were really dark. So we said, ‘There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a wonder of this market connecting these children to the gospel.’ –Art Ayris
From the start, Ayris was determined that the quality of his Graphic Bible would match that of the best mainstream comics. So he put together a team of 40 illustrators who had worked at Marvel and DC Comics.
Almost as soon as the Kingstone Bible was published in English, Ayris began working with mission agencies such as SIL to have it translated into other languages.
“We hope to eventually get it in the native languages,” he says.
“We’re already in over 60 languages, and I think we’ll probably be over 100 very soon.”
Ayris recounts how villagers in Papua New Guinea reacted when a guy brought them the first two Kuman-language comics and taught them the lesson.
“They didn’t let him leave the village with the comics. They said, “You can leave, but the comics don’t leave with you. And he told me that they noticed that the children were already reading after two or three sessions with the comics. They make word associations with pictures. So we’re a big fan of Christian comics.
“They said, ‘You can leave, but the comics don’t leave with you. “” – Art Ayris
Ayris was talking to me from California, where he’s been working on deals for the international distribution of his latest product – a feature film titled Complete – at the American Film Market.
Complete is based on the true story of how First Baptist Leesburg, where Ayris serves as executive pastor, unanimously chose to raise funds to “care for the broken, addicted, homeless in our community.” He led the acquisition of a local motel, renamed the Samaritan Inn, which now houses homeless families in central Florida. When it was screened in U.S. theaters in May, Complete ranked 10th at the domestic box office,
“We had asked other people to do documentaries about it. And I really saw that it was a movie. So we cast the stars, I wrote the scripts, and the director is a wonderful Christian. I’m sitting here today in California and we’ve had an amazing response to the movie. I mean, God has just been with us.
The other project close to Ayris’ hearts is a new animation that should be the most comprehensive animation of the life of Christ ever.
“We are currently in the fundraising process, but we already have the scripts, we are in pre-production and the animation should start very soon,” he says.
“This atheist on our social media said, ‘I don’t believe any of this, but I want to get this Bible because it looks amazing. “” – Art Ayris
He sees animation as another step on the train tracks that began with the Kingstone Bible.
“One of the things Kingstone is known for is his quality. Historically, a lot of Christian products in the United States have been a bit cheesy and not really of high quality. So when I manipulated the Bible, I wanted to manipulate it properly theologically, and we had people to do that, but I wanted to manipulate it artistically well,” he says.
“We just keep very hard lines on the artistic side, but what we find is that it helps us in the general market. This atheist on our social media said, “I don’t believe any of this, but I want to get this Bible because it looks amazing.” And so we want to engage people in the scriptures and that’s through the comics.
“God just gave us this unique way of comics, movies and animation to reach people.” –Art Ayris
Ayris says a lot of people, especially Muslims, won’t take a printed Bible, but they will take a comic book, which is why the explosion of translations is so big.
“And we’ve had a lot of mature Christians say, ‘I never understood the Bible until I read your Bible.’ They said, “I never understood the context. We get a lot of requests, especially from prisoners, because they can’t read well. And with the children – we are in the final stages of our lives; the rest of our attention must be on the children – ages 4, 8, 12 – so that they can enter into eternal life. And so that’s what we’re focusing on.
I ask Ayris how Christ changed him through the obstacle-filled journey of his life.
“He had to strip me of myself. If you want to go further with God, if you want to meet him on the mountain, it has to become all about him, and it’s not about you. And the media industry is an industry that revolves around you. So, like Moses, God had to send me to the desert and stripped me of everything. But all the physical things that I went through, all the challenges, it really prepared me. I mean, someone could put a hundred million dollars in my lap, and it wouldn’t change me. I don’t think it would change my perspective or my trajectory. We’re trying to reach people, and God just gave us this unique way of comics, movies, and animation to reach people.