I pray all is well. Today’s interview is different than the rest, in that the responses below are from a different interview Art Ayris of Kingstone Comics did. The interview includes most of the questions I normally ask, and much more. So check it out, and prepared to be inspired…
How do you do it all? From being a pastor and being CEO of Kingstone Media Group?
That is the most common question I get.
First, I feel it is a gift God has given me a gift to manage multiple projects simultaneously and not lose track of them. The bigger and more impossible the project, the more I am enamored with it. My wife says, “I live with you and don’t see how you do it all.” God multiplies loaves and fishes, he makes money go farther. When we consecrate the time and energy to Him, He also make it go farther. Not to be super spiritual here – but I feel there is a strong divine element here.
Secondly, God has given me an eye for talent and he has gifted Kingstone and myself with great teams that execute so much of what you see. Producing The Touch movie was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I learned very quickly how you have to work with and be interdependent with other people to successfully pull off a large project. I love seeing people flourish in their giftedness.
Thirdly, God has blessed me for now the gift of incredible health, energy and stamina at this mid-50’s season in life so I amble to burn from early morning to late at night most days.
Fourth, a definite sense that God enables and equips you for what He has called you.
What is your background? How did you become interested in comics (I assume that you are), and how did you become a publisher?
Originally, I was a public school teacher and coach. Felt a real passion for full-time ministry and have been a staff member at a wonderful, inspiring, large SBC church for 22 years.
Basically had some moments where God grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let me go. I was directing a large and successful children’s ministry but I began feeling promptings to move into media that would not go away. Initially I felt I was totally missing God. I said, “Okay God, I will fast for 40 days. If I don’t hear from you I will drop it and never pick it up again.” Well, after that fast God clearly spoke to me. And He also began adding confirmation after confirmation. Since then, I walked through two more 40-day fasts with the Lord and He has graciously expanded, grown and refined the Kingstone vision.
Originally I was just going to join together a few friends at my church and put together some money to do a few Bible comics but when began doing the research saw this tremendous void in the market for these type of materials, plus I would need a lot more money so raised money to do as a publishing business.
What inspires you to share your faith beyond the pulpit?
The way I read it, most of Jesus’ ministry was outside the synagogue, not in it. I have a conviction we should be ‘outside’ the church too. Obviously, I believe the church is God’s plan and will prevail against the gates of hell as Christ promised. Don’t see the gate battering happening huddle at our church, unless we are praying and interceding. We need to be ‘outside’ and in the marketplace to impact people with the Truth. Many others have said this far more eloquently than I.
We just released a stellar new graphic novel called The Book of God that explains how we got the Bible.
We are releasing the Kingstone Bible in twelve volumes. God willing, four this summer and the remaining eight over the next 12 months.
Kingstone Comics – Christian comics and Biblical worldview graphic novels – is our primary imprint where I serve as Publisher
Kingstone Publishing – fiction and non-fiction for the Christian market, headed by our Publisher Steve Blount. Steve’s wife Susan serves as the Acquisitions Editor
Bay Forest Books – cinematic fiction for the trade and general markets, headed by a husband and wife team, Steve and Susan Blount. Steve is the Publisher and Susan is Acquisitions Editor.
How do you choose what stories to publish?
Prayer and fasting. We have a real passion for telling God stories and we try to discern which ones are for us. It is very expensive to make quality comics and graphic novels, much more than print. So we have to be even more selective which ones we pick up and produce.
Look at publishing market conditions and try to predict what we think will do well next.
We are committed to finishing out the Kingstone Bible in 12 volumes and are releasing 4 volumes this summer. We plan to finish the Kingstone Bible by next summer. As far as we know, will be the most ambitious graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done. Will be around 2,000 pages.
I am also very excited about a graphic novel called Eternity we are doing with Randy Alcorn, the author of Heaven. It is the same team that did The Book of God. Randy has
What is your goal in publishing graphic novels? To entertain? To evangelize? To educate? Or something else entirely?
Yes and yes and yes and yes.
I have a lot of training and experience in personal evangelism and by experience I know there has to be a lot of seed sowing and breaking down misperceptions the enemy has given people about God and the Gospel. We see these products as great ways to build faith in kids and teens, as well as let people investigate God, faith in both illustrative and imaginative mediums.
Also, we are in the process of building a media company.
Why comics? Why not an old-fashioned book with zero pictures or word balloons?
Publishing as a whole has been pretty flat last few years. But comics and graphic novels has been growing. Plus, and most importantly, kids and teens raised visually through e-devices, gaming etc. swim in that medium. We decided early on our vision was to become the marvel of the faith market so we gone with the high end, western comics, Marvel and DC look. Matter of fact, just got off the phone with a Christian rock bank that saw our stuff and wants to use in their show for that reason. We have two traditional publishing imprints and they have their own growing crowd – but Kingstone Comics has found its niche with kids. Also, we are beginning to license our materials all over the world.
Think there may be a degree of stick-to-the-memory in these maybe not in other forms. We feel the art is very impactive. I read a quote from someone in the Vatican say how the art in the catacombs was primarily advertisements to convert. Maybe God will use some of these products in the same way.
Obviously, being a Christian affects the content of the graphic novels that Kingstone publishes. Does being a Christian also affect the way you approach other aspects of work—such as producing, selling, and marketing graphic novels—or do Kingstone’s business practices look the same as a secular publisher?
Well, I hope being a follower would make me different in whatever line we are in. I do think we have a super high degree of accountability to God and His people by the products we create.
We take high view of Scripture. Hope when people see or buy Kingstone they will know faithfulness to Scripture, Biblical worldview underneath everything we create, and high quality that speaks well of a Creator who endowed his people with creative gifts.
Do you have any favorite books (or comic books)?
For sure. The Last Convert of John Harper chronicles a little known man who was big time faithful to God. His story really inspires me.
The Book of God. Think this will be really instrumental in helping a lot of people understand and trust the Bible more. This was written by Ben Avery and illustrated by Javier Saltares. We really fell this is a seminal and high impact release. Just like a San Francisco publisher did the 9/11 Report as a graphic novel and people began understanding 9/11 better – we hope has some impact for people understanding the Bible and the process of how God delivered to us this ultra-reliable piece of literature that helps us understand God and His purposes.
1. Be faithful to God right where you are. My pastor preached a message out of Gideon not long ago and one of his sub-points was “Express confidence n God wherever you are in life.” Think God only advances us as we allow Him to advance our heart for His will and purposes. Every Christian worker has to learn this sooner or later – it is not about us and it is about Him and His purposes.
2. Develop your craft and recognize what skill sets you have. Some young people waste years of life. Scripture says in abundance of counselors there is victory. Be willing to submit your ideas and work to others for review and honest feedback. Can be tough emotionally but iron sharpens iron.
3. Have a real sense of ‘calling’ and vocation of whatever you undertake.
How are the comics going?
The iPad has been a game changer for premium graphic publishers like Kingstone. The publishing industry is rapidly moving digital so we’re trying to keep our little surfboard at the tip of the wave.
Our Kingstone Comics app went live on iPad December 16, 2011. Interestingly, the first week there six downloads in Saudi Arabia alone. I said, “Okay God, this is what you’re doing.”
Top digital seller Wowio picked Sudan as Book of the Month.
We are now live on Kindle Fire and Nook. And the Kingstone Android App will be ready
Our products are also in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, and about to go into Norwegian and French.
Third, we are starting to have film companies contact us about both our comics and cinematic novel properties.
I jokingly tell people that Leesburg is the epicenter of the media world.
What has been the joy in this project?
One, when we began Kingstone I told the investors there are three big risks and bets we would all be taking.
One, that Kingstone would eventually be the Marvel and dominant publisher in the faith market.
Two, that e-books are the future of publishing.
Three, we could achieve some film deals with our cinematic properties and graphic novels.
It is fun seeing how that process is playing out.
Secondly, all the talented people I get to work with! A lot of our artists have worked with Marvel or DC Comics and they blow me away with their talent. We are now doing some projects with well known writers and they sizzle at their craft.
Any more books and screenplays?
I am only one of several writers, primarily I direct the creative teams and select which comic properties we will green light.
The most challenging was definitely raising venture capital in the most difficult economic environment in 50 years. I struggled and struggled to get it going at first. We were just making headway when the market collapsed in 2008. It almost broke my back. We ran out of money three times and each time my wife and I floated money to the company to keep it alive. Then in 2009 it was like God flipped a switch and things started moving. In mid-2010 a name and very visionary CEO made a major investment and bought 25% of the company, and we really started moving.
What drives you?
The reality that one day I will stand individually before God and give an account of my life and what I did for him and for people.
What do your family, peers, etc. say when you embark on new things?
Before or after they quit laughing? My wife Kelly who is an extremely talented media person in her own right has been God’s great supportive gift to me. When we started there were a lot of investors who told me why it wouldn’t work. There was the famous Frank Miller 300 graphic novel. But I’ve seen with my own eyes God always has his own 300 who step in and make it happen. There were a few willing to take the big risk with me and they have been instrumental in bringing the company where it is today.
Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to do?
For sure. I want to make a Biblical epic motion picture. The Babylon story I wrote won Best TV Movie in Hollywood’s Next Success. Both Warner Bros. Television and Intermedia immediately asked to see it but then both passed on it. So now we have a different plan for another Biblical epic.
How do you think God would describe you?
I like to watch athletes that hustle and make plays all over the field. Would hope he would say that about me.
At what age did you know that you wanted to go into the ministry? What inspired you?
In the mid-twenties just began having a passion for it.
Any words of wisdom to pass on to people who are still struggling in the tough economy?
Be faithful in the little things and later you will see bigger things. Be faithful right where you are and with what you have. If I only had $1000 in the bank I would do what I could with that until the next step. Share genuinely with others with their best interests in mind.
Is “The Touch” still impacting lives?
Last month we signed a contract for it to be translated and broadcast in Turkish. We have had several national television showings on DISH Network, Direct TV, and TBN’s JCTV network. We have sold rights into Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Brazil.
How many honors did the film receive?
It won several film festivals including Best Feature Independents Films Festival . It received a Crystal Reel from the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association for under $1 million budget category.
What was the greatest reward that come from it?
Impacted lives from the e-mails we receive. A lady in Netherlands who had kept her abuse to herself and told me she needed God. A man in Australia that was sexually abused in a cult and who regularly responds with one of our staff members. A pregnant alcoholic woman who saw the movie in a hotel room in Orlando and called us, became a Christian. People that contact us and remark how our products impact them. I can’t put a dollar sign on that.
So there you have it. I really love that “How do you think God would describe you” question. Wow, talk about something to ponder. Until next time, take care, and keep creating!