For decades, Christians have been adapting Bible stories and Christian-themed content for the comic book format. From The Cross and the Switchblade and the In His Steps series in the ‘70s to the Bibleman series and VeggieTales series in the ‘90s, Christian comic books have continued to occupy a consistent, albeit marginal, space in the ecosystem of evangelical consumer content.
In the fall of 2016, Kingstone Comics accomplished a significant feat, publishing the first full-scale graphic novel adaptation of the Bible. Featuring artwork from veterans of both Marvel and DC Comics that spans over 2,000 pages across three hardcover volumes, The Kingstone Bible is the most ambitious graphic novel biblical adaptation to date.
Kingstone Media CEO Art Ayris, who served as editor for the project, sat down for a conversation with Jelani Greenidge to reflect on the significance of this accomplishment, the mission that motivated it, and the challenges that came with translating sacred Scripture into graphic form.
Can you tell me more about the genesis of this project?
For years, I worked with at-risk kids, and I’ve always struggled to find good materials that were right for them. Working as a pastor, I was very strong with the Bible, so when I began creating Christian comic books, we began to see huge responses to what we were putting out, both domestically and internationally.
I remember once, we went into an apartment complex, and when I was driving there, I thought maybe someone might pick up a few copies. But when I got there, it was like a shark-feeding frenzy—all of these people were just coming out of the woodwork trying to read these comics.
Another time, I was standing in church, and this lady who I’d never met before came up to me and said, “Hey look, I just want you to know: I’m a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and I brought your comic books to one of the tables in my village, and literally everybody was all excited to read them.”
There’s something compelling about the rich imagery of art.
When it came to actually compiling this huge undertaking, were you doing a lot of focus grouping with youth groups? How did you find the balance between being age appropriate and engaging with adult themes in the biblical content?
Even though I'm a pastor, I didn't really know, until we were going verse by verse and chapter by chapter, how epic this book really is. There's a lot of stuff out there for children, so we really aimed for the preteen, young adult audience.
I read an article in 2009 by a Vatican archaeologist who found all this artwork in the catacombs, and he basically said it's all just a big advertisement trying to get people to repent. And when I would go to Barnes & Noble, I'd see all these kids spread out all over the floor reading graphic novels. So we really felt, with this big problem of biblical literacy, that this would be an effective way to communicate the whole biblical narrative.
Now when it comes to adult themes like murder and genocide, we report it accurately—we just don't go over-the-top with the sexuality and the violence. And when I was doing my initial research and talking with people about it, I found that even the term "graphic novel" was intimidating for parents— sometimes even terrifying. They hear that word "graphic"—
They think it means "explicit," right?
Yeah. It brings up all these connotations of blood and naked people and whatnot.