Not many kids grow up with their family lives printed in the morning newspaper. For Glen Keane, it was a daily guarantee – in fact, his family was not only featured, they were literally circled in print. His father, Bil Keane, began the popular comic The Family Circus in 1960. Glen himself was his father’s inspiration for the character of Billy, the comic’s oldest boy in the family.
While Glen had other hobbies as a boy, he does not remember a time he was not drawing. His father gave him a book on dynamic anatomy, and Glen began to focus on growing his skills in fine art. By the time he graduated high school, Glen knew he would either play college football, or he would go to art school.
“My dad took me to drop off my portfolio at CalArts, the studio Walt Disney had created, but my portfolio ended up at the wrong school. Instead, I was accepted into the School of Film Graphics. It wasn’t long until I discovered that was what I was born to do,” says Glen. After two years of study, Glen heard about a training program at Walt Disney Animation Studios led by Walt Disney’s “nine old men,” the original group of artists who kick-started the animation sensation beginning with Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi. “These old guys began to sense the art form they had created may fade out with them, so they started a school to take in young talent and teach them. That’s where I learned everything I know about drawing, design, and storytelling.”
an etch on glen’s heart
Glen was raised Catholic, but by the time he began studying under the Disney giants, he felt faith was no longer relevant to his life. Instead, he immersed himself in the world of illustration. “I will never forget the feeling of that day at Disney—and the smell. It was a combination of cigarettes, pencil shavings, and scotch.” While he was only making US$90 a week, Glen describes his first few months at Disney as an environment where creative license permeated the air and the products of imagination could have been soaked up with a sponge.
However, while he was growing outwardly as an artist, something else was happening in his heart. “There was a weight of sin on my shoulders, and I became really concerned about where I stood with God,” he says. Glen remembers walking down the hallways of the studio, seeing everyone else passing by with their sketchbooks, happy and carefree. He wondered what could be wrong with him. He made time to visit a Catholic church in North Hollywood, where he confessed his sins to the priest. Leaving the church, he felt the weight lift from his shoulders. However, that night he lay awake wondering what right had been given that priest to forgive his sins. The weight quickly returned, and Glen could not shake the feeling he was hopelessly separated from God.
Though his heart was heavy, Glen continued to excel in his training at Disney. Soon, it was announced all the trainees would be split into pairs. “Now, in this environment, you’re pretty insecure. Wherever you came from before, you used to be the best. But at Disney, you were surrounded by truly the best, and basically, you knew you stunk. All I wanted was to be part of the in-crowd, so I tried to eat lunch with a particular group of artists whenever I could.” However, he began to take notice of a man who always sat apart from the popular group at lunch. In fact, he sat alone on a park bench reading his Bible. Glen had never seen anyone willingly read a Bible, and he was impressed with the dedication of this man. When the time came to split the trainees into pairs, Glen was matched with this same man—Ron Husband, or “Huz” as he was known.
a new character develops
Ron Husband’s journey to Disney did not start with an aspiration to draw. Ron was raised in a Christian home and decided to follow Christ when he was 12 years old. Though he had a foundational knowledge of Christ, his faith waned as he grew up. In college, Ron’s future was in football. He played for the University of Las Vegas on scholarship and frequently traveled with the team. “As a young man, I felt like we were traveling the world. We always stayed in different hotels, and I noticed no matter where we stayed, there were these Bibles in the bedside drawers. For whatever reason, I began taking them home,” said Ron. Though he did not read the Bibles, this became a habit. His collection of Bibles grew as football seasons came and went.
Ron graduated, started a family, and began taking various jobs from technical illustration to drafting. “I began to think there must be more to life than just working,” he said, “So, I began a journey to find some answers.” It wasn’t long before there was a knock at the Husbands’ door. Ron answered to find a couple from Jehovah’s Witnesses on the porch. “My wife and I became their first ‘converts’ of sorts, so they were experimenting on us, and I was experimenting with them,” said Ron. “My wife dropped out after a few weeks and went back to church, but I stuck it out for about a year.” Still, something didn’t match up in Ron’s heart as he studied their literature and doctrines, so he looked into other religions. “I tried Mormonism, Judaism, the occult, flying saucers – I really was just searching for answers anywhere.”
As Ron sought out answers anywhere, God followed Ron everywhere. His search led him back to that stash of Bibles, where he found the truths he learned as a 12-year-old to be the same truths he could count on as an adult. “It was like turning the light back on. Reading the Scriptures, I discovered it was me who walked away, and I had been searching for answers I’d always known,” he said. “I was so hungry for truth, I began to study apologetics. I wanted to grow in my understanding of Scripture – to get past the milk stage and get to the meat of understanding the Word of God. My study was also about rejecting the things that were not the truth, and to always be able to discern those things against the truth of the Gospel.”
“It was like turning the light back on. Reading the Scriptures, I discovered it was me who walked away, and I had been searching for answers I’d always known.”
During this time, Ron was also seeking a more creative outlet to serve God with his artistic gifts. He knew God had blessed him with a specific skill, and he always enjoyed drawing, but there were also long periods of time he did not pick up a pencil. For Ron, drawing came and went naturally, so when he heard about the training program at Disney, he decided to apply. Ron wanted to be around creative people, and though he had been kicked out of art class in high school, he knew learning with the artists at Disney would provide him the best training for furthering his career. “It’s funny, when I was accepted into the program at Disney, I knew nothing about animation. I had never even seen an animated film. I went in not to learn to draw, but to learn how to tell a story.”
the scene begins to unfold
So, on that park bench at Disney Studios in the Fall of 1975, Ron Husband sat reading his Bible during lunch as Glen Keane watched. The two would soon be thrown together in a small drafting room to learn the trade of animation. They seemed an unlikely pair to some, but time would tell a story much different. “Sometimes, I’d be working, and Huz would just tackle me or I’d do the same to him. We’d be wrestling, and you’d hear the smashing sound of things breaking in our office. And our manager would peek in and shake his head. It didn’t take long – I knew I had a friend for life,” recalled Glen.
One day, knowing Ron was a Christian, Glen asked him what the Bible said about getting right with God. Ron shared how no one can earn his way into God’s favor – it’s by grace alone a person is made right with God. He pulled out a small, green New Testament he had received back in college, handed it to Glen, and told him to read John 3:16. At lunch that day, Glen walked across the street to a restaurant carrying his little green book. “I remember like it was yesterday walking across the crosswalk reading John 3:16, and by the time I had reached the other side, I believed the words were real. I knew right then I would trust in Jesus, not in myself, for the rest of my life. I walked back into the studio an entirely new person,” said Glen.
Glen and Ron, along with a few other Christian artists, began a Bible study on the Disney lot, through which they encouraged one another and held one another accountable. It did not start out smoothly, as there was resistance from management. However, with prayer and persistence, Christian Fellowship officially began. The group even had a regular advertisement in the Disney Newsreel for meetings every Wednesday at noon. “You feel in a company like Disney that animation is obviously the ultimate thing, but we knew that wasn’t the case. We held to Colossians 3:23: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,’” said Ron.
“I knew right then I would trust in Jesus, not in myself, for the rest of my life. I walked back into the studio an entirely new person.”
a new perspective
After becoming a Christian, Glen started to seek out ways to express his faith in his art. He began teaching kids at church through writing and illustrating stories about Adam Raccoon, now a popular children’s book series. “There’s actually a moment when you’re animating that you’re portraying truth. Any time you touch truth, you’re really peeling away the layers and revealing God,” says Glen. “With Adam Raccoon, there is a Scripture in my head before my pencil ever touches paper. I think about how I can capture the theme of a verse and make it easy to understand and relatable to kids. Pretty soon, I’m picturing little Adam Raccoon, who is just like you and me, and King Aren, who is like Christ. And of course, Adam is constantly getting himself into trouble, and King Aren is constantly getting him out of it.”
Glen’s work in many blockbuster films carries an obvious theme of wholesome, family-friendly fantasy. Yet, to hear Glen talk about his popular characters, one finds the hand of the artist moved with Biblical inspiration. Glen talks about weaving his faith in and out of characters like Ariel, Tarzan, and the Beast, “When I was creating the transformation scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast, I had 2 Corinthians 5:17 written on my sketches. I really wanted to capture on paper the emotion of a new creation – of having this prince inside wanting to break free and bring redemption to the old creature.”
In 2013, Glen Keane was named a Disney Legend. His work in films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Tangled are testaments to his momentous role in the world of animation.
Today, Glen remains as humble as ever, and continues to work the talents he attributes to the Lord alone. His small office space in West Hollywood is shared by his son, Max, and a few other artists who come and go as projects arise. His message to The Gideons is one of gratitude and encouragement. “I’ve kept that green New Testament with me as a reminder of the divine spark I encountered that day in 1975. I was only 20 years old, and reading those words changed my life. There is a power to Scripture, and I am so thankful for a Gideon who gave my friend Ron the New Testament that ended up in my hands so I could be reading John 3:16 crossing the street that day,” says Glen. “I want to encourage every Gideon to continue the work of making God’s Word available to the next generation. There is nothing more important than such a calling.”
For Ron Husband, faith and art are inseparable. His daily practices include quick sketches of moments he sees in everyday life, and daily prayer and Scripture reading. “The Word is so rich, you’re constantly growing as you read it. I’ve read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation a couple times by now to gather the context of Scripture, and I still enjoy watching how it breathes truths into my life,” says Ron. On September 18, 1989, Ron read the book of Ephesians for the first time, all six chapters. The next day, he got up and read the same six chapters. In fact, every day for the past 28 years, Ron has read those six chapters in Ephesians, along with whatever else the Lord has him studying. “It always has something new and fresh to say to me. I waited ten years before telling anyone I was doing that. I just love the Word.”
the story continues
So, what happened to all those Bibles young Ron Husband collected from bedside drawers in hotels? He blushed when asked, and said that well had dried up long ago, “To this day, I do not have a Gideon-placed Bible. At the time, I had so many, but once I started actually reading them, I discovered how important it was to share them rather than to hoard them. I have given all those Bibles back out to others as an encouragement to seek out the truth about God. I want to thank Gideons who dispense God’s truth because, in today’s world, it is so needed. It’s a tremendous legacy The Gideons are leaving.”