William Roger Van Horn was born on February 15, 1939 in Oakland, California. Already as a three-year old he was given his first issues of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories in 1942. Shortly after that Bill began to deepen his interest in comics and animated cartoons. He drew war illustrations at the age of five and then also Mickey Mouse and other comic heroes.
In 1951 Van Horn decided to become an animator. He began to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1957, and his successful graduation in 1961 brought him nearer to his great goal. Imagination, Inc. in San Francisco employed him in the same year. In this small animation studio he worked as an inker and colorist and also made some background drawings. At Moulin Studios, also in San Francisco, he then worked on the storyboard for the first time.
After his military service as an illustrator in the army (1962–1964) Van Horn temporarily worked as a graphic artist and freelanced for several animation studios. In 1966 he married Frances Elaine Dixon.
In 1967 he became the art director and head of the animation department at Davidson Films, a small studio which produced short educational pictures. In 1975 Van Horn and two partners bought out the studio which was now named Aesop Films. Bill did not only write and draw, he even occasionally lent his voice to the pictures. For Davidson and Aesop he produced about 80 animated cartoons for which he received several awards.
In 1977 Aesop Films ran into financial difficulties. Bill looked around for other sources of revenue and illustrated twelve children’s books, of which he wrote seven himself, in the years to follow. The first of them was published in 1978 under the title “Harry Hoyle’s Giant Jumping Bean.”
In 1980 Bill moved from the San Francisco region to North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with his Canadian wife and their children Noel and Tish.
In 1985 Bill conceived his own comic series, Nervous Rex. The 10 books with the little Tyrannosaurus Rex gave him the opportunity to fully act out his “loosey goosey” drawing style. He also developed other comic series which were partly published in books of their own, partly in the magazines Laffin’ Gas and Critters.
When Gladstone Publishing began to release Disney comic books in 1986, Van Horn saw a chance to draw the favorite comics of his childhood himself. Byron Erickson, then editor at Gladstone, was impressed by the first work samples, but he thought Bill’s stories were too eccentric. So it took some time until Van Horn’s first Disney comics appeared in May 1988. From June 1990 to July 1993 the American comic production was taken over by the Disney Studios until Gladstone retrieved the American license in August 1993. The comics Bill made for the Disney Studios (K code) were often differently proportioned. He did not use the standard 4-tiered format, but the so-called multi-tiered format with differently arranged panels.
While Bill was still working for the Disney Studios, Byron Erickson made him the offer to work for Egmont. Since late 1991 Bill has been drawing comics for Egmont, the largest comic producer in the world.
Bill’s son Noel is a comic artist at Egmont, too. His drawing style is very similar to his father’s. However, Noel makes Mickey and Goofy comics and thus does not need to compete with his father.
Cord Wiljes brought it to the point some 10 years ago:
“In a time when childhood becomes shorter and shorter, the clear and affectionate stories of William Van Horn are like a fresh wind. But they are also a pure pleasure for anybody who, like Van Horn, has preserved the child within himself.”