Michael Joens (1951-): From Animation to Literary Pursuits

Michael Joens (1951-): From Animation to Literary Pursuits

Michael Joens, a versatile individual born around 1951 in Oceanside, CA, carved a multifaceted career in writing, cartooning, animation, producing, and directing. His journey from being a combat illustrator in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War to a prolific author and creator demonstrates his diverse talents. This article explores the life, career, and literary contributions of Michael Joens, delving into his transition from the animation industry to becoming an award-winning author.

Michael Joens

Birth: c. 1951, Oceanside, CA
Career: Writer, Cartoonist/Animator, Producer, Director
Military Service: U.S. Marine Corps, Combat Illustrator (Vietnam War)
Awards: Rosebud Award (Rendezvous Reviews, 2004)
Notable Works: The Crimson Tapestry, An Animated Death in Burbank, Blood Reins
Contribution to Animation: Worked for Hanna Barbera, Filmation, Warner Brothers, Marvel Productions; Founder of Stillwater Production Company (1987)
Works in Progress: Series of Mystery Novels
Legacy: Director and producer of My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), Founder of Theo Presents for Christian animated films

Early Life and Military Service

Michael Joens was born in Oceanside, CA, around 1951. His artistic inclination became evident during childhood when cartoons became a medium for self-expression. His skills as a cartoonist and illustrator matured during high school, where he entertained classmates with his political satires and comic strips. However, his life took a significant turn when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as a combat illustrator during the Vietnam War. This period honed his artistic skills and laid the foundation for discipline and resilience.

Entry into Animation

In 1972, while stationed in Naples, Italy, Joens experienced a spiritual transformation, accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. This began a new chapter, where he felt a calling to pursue full-time ministry. Despite initially intending to become a Navy Chaplain, his path took an unexpected turn. Upon graduating with a BA in English Literature and Bible theology, Joens moved to Southern California, following divine prompting.

In Southern California, Joens embarked on a quest to merge his cartooning abilities with ministry. Initially unsuccessful in finding opportunities in Christian ministries, he received guidance from Lloyd Vaughn, a Warner Brothers animator. This connection led Joens to Hanna Barbera Studios, marking the commencement of his career in the animation industry.

Animation Career and Productions

Over the following years, Joens worked with esteemed studios like Hanna Barbera, Filmation, Warner Brothers, and Marvel Productions. His roles included animator, storyboard artist, character designer, and writer. As he delved into every aspect of cartoon production, he realized the power of cartoons as a universal language transcending boundaries of age, gender, and ethnicity.

In 1988, Joens founded Mike Joens Productions (MJP), his animation company. MJP became a hub for animated commercials, producing content for major brands like Milton Bradley, Hasbro, Kenner, McDonald’s, and Playskool. The studio also played a pivotal role in creating animated segments for popular video series such as “McGee and Me!” and “Adventures in Odyssey” for Focus on the Family.

The Birth of Theo Presents

The dream of creating an animated character to teach the fundamentals of the Christian faith took shape in Joens’s heart. This dream led to the creation of “Theo,” a character dedicated to conveying Christian principles to children worldwide through the captivating medium of animation. Despite facing challenges in finding investors, Joens persevered, and in 2010, after over 30 years of waiting, “Theo Presents” became a reality. This series aimed to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to children and adults globally.

Literary Pursuits: Transition to Fiction

In the early 1990s, Joens attended a booksellers’ convention in Florida, triggering a shift in his career. Inspired by the experience, he wrote fiction, adding another dimension to his creative endeavors. His initial foray into Christian fiction included novels like “The Crimson Tapestry” and “The Dawn of Mercy,” which were widely embraced in the Christian fiction market.

“Triumph of the Soul,” a historical novel, delves into the stories of an American and German pilot during World War II, exploring their journeys toward faith amidst the turmoil of war. Despite some critique of the American pilot’s storyline, the novel earned praise for its portrayal of the German pilot’s realization of Germany’s decay and personal fall.

An Animated Transition: Mystery Novels

Joens’s venture into mystery novels began with “An Animated Death in Burbank.” The story revolves around the death of a well-known cartoon animator and the ensuing investigation by Detectives Tom Rigby and Sergeant Sandy Cameron. The narrative unfolds as the detectives uncover a sinister plot to downsize the animation industry.

While the novel faced criticism for its pacing, reviewers appreciated the vibrant lead characters, making it a promising debut. The blend of suspense, surprise twists, and insights into film animation lore garnered positive responses.

The dynamic detective duo returned in “Blood Reins: A Detective Sandra Cameron Mystery.” This installment involved an investigation into the death of a horse trainer, with Rigby suspecting Cameron due to her past connection with the deceased. The novel navigates the tension between the investigators, leading to the revelation of the actual murderer.

Awards and Recognition

Joens’s literary contributions have not gone unnoticed. In 2004, he received the Rosebud Award from Rendezvous Reviews for “An Animated Death in Burbank.” The accolade underscored the success of Joens’s transition from animation to the world of mystery novels.


Michael Joens’s journey from a Marine combat illustrator to a multifaceted creator in the animation industry and later an acclaimed author is a testament to his resilience, creativity, and spiritual journey. Joens has left an indelible mark on diverse creative realms, from entertaining classmates with cartoons to directing major animated productions and crafting mystery novels. His commitment to merging faith with art, evident in projects like “Theo Presents,” showcases his enduring passion for communicating profound ideas through universally appealing mediums. As Michael Joens continues to navigate the realms of creativity, his legacy inspires aspiring artists and storytellers, emphasizing the transformative power of art and faith.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Michael Joens

Who is Michael Joens?

Answer: Michael Joens is a writer, cartoonist, animator, producer, and director known for his contributions to the animation industry and fiction writing.

What is Michael Joens’ background and early career?

Answer: Born around 1951 in Oceanside, CA, Joens worked for major animation studios like Hanna Barbera, Filmation, Warner Brothers, and Marvel Productions. He is also a combat illustrator veteran of the Vietnam War.

What awards or honors has Michael Joens received?

Answer: Joens received the Rosebud Award from Rendezvous Reviews in 2004 for his mystery novel, “An Animated Death in Burbank.”

What notable works has Michael Joens authored?

Answer: Joens has written fiction works, including “The Crimson Tapestry,” “The Dawn of Mercy,” “Triumph of the Soul,” and mystery novels such as “An Animated Death in Burbank” and “Blood Reins: A Detective Sandra Cameron Mystery.”

Tell us about Michael Joens’ transition from animation to writing.

Answer: Joens transitioned to writing fiction in the early 1990s after working as a cartoonist and animator. His early books gained popularity in the Christian fiction market.

What is “An Animated Death in Burbank” about?

Answer: “An Animated Death in Burbank” is a mystery novel by Joens, where detectives investigate cartoonists’ deaths in the animation industry, revealing a sinister plot to downsize.

Describe Michael Joens’ contributions to the animation industry.

Answer: Joens worked for renowned studios, producing and directing animated commercials, segments for series like “McGee and Me!” and “Adventures in Odyssey,” and the feature film “My Little Pony.”

What is “Blood Reins: A Detective Sandra Cameron Mystery” about?

Answer: “Blood Reins” is a mystery novel by Joens where detectives Rigby and Cameron investigate the death of a horse trainer, leading to suspicions, tension, and the discovery of the real murderer.

Is Michael Joens involved in any ongoing projects?

Answer: Joens is working on a series of mystery novels, representing a continuation of his writing career.

How did Michael Joens integrate his faith into his creative work?

Answer: Inspired by his faith, Joens aimed to merge his cartooning ability with the ministry, leading him to create animated characters with a Christian focus, such as “Theo Presents.”

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