Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Before They Were Stars: Stan & Jan Berenstain

Above: A detail from IT'S ALL IN THE FAMILY (© 1956, 1957, 1958 McCall's Corp.)

Back before the BERENSTAIN BEARS books and the videos, husband and wife cartooning team Stanley and Janice Berenstain were regularly cartooning.

They met at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1941. After three years in the US Army during the War, Stan returned and, in 1946, they were married, and creating little Berenstains -- as well as many gag cartoons.

Above: Three of the many 1950s & 60s collections of Berenstain cartoons: LOVER BOY (© 1958 Stan & Jan Berenstain), IT'S STILL IN THE FAMILY (© 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 by McCall Corp.), and HAVE A BABY, MY WIFE JUST HAD A CIGAR (© 1960 Stan & Jan Berenstain).

Here's a snippet from their bio on their site:

"Stan had become interested in cartooning and sold some cartoons to the Saturday Review of Literature during his last weeks in the Army. Jan also enjoyed doing cartoons and, after they married, joined Stan in submitting cartoons to magazines. It took them about a year of weekly submissions before they broke into the 'big time.' But they soon became major contributors to such popular magazines as The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s and shortly thereafter became cover artists for Collier’s."
During the 1950s and 60s, they produced a regular feature for McCall's, and they were putting out a lot of paperback collections of family humor. Some were original works, other were collections of the McCall's feature. So many of these went into multiple printings and so much of their early work (the pre-Bear cartooning) is forgotten, including a comic strip Sister, that ran from 1953 to 1956.

Here are a series of cartoons from "The Cartoon Series From McCall's," as reprinted in the 1958 hardcover IT'S ALL IN THE FAMILY. First up is a series about being Home Sick -- not as in "missing your home," but as in "too sick to go to school and Mom has to take care of you all day:"

I like the whole family (pets as well) in attendance, observing the sick daughter.
The examples above of trying behavior by the ailing yet energetic little girl are detailed and good to click and look at big-sized. I like the glop hanging off the pile of dishes and the sorry looking "Free Funny Mask" dog.

And here we have the end, a repeat of the tableau from the first panel, with a few roles reversed.

The Berenstains were up there with Bil Keane's and Doug Wright's work.

Here they are, riffing on the Birthday Party theme:

Noted: A haze of black wash in the middle of the balloons makes them look very balloony.

Some great Lord of the Flies style kiddy chaos in the last panel!

The little brother and the family dog are in their own little world.

And here is Swimming Lesson:

By now, we know the formula: order (parents) is imposed on chaos (kids). Chaos rules.

Poor ol' Dad! and we get a reassuring background peek at the boys running out to get some ice cream, so we know they are not missing, presumed drowned here.

It took me a minute to notice that that was Dad under the blanket in the background.

Just some wonderfully observed material here, and a fine line and wash effect. Never have I been able to find out who did what -- Did Stan pencil and Jan ink? Who wrote them? Well, it was, obviously, a 100% team effort. Heck, that's why they signed their work "The Berenstains."

Addendum: I'm glad to see a good sampling of Doug Wright art at the Doug Wright Awards site -- a much more respectful state of affairs than it was two years ago when most of their links to Mr. Wright's art were broken.


Keath said...

A fabulous post Mike - I have to admit to being totally ignorant of this early Berenstain work (although I grew up with those little Berenstain Bear books). It reminds me very much of a more all-ages Mad Magazine, especially in the drawing style. I love the look of disappointment on the daughter upon receiving the third identical doll. Thanks for finding all this and getting it out for a new eyes!

Mike Berenstain said...

CHILD'S PLAY: THE CARTOON ART OF STAN AND JAN BERENSTAIN text by Mike Berenstain, forward by Jan Berenstain, has just been published by Abrams. It surveys Stan and Jan's cartoons from the baby boom years of 1946-1964 featuring all their full color Collier's covers and interiors, selections from their McCall's cartoons, newspaper comics and cartoon books. I am the author-- Stan and Jan's son.
-Mike Berenstain

KP said...

Oddly enough, I just saw a bunch of those books yesterday in a second hand shop. I think I may go back and purchase some.