Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Remembering the Berenstains

Jan Berenstain died Friday, February 24, 2012 in Solebury, PA. She was 88. Her husband Stan died in 2005.

Before Stan and Jan Berenstain created their Berenstain Bears series of books, they were a prolific cartooning couple, drawing and writing many cartoons and magazine covers for McCall's magazine, The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. I recommend you pick up the book CHILD'S PLAY by their son Mike Berenstain for a wonderful remembrance of his parents, and much unseen art.

Here are a few of their cartoons from some early collections:

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, Stan returned and, in 1946, they were married. They then went about creating a family -- as well as many gag cartoons.

A lot of those cartoons are unseen now.

Above: Three of the many 1950s and 60s collections of Berenstain cartoons: LOVER BOY (© 1958 Stan and 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 and 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."

The above was an edited version of an April 1, 2008 blog entry.


Jeremy Billadeau said...

Great post, Mike. I got a couple books to look up now! ;D

Maggie Thompson said...

Nice write-up! Don and I met Stan and Jan Berenstain when they were on a tour to promote licensed Bear dolls, and they did Bear drawings for customers who bought the dolls. Styles pretty much identical, and they switched off on the sketches comfortably. Lovely people, great with the kids.

Neil Robertson said...

As a young boy, I got to sneak a peek at my uncle's copies of the Berenstains' paperbacks, the ones that were more about their married life than their children. They were among the very first sexually suggestive cartoons I ever saw... strong emphasis on 'suggestive'! That's where I first learned the word 'ogle'! I have very fond memories of the gentle ways they showed the joys and humor of marriage.

isy said...

Great post, Mike. One of the greatest things about those books is that they are very sympathetic to parents - making them tolerable to read over and over to your kids.