Friday, April 29, 2022

Before They Were Stars: Stan and Jan Berenstain

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

Back before the BERENSTAIN BEARS children's 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 paperback book 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.

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."


 -- This is an edited version of a blog post that originally published way back on April 1, 2008.

1 comment:

Hal Turner said...

I had no idea the couple had a life before "the bears." What an enjoyable post. Thanks for sharing!