Adapted and excerpted from Mike Berenstain’s Child’s Play: Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, published by Abrams in 2008.
The explosive popularity of television rang the death knell of the general interest weekly magazine. Folks were not content to sit around reading when they could partake of the wild hilarity of Uncle Milty or Sid Caesar on the dimly luminous tube. The Saturday Evening Post survived in truncated form by going from weekly to monthly publication. But Collier’s went under at the end of 1956.
Surprisingly, Stan and Jan survived this catastrophic loss of their principle source of income quite nimbly. One area of magazine publishing that continued to thrive in the new multimedia era was the venerable monthly woman’s magazine. Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s had been around since the turn of the century and were showing no signs of going the way of the buggy whip. Stan and Jan shifted their focus to this alternate venue and thrived.
McCall’s quickly snapped up their new series, It’s All in the Family (no connection to the later TV sitcom), which graced its pages from 1956 to the new-broom regime of Shana Alexander in the early seventies when it migrated to Good Housekeeping, where it continued until 1988. This feature, in fact, lasted so long that for the final few years of its existence it was ghost-written and drawn by Stan and Jan’s son Mike.
It’s All in the Family took the mom, the dad, and the daughter from Sister, bookended the girl between an older and younger brother, and settled them down in a Leave-it-to-Beaverish suburbia tailored to the traditionally domestic McCall’s. These kids, by the way, had “real” names: Michael, Janie, and Billy. They even had a last name: the Harveys.
This feature–seven panel cartoons or more on a single theme once a month for thirty-two years–became the background to the Berenstain family life while Mike and Leo were growing up.
Mike’s (temporary) obsession with dinosaurs, for instance, was immediately seized upon and turned into cartoons.
It was older son, Leo’s, attempts to master a two-wheeler that provided the model for Janie’s bike riding experiences–though, he, no doubt, dispensed with the stylish beret.
It’s All in the Family migrated from McCall’s to Good Housekeeping in the 1970s, where the feature was finally retired in 1988.
Of course, by then, the hugely popular Berenstain Bears children’s book series, which made its debut in 1962, had come to dominate the creative life of Stan and Jan. The transition from cartoons about children to books for children was a natural one for Stan and Jan. As parents themselves, they were interested and critical consumers of children’s books.
Their professional interest was aroused, as well, when many former cartoonists came into prominence in the children’s book field during the early sixties. Most prominent of all was Theodor Seuss Geisel, also editor and publisher of the new Random House Beginner Books line, an outgrowth of Geisel’s groundbreaking early reader, The Cat in the Hat.
And, “the rest is history” as they say. As the Berenstain Bears celebrate their 50th Anniversary during 2012, you can read how this loveable family of bears who live down a sunny dirt road began in “How it all started” http://wp.me/p2duMi-8