In 1962 Stan and Jan Berenstain brought a new book concept aimed at children to their editor at Random House. The editor was Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and the book was called The Big Honey Hunt. It featured a family of bears as protagonists and was enthusiastically championed by Suess and published to great success. The Berenstain Bears Series would continue for 40 years and become one of the most popular and lucrative franchises in publishing history with hundreds of books, a television series, toys and games.

Jan and Stan Berenstain in their studio.

But before the Bears, back in the late 1940s, they were struggling cartoonists selling gags to magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. Stanley Melvin Berenstain (1923-2005) and Janice Grant (1923-2012) met at a Philadelphia Art School in 1941 and were married five years later. During WWII, he served as a military medical illustrator while Jan was a draft artist for the Army Corps of Engineers in addition to working in an aircraft factory. From the beginning, the couple worked as a team. Both possessed a keen sense of humor and gravitated toward the one panel gag cartoon which was in it’s heyday at the time. Hundreds of cartoons ran in publications every week. Berenstain humor centered on family-oriented situations and was perfect for general readership publications like the Post and Collier’s. Starting in 1956 the Berenstains were featured every month in McCall’s with a series called All in the Family. Typically a group of 8-10 gag cartoons, all centered around a theme like Allowances, Halloween. or Family Vacation.

Here’s a sampling of that humorous early work that recalls a simpler era when life centered around the family.

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