The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw – Follow Up!

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Here’s Mike Berenstain’s response to my inquiry about why The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree was the only one of the specials to receive a book adaptation immediately following the initial airing.

When The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree first aired on NBC in December 1979, my parents were still doing their It’s All in the Family cartoon series for Good Housekeeping. They created an illustrated adaptation of the TV show which was published in the December ’79 edition of the magazine to coincide with the broadcast. I believe this condensed adaptation formed the basis for and facilitated the publication of the full book version with Random House for Christmas the following year. The later NBC specials were not the subject of preliminary magazine adaptations. I assume this was due to the fact that my parents’ professional commitments were ramping up drastically at this time. In addition to TV work (the four subsequent NBC specials in the early ‘80s and the two seasons of CBS Saturday morning programs in the mid-‘80s), they were launching the First Time Book series.

You may be interested to know that the delivery schedule for these books was particularly challenging during the mid-1980s since their great success encouraged Random House to believe that a book club version of the series should be tried. This required a minimum number of titles be available to permit a standard fulfilment schedule. As a result, my parents worked intensely for about two years delivering new books on an accelerated schedule. This was complicated by the fact that my father was very ill during this period. He had difficult kidney stone operations during the 1960s which caused a chain-reaction of medical problems which lasted the rest of his life and actually led to his death in 2005.

If you look at the art of No Girls Allowed (1986) you may notice that the painting style is slightly looser and brushier than the other books of that period. Also, that the bears’ fur is a slightly more golden color, while in other books it is slightly reddish-brown. This is because my father was in the hospital when this book was completed and my mother did all the color. She had a looser style and preferred lighter, brighter colors.

At this period their division of labor was:

1.  Story concept developed together.

2.  Full manuscript draft written by Stan.

3.  Rewrite by both.

4.  Rough sketch version by Stan.

5.  Finished pencil sketch version by Jan.

6.  Tracing in pencil onto illustration board by Jan.

7.  Line-inking over pencil tracing primarily by Stan with Jan assisting at times.

8.  Gray cross-hatching by Stan (my mother did not like cross-hatching and never did it. You’ll note that in books she illustrated by herself after my father’s death, no cross-hatching appears. Books created after his death with cross-hatching are ones I worked on—I like cross-hatching.)

9.  Color (Dr. Martin’s Transparent Watercolor) by Stan.

Since my father was in the hospital when No Girls Allowed was due, my mother did the color. She was just as good at watercolor as my father but her style was a little flashier (my mother was the most naturally talented of us). After he got out of the hospital, they resumed their normal work pattern. The purpose of this division of labor was to permit them to work on two or three books at once each working on different stages.

Ironically, when the book club version of the series was brought out by Grollier, it did not succeed. By this time, the retail sales of the series were so enormous that there wasn’t an adequate market for a club—everyone already had the regular editions.

I began working with them in the late 1980s, at first on the Good Housekeeping cartoons. I was also doing my own books with Western/Golden at this time. Gradually, the demands of the Bears got so intense that I dropped my own books, we dropped the magazine cartoons, and we all focused exclusively on the Bears.

About this time, the relationship with Random House began to show cracks. My parents felt they were being shut out of new publishing opportunities—of trying new kinds of subjects and formats—and were being channeled almost exclusively into the First Time Book format. As a result, we began in the early ‘90s to publish with Western/Golden, Scholastic and mass-marketer, GoodTimes (distributor of the VHS tapes of the NBC shows), in parallel with Random House. The book versions of the four later NBC specials were part of a group of books published with Scholastic in the mid ‘90s.

The fractures with Random House finally led to a split which occurred during the 2003-2005 period and a move to HarperCollins. This was closely linked to the debut of the PBS show. Random House declined to commit to an expanded publishing program to coincide with the launch of the show. This was the result of a huge financial commitment to Disney which restricted their ability to expand other publishing programs. My father explored interest at HarperCollins in a broader Berenstain Bears program which resulted in the final move, there, in 2005.

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