Mike Berenstain Responds! – 1

Hey, guys! In prepping for Episode 32 – the one where I unwisely tried to cover FOUR mini story books in one go – I had a few questions about the art in the books. So, I wrote to The Berenstains with the following question:

I’ll be covering four books from 1983 – the mini-storybooks – and I notice that the interior art seems . . . different from the rest of the books from the same era. The line work has a different texture, the bear’s themselves seem slightly off-model. Their eyes and smiles in particular. Even their poses seem slightly uncharacteristic. Did Stan and Jan use a different process for these books? Is there any way of knowing?

This is the fantastic response from Mike Berenstain:

Mike Berenstain
(Photo: HarperCollins)

Always happy to answer any questions.

There are two reasons the art in the mini books looks different.

First, and most important, these books were done as a series in parallel with all the other books (primarily the First Time Books) that Stan and Jan were doing in the early ’80s and it was not possible, from this point on, for them to do all the art themselves for all Berenstain Bears books. The mini books were the first ones (a least that I can recall) on which a freelance artist was employed. The usual process was that Stan and Jan did the rough layouts, the freelancer did finished sketches, Stan and Jan then corrected all the sketches on overlays and the freelancer did the finished ink line and color. By the way, at this time Stan and Jan almost always worked in pen and ink. Earlier, they had used brush on some books where a bolder line was needed–for instance, some of the Bright and Early books like Bears in the Night. The freelancer used for these mini books had a  background as a comic strip inker. This technique almost always uses ink brush line. So that was what he used for these mini books, thus giving the line a different quality. Also, his background in comic strip art inflected his execution of the characters giving them the slightly exaggerated look you notice.

Second, color reproduction in mass market children’s books went through an evolution from the 1960s to the 1990s. Until the early 1970s, all the Berenstain Bears books were done in full pre-separation. That is, black line was created first, this line drawing was then printed in non-photo blue on four sheets of illustration board and the “color” was then created in percentages of Indian ink gray wash on each of these four sheets–one for yellow, one for blue, one for red and one for gray tone. The color percentages were calculated using a chart which matched tones of gray to tones of yellow, red and blue. All of these five elements were then put together in the printing process to create full color with black line. Thus there is no “original” full color art for any of the Berenstain Bears books created before about 1973–each original consists of five separate pieces of art all in shades of black and gray. This laborious and difficult process was done to save money. Printing full color art in those days was expensive since it involved the labor of a team of photographers, engravers and printers. In order to achieve the low price points needed to market children’s books in mass distribution, the pre-separation system was developed as a way to lower printing costs. In the early ’70s, more efficient printing techniques were developed which permitted, first, a simplification of the process, then, it’s elimination. There was a transitional period where the black line was still done separately, then printed on a single sheet of illustration board in non-photo blue and full color was painted on this board. So, now, there were only two pieces of original art–the black line sheet and the full color sheet. The Berenstain Bears’ Nursery Tales was the first using this technique, followed by Science Fair, The New Baby and Go to School. It continued to be used for a time for cover art into the late ’80s since it gave a very bright clean reproduction. But it gave way to full color reproduction for most interior art by about 1980 and for all the art by about 1988. The last work I did in this process was the cover for After the Dinosaurs. The mini books, however–I assume because of their very low price point–were done entirely in this mixed black line/full color separation process giving them a distinctive look.

Mike Berenstain

Thank you Mike Berenstain and The Berenstains for your continued support of my little endeavor here.

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One thought on “Mike Berenstain Responds! – 1

  1. Pingback: Episode 32 – Four Mini Storybooks! | Deep In Bear Country

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