Sad news came the other day for many of us as we heard the news that Jan Berenstain had passed away on Feb. 24 from complications from a stroke. Her husband, Stan, met her in art school in the 1940's and five years later they were married. The first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, didn't get published until 1962. Since then, the husband and wife team have managed to create a series of books that have sold more than 260 million copies in multiple languages around the world. They have had TV specials and a CBS cartoon series (that won an Emmy) and a PBS cartoon series with the theme song performed by Lee Ann Womack.
Stan Berenstain died in 2005, but their son Michael stepped in to help his mother continue to produce pictures and stories that would teach and entertain young readers. According to some of the reports I read, Jan Berenstain was still making pictures for the series right up to the day before her stroke.
Asbury Park Press did a story on Jan's passing and noted the first book originally credited Stanly and Janice Berenstain as the creative team. On their second book, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) changed their moniker to Stan & Jan Berenstain. Geisel also tried to talk them out of doing bear stories noting there was Yogi Bear, the Three Bears, the Chicago Bears (and Cubs), Smokey Bear, and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear. When the bear books by Stan and Jan began to sell well, Geisel told them to run with it and began putting Berenstain Bears on the covers.
There have been many great influences on artists over the years, and many cartoonists have been influenced by the cartoonists before them. While the Berenstains were not cartoonists or comic artists in the strictest sense of the words, their styling, line work, and colors certainly were an early influence on many future artists, cartoonists and animators to come. Certainly the world was made a little better by their contributions, and they will definitely be missed in the future.