Realizing a Dream in a Funny Way
By P. Amy MacKinnon
SCITUATE -Mat Brown knew he had ta1ent when he got a detention in junior high for drawing a caricature a teacher. Walking out of school that day, he saw a group of teachers passing around his drawing and laughing. His dream of becoming a cartoonist seemed more real.
With his dream realized, Brown, the artistic force behind I" Building #19's famously busy fliers, wants to help teenagers more skillful1y torment their teachers. And maybe make money while doing it. .
The Scituate resident is teaching a six-week workshop for teenagers at Cohasset's South Shore Art Center. It's called "The Language of cartooning." A former teacher, Brown, 65, sees it as a way to channel the energy of class clowns.
"I'm as big a troublemaker as any of them," he said. "I'm the star."
Brown said he won't teach his students how to draw (he expects the kids will already know how to do that). Rather, he'll teach them to steal techniques from other cartoonists, the art of self-promotion and se1f-editing.
'I'm going to tell them what I think is poor technique," Brown said. "I'm going to tell them to copy other people's work. Then I will critique their work on the level- and this is the hard part - on the level they want."
Brown said one of the best ways for a cartoonist to learn the trade is by copying others' work. He said imitating brilliant cartoons, such as Bill Watterson's now defunct "Calvin and Hobbes," teaches students to approach a comic strip from different angles and make it three-dimensional. Part of the course (which began yesterday) will involve students creating a "swipe file" of editorial cartoons and strips.
Brown said the most difficult] part of the course will be offering his students criticism. According to Brown. If the artist thinks his work is good, then it is. "We're all trying to do the same thing in there," said Brown. "They can say, 'I like some of Mr. Brown" work and some of it sucks.'
Brown got his start at Building #19 30 years ago when he saw an ad in their tier for a cartoonist. He had been freelancing for the Boston Globe, The Patriot Ledger and the Scituate Mirror, In addition to teaching high school math in various South Shore towns. Brown said he often read the Building #19 fliers to find cheap school supplies.
Brown went to an Interview with Jerry Ellis, owner of Building #19, and left hours later without the job. Or so he thought. "The circular came out with all of my pictures in it," he said. Brown said his collaboration with Ellis on their weekly Mad Magazine-like flier works because they have different but complementary senses of humor.
"It's like Milton Berle versus Steve Allen," said Brown, who considers bimse1f to be the Allen. "Yeah, I'm way funnier and more talented than Jerry. He's just richer than I am."
Monica McKenney, spokeswoman for the South Shore Arts Center, said she is thrilled Brown is teaching. She is certain teens
Will respond to his teaching style. She said the art center wants to attract more young people, and a cartoon workshop was at the top of its list.
"We provide what teenagers want In terms of art classes," said McKenney. "Parents call or we also have a wonderful and growing relationship with art teachers along the South Shore, and they give us feedback. "
R.J. Harris, a l4-year-old from HIngham, has enrolled In Brown's class. He cites "Calvin and Hobbes" and Gary Larson's 'The Far Side" as favorite cartoons but isn't against drawing editorial cartoons. Harris wants to improve his technique. He has been drawing for about three years and thinks he inherited his father's artistic talent.
"I do a really good caricature of George Bush,' he said 'I'm pretty good for my age.' "Pretty good" is a message Brown plans to deliver to his students. He said self-promotion is crucial.
"You've got to say “I'm good, I'm important, look at me,”. Brown said.
For more information, call the South Shore Art Center at 781383-2787.