Bldg. 19 Draws on Cartoonist's Zany Approach
Moonlighting Teacher Developed Offbeat Circulars with Store Owner
By Jack Sullivan
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE
HINGHAM- Ah, Sunday morning. Time to sit back with a fresh cup of coffee and snare the favorite sections of the Sunday paper before anyone else gets to it. Page 1, Metro, Sports, the comics, the Building 19 circular . . .
The Building 19 circular?
Go ahead, admit it. The zany advertisements for that zany bargain store make you laugh. That is the intent, according to Scituate resident Matt Brown, a former math teacher who, along with Building 19 owner Jerry Ellis, has developed the fliers and raised them to virtual cult status.
As zany as the store chain and. the circulars are, equally off the wall.’ and proud of it are the men behind, the fliers - Brown and Ellis - and the story of how they got together. The fliers have developed in the image of the two creators and, by design, the image Ellis wants to reflect for the 10-store Hingham-based chain.
Brown, who oversees the five-person advertising department for the chain, which in the South Weekly area includes a Norwood store as well as the one in Hingham, was hired by Ellis 25 years ago as a part time cartoonist.
Back then, all Brown was trying to do was support his growing family on the meager paycheck he earned as a math teacher at Scituate High School. In 1967 his wife, Rosie, brought home a sales handout from the first Building 19 store, in Hingham, with an advertisement seeking a cartoonist.
Ellis was mimeographing the fliers at that time but realized he often had more space than information and thought some art would fill in the white spots nicely. After his first attempt at drawing, he decided he did not have the talent and put the cartoonist ad in his flier. Mat Brown, needing to supplement his income, applied.
“He was the best and only person to apply for it,” Ellis said.
But according to Brown, he had to pass a test before Ellis would hire him at $5 per hour. The same amount Brown earned tutoring in arithmetic. Brown said the “test” consisted of drawing six ads. Ellis liked the ads and used them in his circulars - without paying Brown.
But Ellis eventually’ did hire the teacher-cum cartoonist, and the two began turning out one circular per week. Brown said they would start work after he finished teaching on Friday afternoon and would work late into the night and then all day Saturday. Brown said the offbeat tone of the circular developed because after a full week at their work at their regular jobs- - Ellis ran the store himself - the two men were unable to maintain anything resembling a serious approach.
“We’d be working around midnight and that’s why it got so funny: Brown said, “We got punchy, You tried to be serious and then somebody would say something stupid and we just got silly.”
In 1975, after nearly 20 years of teaching in Marshfield, Plymouth and Scituate, Brown quit his public job and went In work full time for Ellis to better care for his growing family of three children. Brown, who still pines for the classroom. said he could have predicted the current funding problems for public education back then. He said when he would tell people about his two jobs, as a teacher and a display cartoonist, the latter drew more interest.
I still miss it a lot,” Brown said of the classroom, “but I didn’t have a hard time quitting because people don’t respect it.” The response to his part-time profession “gave you a clue In people and about what they thought was more important, or maybe it was just what I did better, I’m not sure.”
So Brown, embarked on his new career and while he said he misses teaching, he has no regrets about his choice, The key in life for Brown and the key ingredient,1n his job are the same - have fun and don’t take your, self too seriously, “You begin to sow the seeds of your own destruction when you start thinking you’re big and important.” Brown said. Advertising “is nowhere near the serious profession the world makes it out to be:’
Perusing the circulars, one gets the idea that Brown and Ellis take very little seriously. The fliers are fraught with sight gags, puns, and caricatures of Ellis lampooning everyone from Vanna white to the Eveready Rabbit. While real-life Ellis is fit and trim, the cartoon Ellis is somewhat chunky.
“He looked more like that when I first drew him.” Brown said.
There are also plenty of pokes and inside jokes aimed at the portly but not overly articulate Ellis” (as described in the most recent flier); fellow Building #19 employees (“Paul P. made a mental note, and now he can’t get the pencil out of his ear.); and of course, the star of the circulars, the stores themselves. (What’s such classy stuff like this doing in a dump like ours?)
Brown makes no bones about where his inspiration comes from, saying “Most everything I draw has been stolen,” But Brown is delighted with the following the circulars have amassed, He said reader feedback and intuition tell him the fliers are among the more popular reading matter in one of the most important sanctuaries of the home. “We think people take these things into their bathrooms and put them on the back of the toilet to read whenever they go in”; Brown said with a huge grin, “I think that’s perfect.