Rose Mortleman, A Cartoon Life, November 1931 – August 2020 

Last month, journalist and podcaster Jim Mortleman shared the following story on Twitter about his recently late mother Rose and her life in comics, cartoons and illustration. HE allowed Bleeding Cool to republish it as well as a link to the fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Society set up in in her memory. Jim writes

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020: This is my mum, Rose Mortleman, as a teenager in about 1945 outside the 2-up, 2-down terraced house in Twickenham where she grew up with her mum, dad, elderly gran and several pets. It looks like a bubblegum bubble has burst on her face, but it's just foxing on the old photo.

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 
Photo of Rose Mortleman, courtesy of Jim Mortleman.

From an early age, Mum loved to draw. This is the Mickey Mouse annual her dad gave her for Xmas in 1938. She's drawn on the flysheet. For a 7-year-old, she already showed some 'tooning talent, no?

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 
Photo courtesy of Jim Mortleman.
My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 
Photo courtesy of Jim Mortleman.

In 1942, at 11, she got into Twickenham Art School. Although she did a few 'normal' lessons like maths and English, most of the time she just learnt how to draw and paint. Cool, eh? Here's an interesting post I found about the place at that time:

She left art school at 16, in 1947, and immediately landed a job as a fashion artist at publisher Newnes (later IPC), producing the pull-out dress patterns that appeared in all their women's magazines, like Woman's Own. It was the fast fashion of its day. Here's a couple of hers

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

She loved her job and stayed there for more than 20yrs. Fashion art paid the bills, but to entertain colleagues, friends and family (and herself) she drew cartoons. Here's a page of doodled faces I found while rummaging through one of her drawers…

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

She normally only drew cartoons for the people she loved. Here are some cards she made for her decorator Dad, Fred Pickles, and mum Dorothy, a former cook-in-service from Bristol.

Mum met my Dad in 1953, aged 22. When they got engaged three years later she made him a cartoon parody of a popular BMA advice booklet of the day, "Getting Married". Her wicked sense of humour and before-its-time irreverence really shine through…

I came along a lot later, in 1969, when Mum and Dad were 37. In keeping with the norms of the time, she gave up work to look after me. That was tough on her, and she had to gently remind my Dad that, now he had a kid, maybe he shouldn't play quite as much golf…

The 70s were tough for mum. A thyroid problem went undiagnosed for 3 years and she became bloated and wrinkly. In 1975 she was admitted to hospital with acute organ failure and almost died. Here's a Valentine's card she made for my Dad shortly afterwards…

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

In 1978, my Dad had a heart attack. But by 1981 they'd both recovered from their respective near-death experiences and we had our first family package holiday abroad, to run-down apartments in Corfu with friends. Here are some pages from a cartoon book she made about it…

When I was 12, Mum went back to work for an agency, doing artwork for ads in the local press. She stayed until retiring 10y later. Then in 1992 my Dad had a quadruple heart bypass. He wrote a booklet about it for the BHF. Mum illustrated it for him. Here's a few of them…

In the early 90s, after retiring, she did a series of strips about provincial office life, based on my Dad's tales of work, for an insurance trade mag (years before "The Office"). Here's one. Note the reference to @vizcomic in panel 3. She'd often have a sneaky read of my copy

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

In 2004, in their 70s, Mum and Dad downsized and moved to a village in Suffolk. Within a few years she was starting to show signs of dementia. For her 80th birthday in 2011, Dad and I self-published the memoirs of childhood she'd written in her 50s.

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

But by then she'd been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She finally passed away last month, after a slow and cruel 10-year decline. My Dad looked after her at home until 2018, but then could cope no longer so she went into a care home He visited her every day until lockdown

The saddest moment for me was when I visited in 2018 and saw this child's glitter picture of a cat pinned up in her room. "Who did that for her?" I asked. "She did, with the carer's help," my Dad replied. Her artistic talent, along with most of her mind and memory, had gone.

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

Yesterday was her funeral. We gave her a good send-off despite the Covid restrictions. She was a wonderful, selflessly kind, witty, talented, trailblazing woman. I'm happy we can finally put the last 10 years behind us and remember the better times. Here's some more of her art.

Goodbye, Mum. Rest in peace. You won't be forgotten X

My Mum, A Cartoon Life Nov 1931-Aug 2020 

We've also set up a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Society in her memory.

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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