ALISON BROWN OBITUARY

A week ago we lost the heart and soul of The Cartoon Museum.


Alison Brown passed away in the early hours of Thursday 14 January. She was in hospital recuperating from a short illness, before contracting COVID-19, complications from which led to her untimely death at just 39 years old.


Born in Newcastle, Alison studied photography at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. She previously worked at the V&A and The Courtauld Gallery shop. Joining the Cartoon Museum in 2006, she worked with many of the current team for most of the intervening 14 years, and her passing is a devastating blow to the trustees, staff and volunteers. Alison played a huge part in the move to the new Wells Street site, packing up and moving most of the museum almost single-handedly and contributing eye-catching ideas for the new site. She was incredibly proud of the Museum’s move and reincarnation.


Alison was a cornerstone of the museum since she started as the Front of House Manager and was the first face many visitors saw as they came through the door, greeting them with a friendly smile, a shock of colourful hair, and her anarchic, self-deprecatory sense of humour. Over the years she brought wonderful events and exhibitions to life. A passion project for Alison, was ‘Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide’, the exhibition celebrated Kate Charlesworth’s graphic memoir and highlighted LGBTQ female comic artists, bringing diversity to the museum’s exhibitions and celebrating queer and female voices. Her ability to concoct themed cocktails for book launches and other events was legendary! She oversaw the museum shop, stocking a varied range of books and gifts, starting exciting new ranges, and created great opportunities for visitors to discover the next amazing artist (that they had never previously heard of) including new young artists, stocking the self-published comics of now-established artists such as Zoom Rockman, whose comic she started selling when he was 9 years old.


Alison was also the face of The Cartoon Museum at public events across the country, promoting the museum at festivals such as MCM, The Lakes Festival, Thought Bubble, and the London Film and Comic Con. Meeting the public and chatting about comics and cartoons, recruiting new museum Friends, and delivering the museum’s mission to entertain, educate and inform, Alison had the ability to make everyone her friend. Tributes from cartoonists and comic writers and artists have been numerous, but she is best summed up by her partner Allan, who wrote in the international comics new site Bleeding Cool:


‘She was the ray of light for everyone with the good fortune to know her … she was the kindest, happiest and most wonderful soul I have ever met.’


Alison will be much missed by the museum team, and by the extended comic and cartoon community. Thank you, Ali, for all the memories, and rest in peace.

On My Bookshelf – Joe Sullivan – Director of The Cartoon Museum

Who are you? 

My name is Joe Sullivan, I’m the Director of The Cartoon Museum. I recently celebrated my first year in the job having come into post in January 2020. Of course, due to the pandemic I have only spent about four months on site and actually working during that year! I have been a fan of cartoons and particularly comics for many years, having been an avid reader of the Beano and Dandy as a kid. These days my favourite regular strip is probably David Squire’s wonderful sideways looks at the world of football each week in The Guardian.

Outside of the museum I am involved in the heritage sector as the Chair of the London Museums Group. As a passionate Londoner and museum-goer I want to help build skills for staff at the capital’s many wonderful spaces, to enable museums to work with wider and more diverse audiences. I also find time to play the guitar most days, and hang out with my brand new baby daughter!

What is on your bookshelf?

I want to highlight two picks:

1. ‘Motivational Quotes To Help You Be More Positive’ by Chris (Simpsons Artist), which came out in 2015. I love Chris’ weird and surreal ideas and art style – the idea of the baby Jesus being massive, or a depressed anthropomorphic Thomas the Tank Engine wishing he wasn’t born as a train really tickles me in a way that utterly baffles my wife.

2. ‘Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain)’ by Robert Wells. This book gives a wince-inducing look at Robert’s history with a mystery illness that never seemed to get better. The honesty and creativity that sparkles from the pages is great to read, if a little squirm-inducing. Men don’t talk all that much about ailments and weaknesses, and this was an ‘I see you’ moment for me.

Was it a purchase or a present?

My wife bought the Chris (Simpsons Artist) book for me to commemorate starting my job at The Cartoon Museum in January 2020, and it sits on the book pile on my desk making me laugh regularly. I bought ‘Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain)’ during the first UK lockdown, as Robert drew my favourite cartoon featured in the Museum’s #Draw The Coronavirus e-book (Chris Whitty asking ‘Do You Like Eggs?’) and I wanted to check out some of his previous work.

Tell us about your first visit to the Cartoon Museum? 

My first visit was at the new Wells Street site in November 2019, after applying for the Director job at the museum. Despite the rough edges (unpainted floor, loudly trickling pipe) I was really taken with the charm of the place, and the wonderful range of cartoons and comics on display. The Comic Creators exhibition was on when I first visited, and I particularly liked seeing Beano’s and Dandy’s in their draft phases, where pencils and stuck-speech bubbles were still evident. I thought there was huge potential in the site and collection, and was excited to join the museum as it moved forwards in the new site.

Comic Creators exhibition 2019 – 2020

Tell us about a favourite cartoon or exhibition from the Cartoon Museum? 

I’m very proud of the Dear Mr. Poole exhibition, and particularly proud of Emma (Stirling-Middleton – museum curator) and the team for pulling it together in the short time that they had. When I started at the museum, the Trustees wanted a new temporary exhibition in, as Comic Creators had been up for six months. Emma stumbled across a box of letters written to Philip Poole, who supplied pen nibs and art materials to pretty much every famous cartoonist. She pitched an exhibition that displayed these never-before-exhibited letters as a ‘love letter’ to the man behind the artists, the olde-worldy London shop, and the materials that enabled a cartoonist to ply their trade. In just three weeks from sign off to opening date, and on a budget of £3000, the team designed a vibrant, unique and warm exhibition that demonstrated everything about where the museum hopes to go in the future.

Dear Mr. Poole exhibition
Dear Mr. Poole exhibition

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