In Memoriam: Murray Ball
I don’t know how much this is going to matter to our many, many international readers but we’re hoping that, at the very least, you’ll be introduced to a damn good comic series.
Those down-under will be familiar with the works of cartoonist Murray Ball. He’s the creator, artist and writer of the excellent New Zealand newspaper cartoon series ‘Footrot Flats’. The series focused on Dog, the obviously named sheepdog on a small New Zealand farm. Among the characters was his owner Wal, nature loving neighbour Cooch, Wal’s love interest Cheeky, his niece Pongo, local boy Rangi and Wal’s busybody Aunt Dolly. Also around the farm are Dog’s true love Jess, the brutal and psychotic cat Horse, spoilt corgi Prince Charles and more.
Wal and his supporting cast have come to represent the definitive rural New Zealand stereotypes and became the voice for the common man. ‘Footrot Flats’ not only depicted the life of farmers but also small town communities and popular hobbies such as rugby and cricket. The characters and the humour was simple and good-natured, and didn’t shy away from some of the less savoury aspects of working on the farm. As an Irishman brought to Australia as a child this strip was very much my introduction to the local style of humour and an insight into our neighbours to the east.
Murray Ball worked on ‘Footrot Flats’ for 18 years, focusing on this one title over his other works at the time. It lead to a stage musical, a hit movie (Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tail) and even a dedicated theme park in New Zealand. Only one of the many collections have been published in America, but they’re worth seeking out. Murray Ball and ‘Snoopy’ creator Charles M. Schultz shared a mutual admiration for each others work and Schultz wrote the introduction to one of Ball’s collected works.
Murray Ball passed away on the 12th of March, 2017. At time he was continuing to live on his rural property in Gisborne, New Zealand.
It seems only fitting to send him off with the musical track popularised by the Footrot Flats movie (which, by the way, you can watch on youtube). Trust me, it’s worth a listen.