Footrot Flats

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The very first edition of Footrot Flats released in 1978. Later releases of this book had the title of Footrot Flats One.

Footrot Flats was a comic strip written by New Zealand cartoonist Murray Ball. It ran from 1975 until 1994 in newspapers around the world, though the unpublished strips continued to be released in book form until 2000. Altogether there are 27 numbered books (collecting the newspaper strips, with additional material), a further 8 books collecting the Sunday newspaper strips, and 5 smaller 'pocket' books of original material, plus various related publications. There was also a stage musical, an animated feature film called Footrot Flats: the Dog's Tail Tale, and even a theme park in New Zealand. The strip reached its peak of popularity in the mid-1980s, with the books selling millions of copies in Australasia. At various times, Ball cited different reasons for quitting the strip, including the death of his own dog, and his displeasure with the direction of New Zealand politics.[citation needed]

The cartoon was based around the life of Wal Footrot's sheepdog, called "Dog", on their farm Footrot Flats, and the other characters, human and animal, that came into their lives. The Dog's thoughts are voiced in thought bubbles, though he is clearly "just a dog" rather than the heavily anthropomorphised creatures sometimes found in other comics or animation. The humour was based around the foibles of the characters, which many, particularly farmers themselves, found easy to recognise around them. There was much "humour in adversity", making fun of the daily struggle that permeates farming life. The depictions of the animals are quite realistic and detailed, with a dose of comic anthropomorphism superimposed without spoiling the farming realism.

Main characters[edit]

A scene from a 1978 Footrot Flats comic strip - showing Wal and The Dog
"The Dog" 
The main character of the book, a Border Collie, thinks of himself as intelligent and tough, but is really quite soft and often cowardly. He has a real name, given to him by Aunt Dolly, but despises it and has never allowed anyone to reveal it, often going to great lengths to stop Aunt Dolly or anyone else from saying it. Aunt Dolly says it is a "such a refined, aristocratic name", which gives some clue as to why Dog despises it. Wal always calls him "Dog", gaining loyal devotion. The Dog is often put to use to guard things or get rid of rats or pigs, but Border Collies have an independent streak and the Dog's is a mile wide. However, also like others of his breed he is a competent sheepdog. He also has a couple of alter egos; "The Scarlet Manuka" who attempts to 'liberate' cricket balls from being hit by Wal and his team, "Mitey Iron Paw", and "the Grey Ghost of The Forest", that appear from time to time. The dog has also, at one point, claimed to have the following commendations: V.C. (Very Cute), D.S.O. (Doesn't Steal Offal), and B.A.R (What Sheep Do), along with the alias of '00Dog' (Licensed to be kind but fair) and acting as Wal's 'chaperone' in many cases in Wal's dates with "Cheeky" Hobson. The Dog thinks Cheeky is a cheap hussy and his chaperoning often leads to the date being a disaster for Wal.
Wallace Cadwallader "Wal" Footrot 
Wallace Footrot was born on 26 January in Northern Manawatu. He was educated at Apiti Primary School and later Feilding Agricultural High, where he excelled at tractor reversing and rooster imitations. Wallace established an outstanding relationship with muscovy ducks, but unfortunately failed completely with geese. Indeed he seemed to have an uncanny knack of irritating them. Wallace took a full part in all school activities. He displayed a promising right cross during his time in the front row of the 2nd XV, but was unable to transfer this ability to the boxing ring. He rather let the side down during the inter-school championships by throwing in the sponge, which knocked the referee's glasses crooked. He was disqualified. On leaving school, he acquired 400 acres (160 ha) of swamp between the Ureweras and the sea. He is unmarried, although he has an interest in Darlene "Cheeky" Hobson, who works in the Ladies Hairdressers at Raupo. Wal also plays rugby union for Raupo where he is a Hooker and dreams of representing New Zealand's national team, the legendary All Blacks. The Raupo XV is often seen playing their rivals the Mill team who's star player is Wal's neighbour, "Irish" Murphy's son 'Spit'.
Socrates "Cooch" Windgrass 
Runs the farm next to Wal, has compassion for all living creatures and things and thus has a natural way with animals. But he is no vegetarian. Owns a pet Magpie called Pew who is constantly attacking Wal (Wal chopped down his family's nest tree, orphaning Pew and making him a 'social misfit'). Cooch never drives a tractor, preferring to plod along on his Clydesdales. He is Wal's best friend. Murray Ball describes Cooch as 'eccentric, NOT an idiot!', having based the character on two people he knows.
Darlene "Cheeky" Hobson 
Wal's girlfriend. Works at a hair salon. Cheeky is despised by the Dog, who is always looking for a way to come between her and Wal. Near the end of the strip's run, she and Wal become engaged, but at the last minute she dumps Wal to move out of town with a male stripper.
Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones 
A local boy who often appears on the farm to give Wal a hand. He first encountered The Dog to use his skin as a fur coat. As a testimony to Murray Ball's skill as an artist, the character of Rangi actually grew up over the years in the book, appearing slightly older in each book from being a little kid to a teenager.
Janice "Pongo" Footrot 
Wal's niece, daughter of Rex Footrot. Like Rangi, she aged during the book. She starts off very much a stereotyped girl, dressing up the Dog in a pram and playing dolls, however she slowly turned into a strong pro-feminist. She insists that she was nicknamed Pongo because she was good at ping pong, not because she ponged as a baby ("Anyway, babies don't smell, MUCH!")
Dolores Monrovia Godwit "Aunt Dolly" Footrot
Wal's aunt (by marriage). She was born in Cambridge Waikato and was the second daughter of Edward George Bogg and Fiona Godwit Symington. She was educated at Lady Hinema Sacks-Grenville School for Young Ladies and was a prefect, captain of hockey, lacrosse, and boxing. Her first cat was Archibald II and she owns a cat home (where Dog was born) in Tauranga. She is very conservative, always addresses people by their full and proper names, and she does not like Wal being with Cheeky at all. But under her strictness she has a kind heart and takes to mothering abandoned lambs in the winter. Dog despises her for giving him his name — which he does not reveal. It is revealed in Footrot Flats Gallery 3 that she was once married to Archi "Toey" Footrot, a barber. Unfortunately he ran off to Australia with "A dumb but decorative darts stall owner with masses of black hair."
Horse
A large, fierce and practically invincible cat, based on a cat Murray Ball owned. In Book 7 there's a brief ode to Horse written in the front pages, to commemorate the real Horse's passing. The character is a menace to Dog and the other characters, resisting attempts to be tamed by Aunt Dolly or others. He has a girlfriend (Fred) who frequents with a Bikie gang and loves leather. Occasionally fathers kittens. He and Dog frequently cross paths which end up with the Dog on the short end. Horse "spoke" a little in the earlier comics, but in later ones he mainly spoke out via actions and yowls. Later the irascible tomcat Horse became Dog's main nemesis (and sometimes ally). Horse is also seen protecting the dogs (Dog and Jess) from the local rat population that reside at the Murphy farm.
Prince Charles
A VERY spoilt Welsh Corgi owned by Aunt Dolly. Has a higher view on life from listening to Aunt Dolly and living inside. Often there are "class" clashes between him and Dog. He is easily stirred and the Dog usually has to explain to him the rougher aspects of farm life — like livestock mating and maggots eaten without gravy.

The characters are invariably known by their nicknames, such as Cooch, Pongo, Rangi, and Aunt Dolly. However, Aunt Dolly never uses the nicknames and always addresses them by their proper, full names.

Minor characters[edit]

Rex 
Wal's younger brother who lives in town and is a potter. Rex is better than Wal at sports and they often compete with Wal coming out for the worst. He also owns Boobsie, The Dog's mum.
Puti Puti 
Rangi's Cousin. A city slicker, often gains a culture shock when coming to the farm. Usually confuses Dog, who attempts to be hip like the city dogs.
Pew 
Cooch's pet magpie. Orphaned when Wal cut down his parents' tree; socially confused and always seeking revenge on Wal. Wal gave Pew to Cooch as a birthday present - the first time Wal ever remembered it - to get rid of him, but Pew's revenge continues. Cooch became a surrogate mother for Pew, coaching him in the way of birds as best he can.
Jess 
Cooch's dog as well as the Dog's girlfriend and co-parent. She mainly lives in the "Bitches Box" and has had several litters of puppies with the Dog. The Dog's Tail Tale contains the story of their meeting as puppies.
Cooch's cousin Kathy 
A beautiful, occasional visitor to Cooch and Wal. Her face remains a mystery as she is always drawn facing away from the reader. Loved by everyone, including The Dog, and especially Cooch.
Stewart "Irish" Murphy 
Wal's other neighbour, a brutish man who does not welcome visitors and shoots any dog that strays onto his property, or mercifully hang them by their heels on the fence. Once he did this to Prince Charles and lived to regret it when Aunt Dolly found out. Always appears filthy ("health warning: do not approach this man downwind"), probably due to farming numerous pigs, who cause Wal plenty of grief. Has two loutish sons; Hunk and Spit. There is also Lex Murphy, who is known to be Hunk's nephew.
"Irish" Murphy's pigs 
A fearsome gang of five or six enormous beasts. Often lurk in the nearby river, causing consternation to unsuspecting fishermen or dogs. Always ravenous, they once defeated and ate some large sharks that swam up the estuary.
Tiger, Wolf and Creampuff, "Irish" Murphy's pig-dogs 
They often terrorise Dog who seeks help from Wal, Horse or Major. Now and then Dog tries to take all three of them on at once.
Major
Wal's first dog. A hunting dog, very stern and usually foul-tempered. But has some fondness for Dog, often saving him from Murphy's dogs.
Hermit Ram "The Buffalo" 
This character appears now and then. It's a ram that's run off from the group and lives in the scrub of the farm. Now and then it appears with interest in the female sheep and Dog is often sent to stop it. Now and then it's hunted — but often outdoes its pursuers.
Cecil the Ram 
An aged stud ram, who patently lacks zest for the task of servicing Wal's ewes. He soon rediscovers his libido when Wal sharpens the butchery knife.
The Goat
The third strongest animal on the farm (the first being Horse and the second Aunt Dolly), The Goat lives tethered to a chain in Wal's backyard. Wal bought him to keep the grass down, but The Goat is a pest, eating trousers and chasing the Dog and Wal. At one point Wal tried to get rid of it by selling it, but when he couldn't he decided to kill it. He couldn't do it exclaiming "dammit, I know this goat!". Didn't have many appearances at first, but soon became more popular in the strip.
Cooch's goats 
A cunning pack of goats that use gang tactics to annoy Wal. For example if he plants trees behind a fence, Cooch's goats will stand on each other to get over and eat them. The dog often has to muster Cooch's goats and hates doing so.
Wal's unruly goose 
Another classic character would be Wal's goose, who occasionally stalks Wal and bites Wal's backside all the time. In the film "The Dog's Tale", the goose is seen now and then, making an attempt to bite Wal in the farm and finally gets his chance when Wal rescues Murphy from a river.
Other hostile animals 
In the early strip, the Dog's main tormentors were the Turkey, Goat, and Pigs (Boris and Dolores). In one strip, the Goose is chasing Wal and the Turkey is chasing the Dog, but Wal kicks the Turkey's head in and the Dog jumps on the Goose's neck, then Wal and the Dog celebrate their partnership.

Sport[edit]

Sport plays a major part in Footrot Flats. Wal plays all sorts of sports including cricket, golf, fishing, rugby union, tennis and many more. The dog often plays with Wal and an ongoing joke in the strip is how Wal can never beat his little brother Rex in any sport.

Wal plays for the Raupo rugby club as a hooker and is often seen playing and training in the strip. At one point Wal was replaced by a younger man as he was getting too old, but the younger player wasn't as good. The final few strips ever drawn involve an unlikely chain of events which culminate in Wal somehow scoring a try against a touring international rugby side. Wal also acts as coach to the Raupo team of young footballers (with Rangi being one of its more prominent members and the Dog serving as mascot [a duty which he takes very seriously, often blaming himself if the team loses]).

In the cricket season Wal plays for an unknown team as an all-rounder, although he is sometimes pictured as the wicket keeper. Cooch often plays cricket with Wal and so does the dog, usually fielding in the slips or in the covers (wherein the dog's Alias of 'The Scarlet Manuka' sometimes comes into play, as the Dog steals the cricket balls to 'rescue' them from persecution).

Cooch also plays golf with Wal who has a homemade course on his farm. Cooch is better than Wal at golf, even though the course is very hard (the first hole is a par 14). When they do play on a real course Cooch usually wins. Wal claims that the trees are on Cooch's side.

Wal also occasionally plays tennis with Cheeky Hobson and fights for her affections with Nigel Erkstine, another member of the tennis club. The dog is usually the ball boy.

Wal and Cooch frequently fish in various ways: whitebaiting, long line fishing, and most often floundering.

Other sports that get mentioned in Footrot Flats are boxing, polo, soccer, squash, and shooting.

List of publications[edit]

Main series

  • Footrot Flats 1-27 (1978–99) [1]
  • The Footrot Flats 'Weekender' 1-8 (1985–98) [2]
  • The Puppydog Footrot Flats 1-21 (1/11/95) [3]

Pocket books

  • "They've put custard with my bone!" (1983)
  • The cry of the grey ghost (1984)
  • "I'm warning you, Horse..." (1985)
  • It's a dog's life (1988)
  • "Let slip the dogs of war!" (1992)
  • Footrot Flats Pocket Book Collection (1995)

Combined collections

  • Footrot Flats: The Making of the Movie (1986)
  • Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tail Tale (1986)
  • Footrot Flats Collector's Edition (1987)
  • Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 2 (1989)
  • Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 3 (1993)
  • The Footrot Flats 'Weekender' Special (1994)
  • Footrot Flats Gallery 1-3 (2005–06)
  • Footrot Flats Sports Collection (2005)
  • Footrot Flats: The Wisdom of Dog (27/9/2010)
  • The Art of Footrot Flats (25/10/2011)
  • Footrot Flats: Luv from Dog (24/9/2013)

Murray Ball Collector's Trilogy

  • Footrot Flats: The Dog Strips (2007)
  • Footrot Flats: The Long Weekender (2008)
  • Six of the Best by Murray Ball (2009)[4]

Misc

  • Footrot Flats Collector’s Edition Box Set (1982, NZ-Only Release)
  • Footrot Flats Danish Album Series 1-27 called Fæhunden (1984-2000)[5]
  • The Mini Footrot Flats (1984)[6]
  • Footrot Flats - The Stage Musical (1984)
  • Footrot Flats the Motion Picture: Prospectus (1985)
  • Footrot Flats School Kit (1986)
  • Footrot Flats Japanese Edition (1986)
  • Footrot Flats Danish Book Series 1-12 called Fæhunden bøger (1989-2000)[7]
  • Footrot Flats in Focus - A 1990 Perspective (1989)
  • Footrot Flats Chinese Edition - Counterfeit copy (1990)
  • Footrot Flats UK Titan Books Series 1-6 (1990-94)
  • Footrot Flats Swedish Books Series 1-4 called Fähunden (1991-94)
  • Footrot Flats German Edition (1991, as "Dog Von Der Stinkfuẞfarm")
  • Footrot Flats USA Edition (1992) (With Foreword by Charles M. Schulz)
  • Footrot Flats Calendar: 1983-1992, 1997–2000
  • Footrot Flats Astrological Calendar: 1987
  • Footrot Flats Sports Calendar: 1987-1992
  • Footrot Flats Zodiac Calendar: 1989
  • The Ballad of Footrot Flats (1996)
  • Footrot Flats Desk Calendar: 1997
  • Footrot Flats - "The Dog's Tail Tale" (VHS, DVD)
  • Footrot Flats - "The Dog's Tail Tale" (Re-release) (DVD/Blu-ray) (1/12/11)
  • Footrot Flats 2015 40th Anniversary Commemorative Calendar (July 2014)

Miscellaneous Merchandise included...(but was not limited to) some of these....

  • postcards, greeting cards, door hangers, stickers, activity packs, posters, pencil cases, coloring books, notepad
  • mugs, drinking glasses, beer stein, coasters, place mats, teaspoons, plates & even beer!!!
  • stuffed toys, badges, shirts, sweaters, singlets, pillow cases, bed sheets, doona covers, tea towels, aprons
  • records, cassettes, CD's, DVD's, musical programs, matches, lapel pins, hats, beach towels
  • jigsaw puzzles, wrapping paper, transfers, patches, hot water bottles, ceramics, soap figurines, stamp

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The first two editions of Footrot Flats had no number, they were simply titled 'Footrot Flats'. Both were re-released in October 1980 as 'Footrot Flats One' and 'Footrot Flats Two'.
  2. ^ The first Weekender was titled "The Footrot Flats Weekender" while Volumes 2-8 were simply titled "Footrot Flats Weekender (number)".
  3. ^ The 'Puppydog' dog versions of the original strips were simply physically smaller and reduced in length; they presumably sold for a lower price.
  4. ^ This is a collection of Murray Ball's work outside of Footrot Flats.
  5. ^ This was a larger format series printed and released in Denmark, which was simply a translated version of the 1-27 series released in Australia & NZ
  6. ^ Also released as 'The Kiddie-Widdies Footrot Flats'. (in NZ)
  7. ^ This was a smaller format series printed and released in Denmark, which was a translated adaptation of the 1-8 Weekender series of books released in Australia & NZ

External links[edit]