Murray Hone Ball, ONZM (born 1939 in Feilding in the Manawatu), is a New Zealand-born cartoonist, has become known for his Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero (the longest running cartoon in Punch magazine), Bruce the Barbarian, All the King's Comrades (also in Punch) and the long-running Footrot Flats comic series. In 2002 Ball became an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for his services as a cartoonist.
Life and work
Ball grew up in New Zealand before spending some years in Australia and South Africa, where he attended Parktown Boys' High School and finished his education. As a young man he worked for the Dominion newspaper in Wellington and the Manawatu Times before becoming a freelance cartoonist and moving to Scotland, where he found work with publishers DC Thomson, of Dundee.
He developed his character Stanley and had it published in the influential English humour-magazine Punch. Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero featured a caveman who wore glasses and struggled with the Neolithic environment. It became the longest-running strip in Punch's history, and other English and non-English speaking countries syndicated it. Ball continued to contribute to Punch after returning with his family to New Zealand.
Ball's early cartoons often had political overtones (his mid-70s UK strips included All the King's Comrades, and he described himself in the introduction to The Sisterhood (1993) as a socialist. Stanley often expresses left-wing attitudes).
Ball lives with his wife Pam on a rural property in Gisborne, New Zealand. In an interview on Radio New Zealand National on 27 January 2016, Pam stated that Murray's health has been poor for the last six years, and that he now suffers from dementia.
After 1975 Ball wrote several comics in New Zealand (for instance 'Nature Calls'), but it was in 1976 that he first published the strip Footrot Flats in Wellington's afternoon newspaper, The Evening Post. It rapidly led to the demise of his other strips including 'Stanley' which he was still writing for Punch.
The strip follows the adventures of a working sheep-dog called (if anything) "Dog" or "The Dog" or "@*&#!", his owner Wal Footrot and the other characters, human and animal, that they encounter or associate with. Ball expresses Dog's thoughts in thought-bubbles, though he clearly remains "just a dog" (rather than the heavily anthropomorphised creatures sometimes found in other comics or animation). Dog also has alter-egos including "The Grey Ghost" and "The Iron Paw".
Ball's Footrot Flats has appeared in syndication in international newspapers, and in over 40 published books. Footrot Flats inspired a stage musical, a theme-park and New Zealand's first feature-length animated film, Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale (1986). Footrot Flats characters include Wal, Dog, Cooch, Cheeky Hobson, Aunt Dolly, Horse, Pongo, Rangi, Charlie, Major, Jess and the Murphy family of Irish and Hunk and Spit.
Footrot Flats features several remarkable traits: its expansive created-universe, complete with ancillary characters, things and places; the fact that the characters slowly but perceptibly age and mature throughout the twenty-year run of the comic; and the gradual encroachment of political themes over the years (particularly environmentalism and gentle parodies of feminism).
Ball has said he has always wanted his cartooning to have an impact. "The heart of a cartoon is the idea, an artist can create a painting, hang it on the wall and be satisfied with what he has achieved even if no-one else sees it. In cartooning you must get a human reaction to the idea. The task of the cartoonist is to translate his idea into a drawing that will have impact".
As well as collections of his cartoons Ball has written and illustrated a number of books:
- Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest, a satirical look at New Zealand rugby
- Migod! It's Bruce the Barbarian
- The People Makers' (1970)
- The Sisterhood (1993), a comical, but rather irate, masculist book, which caused some uproar at the time of publication
- The Flowering of Adam Budd (described as pornography in one review)
- Quentin Hankey: Traitor
- Tarzan, Gene Kelly And Me (2001) - approximately, an autobiography.
- Fred the (Quite) Brave Mouse
Ball has also written a large-format illustrated novel whose verse parodied the Australian bush-ballad as popularised by Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. Titled The Ballad of Footrot Flats, released around 1996, and originally intended as a second film-script, this work, the first new Footrot material to appear since 1994, proved the last of the Footrot series.
Murray Ball and Charles M. Schulz each admired the other's work. One Footrot Flats strip shows Dog laughing at a Snoopy cartoon. Schulz wrote the introduction to the only Footrot Flats published in the United States (it appeared as Footrot Flats there, but as Footrot Flats 4 in Australasia.)
- New Zealand literature
- Footrot Flats, comic strip written by Murray Ball
- Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale, 1986, animated film
- "Buy: Footrot Flats". Retrieved 2007-02-10.
- "Waitakere City Council: Report to the Mayor, 26 February 2003, page 17" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-02-10.
- Murray Ball