Murray Ball was a cartoonist from New-Zealand, who was best-known for his newspaper comic 'Footrot Flats' (1976-1994) and his many contributions to Punch magazine.
Born in 1939 as Murray Hone Ball in Feilding, he spent the early part of his life in New Zealand, and then spent a couple of years in Australia and South Africa. His started cartooning during his childhood, copying Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera's 'Tom & Jerry' characters, and he maintained an interest in cartooning throughout his youth. As a young man, he worked for the Wellington-based newspaper The Dominion and for the Manawatu Times. In 1968, Ball and his family moved to Scotland, he went to work as a reporter, cartoonist and teacher. He had several comic strips published in the satirical magazine Punch. 'Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero' was the longest-running strip in the history of Punch, and was also syndicated in the US, Australia, New Guinea and Italy. The main character was a bespectacled, left-wing caveman, through which Ball could express his socialist opinions. Ball's other comic strip for Punch was 'All the King's Comrades'. His comic 'Bruce the Barbarian' was published in the English Labour Weekly.
Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero
Ball also found work with the British comic book publishers DC Thomson and IPC, creating features like 'Boss of the Backyards' (1972) for The Dandy, 'Thor Thumb' (1972), 'Janet the Gannet' (1978) and 'Ghastly Manor' (1980) for The Topper, 'My Pal Cuddles' and 'The Cheddar Mob' for Bunty, and 'The Chumpions' for Cor!!. After five years, Ball returned with his family to New Zealand, continuing to submit work to Punch until a postal strike put a stop to that as a source of regular income.
Back in his home country, Ball made comic strips like 'Nature Calls', but real success came in 1976 with his comic strip 'Footrot Flats'. Set on a mythical New Zealand farm, the strip focused on the adventures of an always optimistic farm dog, his owner Wallace (Wal) Footrot, and the various creatures that inhabited the countryside. The strip made its first appearances in the Evening Post, and its success quickly forced Ball to quit his other strips. It was eventually published in newspapers from Australia, the UK and Scandinavia as well. The strip's popularity was at its peak in the mid 1980s, with book collections selling millions of copies throughout the country. A musical based on the strip was first performed in 1983, and has continued to be staged since then. 'Footrots Flats' had the honour to be the subject of New Zealand's first feature-length animated film, 'Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale' (1986), which Ball directed himself. There was also a theme park based on the series in Auckland, New Zealand. 'Footrot Flats' ran until 1994, and during the strip's 28-year run, the characters had aged and matured with it.
Murray Ball was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services as a cartoonist in 2002. He retired from cartooning in 2010, as he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He lived and worked in Gisborne, in the North Island of New Zealand, where he passed away 12 March 2017, at the age of 78.
Murray Ball has left a lasting mark on New-Zealand and Australian cartooning, especially on his longtime collaborator Tom Scott. But he has also received praise outside of his home country. Ball and 'Peanuts' creator Charles M. Schulz had a mutual admiration of each other's work.
Murray Ball in 1996