The cartoonist's tale

Footrot Flats was but one aspect of the Gisborne artist's work.

Footrot Flats was but one aspect of the Gisborne artist's work.

GOODBYE MY FRIEND: Auckland-based freelance cartoonist Malcolm Evans describes Ball as a great bloke and penned this witty farewell to him.
Tributes also from fellow cartoonist Guy Body ...
and Rod Emmerson.
Murray Ball
Murray Ball
Murray Ball
Murray Ball
Murray Ball
Murray Ball
Stanley

FOOTROT Flats is the late Murray Ball’s most popular and most well-known series but the Gisborne cartoonist’s signature style evolved through many characters. Much of his work is threaded with political themes.

Ball’s interest in drawing began at an early age.

“He started by copying Walt Disney characters — Tom and Jerry and that sort of thing,” writes Bob Temuka in his New Zealand and Australian cartoonist-themed blog.

“He listened to rugby matches on the radio as a boy. If the Lions were playing the Springboks he would draw little lions to illustrate the match.”

In the early days of his career, Ball felt he did not develop a real cartoonist’s technique until he worked as a children’s comic illustrator in Britain, says Temuka.

In the 1970s the young cartoonist illustrated comics such as Beano and Dandy where he ghosted Billy Bunter and Desperate Dan comic strips. He also created several characters of his own like Thor Thumb, a small boy-Viking with a magic hammer.

During his “apprenticeship” with the British comics, Ball was only allowed to draw with pencil.

Graduating to pen

After a few years he was allowed to graduate to a pen.

His first attempt at getting published was about a decade earlier when the 22-year-old Ball sailed to England where he wrote and submitted his first illustrated story. This was about a mouse who disappears without trace. On his return to New Zealand in 1962, he was employed as a staff cartoonist by Wellington-based newspaper The Dominion.

In 1963, he met a young English woman, Pam, in South Africa. Ball and Pam married in England the following year. When the couple moved back to Wellington, Ball earned four guineas a week drawing cartoons for national tabloid, The Truth. In 1965 he trained as a teacher and worked as a teacher at Whitianga’s Mercury Bay Area School.

The influence of British cartoonist Ronald Searle can be seen in Ball’s early work. Searle was the hand behind the popular St Trinian’s comic strip series in which the boarding school’s teachers are sadists and the girls are juvenile delinquents.

In Ball’s Murky Inlet School Form 1/2 class photo cartoon, the students are mostly barefooted Kiwi kids while the beak-nosed, wire-haired teacher in his black jacket, striped tie, specs and shorts has one walk-socked foot in New Zealand and the other in Britain.

Then in 1967, at the age of 28, Ball published his Kiwi classic, Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, a satirical look at New Zealand rugby with the great All Black versus British Lions rivalry in mind. The cover design features a large All Black rugby player and a small supporter. Standing on a shoreline, the supporter yells to the world “We are the greatest!” Ball neatly captures Kiwi pride in the All Blacks rugby team as well as a sense of New Zealand’s isolation.

As a freelance cartoonist in the late 1960s, Ball submitted cartoons to the prestigious satirical magazine Punch, and other publications. He produced The Peoplemakers, and Bruce the Barbarian — a hairy-chested Viking-like figure with a grinning-tiki emblazoned shield — in 1970.

Published by Punch

In the same decade, Ball had two cartoon strips published by Punch magazine: Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero, the magazine’s longest-running cartoon; and The King’s Comrades.

Satirical strips such as Stanley, Bruce the Barbarian, and All The King’s Comrades helped Otago University lecturer in politics, Bryce Edwards, think about some of the bigger political questions and issues in life. All The King’s Comrades featured a diminutive, tyrannical, black-cigar smoking executive.

Stanley, the long-running series about a glasses-wearing caveman who struggled with his Neolithic times was overtly political, and expressed Ball’s more socialist politics, writes Edwards in the New Zealand Herald.

“The cartoon continually raised big questions about how society is run, particularly in regard to the division of resources, inequality, wars between countries, and unnecessary suffering of ordinary people. But, of course, it was always done in an extremely funny and sometimes light-hearted way.

“In a sense, he was one of New Zealand’s truly great anti-Establishment thinkers.”

By 1974, Ball and Pam were back in New Zealand where Stanley was accepted as a regular feature in The Listener. In the Stanley drawings — and in Kids (1975), which also appeared in the New Zealand Listener — is the stronger line and style of characterisation familiar to us from Footrot Flats.

A precursor to Wal’s girlfriend Cheeky Hobson even appears in Stanley’s Neolithic world.

From 1976, Footrot Flats ran in The Evening Post, The Waikato Times and The Christchurch Press. It was also picked up by other newspapers in New Zealand and Australia. The first Footrot Flats book was published in 1978.

Impact on others

Ball’s work had a significant impact on many New Zealand cartoonists, including Tom Scott.

In the Dominion-Post, Scott recalls his exhilaration on first encountering Ball’s early editorial cartoons in the Manawatu Times.

“They were nothing like the stolid, insipid, reactionary offering in other newspapers. They burst off the page with a rude energy and undeniable humanity. Imagine a Giles cartoon if Giles had dropped acid.”

Scott goes on to pay this homage to Ball.

“Through all weathers, in all seasons and over time in Footrot Flats Murray created a world every bit as delicate and true as a Katherine Mansfield short story, every bit as visceral and unsentimental as a Ronald Hugh Morrieson or Barry Crump novel, every bit as whimsical and nonsensical as a John Clarke or Billy T James comedy routine (both of whom appeared in his film) and visually every bit as arresting and instantly recognisable as a Rita Angus or Toss Woollaston painting.

“To borrow from Dave Dobbyn, Murray gave us a slice of heaven.”

FOOTROT Flats is the late Murray Ball’s most popular and most well-known series but the Gisborne cartoonist’s signature style evolved through many characters. Much of his work is threaded with political themes.

Ball’s interest in drawing began at an early age.

“He started by copying Walt Disney characters — Tom and Jerry and that sort of thing,” writes Bob Temuka in his New Zealand and Australian cartoonist-themed blog.

“He listened to rugby matches on the radio as a boy. If the Lions were playing the Springboks he would draw little lions to illustrate the match.”

In the early days of his career, Ball felt he did not develop a real cartoonist’s technique until he worked as a children’s comic illustrator in Britain, says Temuka.

In the 1970s the young cartoonist illustrated comics such as Beano and Dandy where he ghosted Billy Bunter and Desperate Dan comic strips. He also created several characters of his own like Thor Thumb, a small boy-Viking with a magic hammer.

During his “apprenticeship” with the British comics, Ball was only allowed to draw with pencil.

Graduating to pen

After a few years he was allowed to graduate to a pen.

His first attempt at getting published was about a decade earlier when the 22-year-old Ball sailed to England where he wrote and submitted his first illustrated story. This was about a mouse who disappears without trace. On his return to New Zealand in 1962, he was employed as a staff cartoonist by Wellington-based newspaper The Dominion.

In 1963, he met a young English woman, Pam, in South Africa. Ball and Pam married in England the following year. When the couple moved back to Wellington, Ball earned four guineas a week drawing cartoons for national tabloid, The Truth. In 1965 he trained as a teacher and worked as a teacher at Whitianga’s Mercury Bay Area School.

The influence of British cartoonist Ronald Searle can be seen in Ball’s early work. Searle was the hand behind the popular St Trinian’s comic strip series in which the boarding school’s teachers are sadists and the girls are juvenile delinquents.

In Ball’s Murky Inlet School Form 1/2 class photo cartoon, the students are mostly barefooted Kiwi kids while the beak-nosed, wire-haired teacher in his black jacket, striped tie, specs and shorts has one walk-socked foot in New Zealand and the other in Britain.

Then in 1967, at the age of 28, Ball published his Kiwi classic, Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, a satirical look at New Zealand rugby with the great All Black versus British Lions rivalry in mind. The cover design features a large All Black rugby player and a small supporter. Standing on a shoreline, the supporter yells to the world “We are the greatest!” Ball neatly captures Kiwi pride in the All Blacks rugby team as well as a sense of New Zealand’s isolation.

As a freelance cartoonist in the late 1960s, Ball submitted cartoons to the prestigious satirical magazine Punch, and other publications. He produced The Peoplemakers, and Bruce the Barbarian — a hairy-chested Viking-like figure with a grinning-tiki emblazoned shield — in 1970.

Published by Punch

In the same decade, Ball had two cartoon strips published by Punch magazine: Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero, the magazine’s longest-running cartoon; and The King’s Comrades.

Satirical strips such as Stanley, Bruce the Barbarian, and All The King’s Comrades helped Otago University lecturer in politics, Bryce Edwards, think about some of the bigger political questions and issues in life. All The King’s Comrades featured a diminutive, tyrannical, black-cigar smoking executive.

Stanley, the long-running series about a glasses-wearing caveman who struggled with his Neolithic times was overtly political, and expressed Ball’s more socialist politics, writes Edwards in the New Zealand Herald.

“The cartoon continually raised big questions about how society is run, particularly in regard to the division of resources, inequality, wars between countries, and unnecessary suffering of ordinary people. But, of course, it was always done in an extremely funny and sometimes light-hearted way.

“In a sense, he was one of New Zealand’s truly great anti-Establishment thinkers.”

By 1974, Ball and Pam were back in New Zealand where Stanley was accepted as a regular feature in The Listener. In the Stanley drawings — and in Kids (1975), which also appeared in the New Zealand Listener — is the stronger line and style of characterisation familiar to us from Footrot Flats.

A precursor to Wal’s girlfriend Cheeky Hobson even appears in Stanley’s Neolithic world.

From 1976, Footrot Flats ran in The Evening Post, The Waikato Times and The Christchurch Press. It was also picked up by other newspapers in New Zealand and Australia. The first Footrot Flats book was published in 1978.

Impact on others

Ball’s work had a significant impact on many New Zealand cartoonists, including Tom Scott.

In the Dominion-Post, Scott recalls his exhilaration on first encountering Ball’s early editorial cartoons in the Manawatu Times.

“They were nothing like the stolid, insipid, reactionary offering in other newspapers. They burst off the page with a rude energy and undeniable humanity. Imagine a Giles cartoon if Giles had dropped acid.”

Scott goes on to pay this homage to Ball.

“Through all weathers, in all seasons and over time in Footrot Flats Murray created a world every bit as delicate and true as a Katherine Mansfield short story, every bit as visceral and unsentimental as a Ronald Hugh Morrieson or Barry Crump novel, every bit as whimsical and nonsensical as a John Clarke or Billy T James comedy routine (both of whom appeared in his film) and visually every bit as arresting and instantly recognisable as a Rita Angus or Toss Woollaston painting.

“To borrow from Dave Dobbyn, Murray gave us a slice of heaven.”

On Sunday at 6.15pm the Odeon will pay tribute to the late Murray Ball with a screening of The Dogs Tale. Proceeds will go to Alzheimers Gisborne.

For more information about Murray Ball and Footrot Flats, visit the website.

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