By Murray Ball (Titan Books)
You may or may not have heard of Footrot Flats. For one of the most successfully syndicated strips in the world, it seems to have passed from memory with staggering rapidity. Created by Murray Ball on his return to his homeland of New Zealand, it ran from 1975 to 1994 in newspapers on four continents. Thereafter books of new material were released until 2000, resulting in 27 daily strip collections, 8 volumes of Sunday pages, and 5 pocket books, plus ancillary publications. There was a stage musical, a theme park and a truly superb animated film Footrot Flats: The Dogâ€™s Tail Tale.
The well travelled Murray Ball moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch as well as drawing strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway plus a strip in Labour Weekly. Resettling in New Zealand in 1974, Ball was busier than ever. He bought a small-holding on the North Island and farmed in his spare time (for anyone not brought up in the country that last bit was called â€œSarcasmâ€). This inevitably led to the strip in question. Taking the adage â€œwrite what you knowâ€ to startling heights, the peripatetic artist promptly gave up sleeping altogether to craft these wickedly funny yarns about an oaf and his dog, and I for one will be eternally grateful
Wallace Footrot Cadwallader is a big, bluff farmer. Heâ€™s a regular bloke, likes his food; loves his Rugby. He owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) best described as â€œ400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Seaâ€. With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass, and a sheepdog who calls himself â€œDogâ€ he makes a living and is his own boss. Dog is the star (and narrator) of most of the strips: a cool know-all and blowhard, heâ€™s utterly devoted to Wal – unless thereâ€™s food about or Jess (the sheepdog bitch from down the road) is in heat again.
Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, the humour comes from the perfectly realised characters, human and otherwise, the tough life of a bachelor farmer and especially the country itself.
The cartooning is absolutely top-rate. Ball is one of those gifted few who can actually draw funnily. When combined with his sharp, incisive writing the result is pure magic. Iâ€™m reviewing the 1990 Titan Books edition, but the same material is readily available from a number of publishers and retailers. If Iâ€™ve convinced you to give the Dog a go, your favourite search engine will be all the help you needâ€¦ Go on. Fetch!
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