“Murray Ball – a Cartoonist’s Life” by Mason Ball, published by HarperCollins. Price $45. Reviewed by Tony Orman.
Every good keen man, particularly those of half a century for more vintage, will remember fondly Footrot Flats a highly popular comic strip that ran from 1976 to 1994 in New Zealand newspapers. Also there were collections of the cartoons in book form – 27 in all – 8 more books collecting the Sunday newspaper strips, a stage musical and an animated feature film.
The man behind the Footrot Flats success was Murray Ball, a son of an All Black and a very good Manawatu rep centre three-quarter himself who became a Junior All Black and never quite made the national All Blacks team.
Growing up in the Manawatu, I witnessed many games in which Murray Ball played. Often he would outplay All Blacks in opposition provincial sides. Suffice to say, there have been much inferior players who did become All Blacks. The problem was Murray Ball did not play in any of the four big centres and in those days that was an obstacle to All Black stardom.
Disappointed not to join his father as an All Black, Murray and his wife eventually retreated to rural Gisborne, firstly school teaching, then as his cartoon strips began to gain praise and more publishings in both New Zealand and Australia, he became a full time cartoonist.
In this book Murray’s son Mason tells of how his father’s journey to success.
“It was not really until my father died that I reflected on his remarkable life and when I did my impulse was to record what I knew, as a testament to him,” Mason says.
The comic strips protagonist is a border-collie sheep dog known as “the Dog.” Wal is the farmer, black singlet and gumboot in the Fred Dagg mould. The humour draws on the farming frustrations of Wal and Dog’s wry comments.
The book is extremely readable and Mason adeptly paints a picture of his father, foibles and attributes, talent and achievements. It is a portrait of not just the cartoonist but a dedicated family man, somewhat reclusive by nature yet who was politically alert and had strong beliefs and principles.
“I miss him dearly and enjoyed cataloguing moments I had witnessed and which we had shared,” writes Mason.
Mason Ball writes clearly and candidly and warmly and enhanced by numerous photos and cartoons the book earns a high recommendation.