Murray Hone Ball (1939-2017): A Legacy in Cartooning

Murray Hone Ball: A Legacy in Cartooning

Murray Hone Ball, born on January 26, 1939, in Feilding, New Zealand, left an indelible mark on the world of cartooning. Renowned for creating iconic characters like Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero and Bruce the Barbarian, he achieved unparalleled success with the long-running and beloved Footrot Flats comic series. Ball’s impact as a cartoonist extended beyond New Zealand, gaining international recognition for his wit, humor, and insightful commentary. This article explores the life, work, and enduring legacy of Murray Hone Ball.

Murray Hone Ball

Born: 26 January 1939, Feilding, New Zealand

Died: 12 March 2017 (aged 78), Gisborne, New Zealand

Nationality: New Zealander

Occupation: Cartoonist

Notable Work: Footrot Flats

Education: Parktown Boys’ High School

Awards: Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2002)

Notable Characters: Stanley, Dog (Footrot Flats)

Political Stance: Left-wing, anti-apartheid

Impact on Cartooning: Advocated for cartoons to have a human reaction

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Early Life and Career

Murray Hone Ball’s journey began in Feilding, where he was born to Nelson Ball, a notable All-Black rugby player. Growing up in New Zealand, Ball spent several years in Australia and South Africa. His educational journey led him to Parktown Boys’ High School, and after completing his education, he embarked on a career that would make him a household name.

In 1959, Murray Ball showcased his versatility by playing for the Junior All Blacks as a “first five-eighth” (number 10) in rugby. However, his transition to the world of cartooning would define his lifelong passion and leave an enduring legacy.

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Stanley, the Palaeolithic Hero

Ball’s artistic journey took an international turn when he moved to Scotland and found work with DC Thomson, a prominent publisher based in Dundee. Here, he introduced the world to Stanley, the Palaeolithic Hero, a caveman grappling with the challenges of the Neolithic environment while sporting a distinctive pair of glasses. Published in the influential English humor magazine Punch, Stanley became the longest-running strip in the magazine’s history, captivating audiences in English-speaking countries and beyond linguistic barriers.

Despite his success, Ball’s early cartoons often carried political overtones. His mid-70s UK strips, including All the King’s Comrades, reflected left-wing attitudes. Ball was a self-proclaimed socialist and an outspoken critic of apartheid during his time in South Africa. However, he also faced criticism, particularly on issues related to gender identity, feminism, transgenderism, and abortion.

In 2002, Murray Ball received the New Zealand Order of Merit, recognizing his significant contributions as a cartoonist.

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Footrot Flats: A Kiwi Classic

While Ball had various successful comics in New Zealand, it was in 1976 that he created his magnum opus – the iconic Footrot Flats. Published in Wellington’s The Evening Post, the strip gained immense popularity, leading to the discontinuation of his other works, including Stanley. The strip followed the escapades of a working sheepdog known simply as “Dog,” his owner Wal Footrot, and a cast of charming human and animal characters.

Footrot Flats quickly transcended national borders and achieved international syndication, appearing in newspapers worldwide. The enduring appeal of the series led to over 40 published books, a stage musical, a theme park, and New Zealand’s first feature-length animated film, “Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale” (1986).

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One of the unique aspects of Footrot Flats was its expansive created universe. Ball meticulously crafted ancillary characters, places, and things, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the world he had brought to life. Another distinctive feature was the gradual inclusion of political themes over the years, addressing environmentalism and offering gentle parodies of feminism.

Ball’s dedication to impactful cartoons was evident in his own words: “The heart of a cartoon is the idea. In cartooning, you must get a human reaction to the idea. The cartoonist’s task is to translate his idea into a drawing that will have an impact.”

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Legacy and Tributes

Murray Hone Ball’s initial impact extended far beyond the realm of cartooning. His influence on Australian cartoonists was acknowledged, with President of the Australian Cartoonists Association Jules Faber expressing, “Murray was a great influence to many Australian cartoonists and will be long remembered by his friends across the sea here in Australia.”

A longtime friend and collaborator, Tom Scott, remembered Ball as “funny and goofy and generous” and “incredibly serious about inequality.” Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, paid tribute to Ball’s brilliance, stating, “Sheer brilliance.”

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Personal Life and Later Years

Murray Ball shared his life with his wife Pam on a rural property in Gisborne, New Zealand. Unfortunately, his later years were marked by health challenges. In an interview in 2016, Pam revealed that Murray had had dementia for the past six years. On March 12, 2017, the world bid farewell to a cartooning legend as, Murray Hone Ball died. His wife and children survive him.

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Bibliography: More Than Just Cartoons

In addition to his cartoon collections, Murray Ball authored and illustrated eight books that showcased his diverse talents:

  1. Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest: A satirical look at New Zealand rugby.
  2. Migod! It’s Bruce the Barbarian: Pitting Bruce, a socialist warrior from Footrot Flats, against the wealthy upper classes of the ancient Roman Empire.
  3. The People Makers (1970): A humorous account of Ball’s teaching time.
  4. Quentin Hankey: Traitor (1986): Political satire revolving around Clinton Hankey, a nationalist and born antihero crusading for a brave new world.
  5. The Sisterhood (1993): A controversial political work critical of contemporary feminism.
  6. The Flowering of Adam Budd (1998): A coming-of-age story.
  7. Tarzan, Gene Kelly And Me (2001): Approximately an autobiography.
  8. Fred the (Quite) Brave Mouse: A children’s book about a mouse in love.

Ball’s literary repertoire also included a large-format illustrated novel titled “The Ballad of Footrot Flats” (1996), which parodied the Australian bush-ballad style popularized by Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. Although initially intended as a film script, this work became the last addition to the Footrot series and was the first new Footrot material published since 1994.

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Shared Admiration with Charles M. Schulz

Murray Ball and Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, shared a mutual admiration for each other’s work. The dog is shown laughing at a Snoopy cartoon in one memorable Footrot Flats strip. Schulz even wrote the introduction to the only Footrot Flats published in the United States.

Murray Hone Ball’s legacy endures through the laughter, wit, and social commentary embedded in his cartoons. His impact on the world of cartooning and the hearts of readers worldwide remains an everlasting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to making people smile. Murray Hone Ball’s cartoons continue to live on, reminding us that a single idea can have a lasting impact on humanity when translated into a drawing.

FAQs about Murray Hone Ball

1. Who was Murray Hone Ball?

Murray Hone Ball ONZM (January 26, 1939 – March 12, 2017) was a renowned New Zealand cartoonist known for contributing to Punch magazine and creating the iconic Footrot Flats comic series.

2. What are Murray Hone Ball’s notable works?

Ball created Stanley, the Palaeolithic Hero, Bruce the Barbarian, and All the King’s Comrades. However, he is best known for the long-running Footrot Flats comic series.

3. When and where was Murray Ball born?

Murray Ball was born on January 26, 1939, in Feilding, New Zealand.

4. What was Murray Ball’s educational background and early career?

He spent some years in Australia and South Africa, attended Parktown Boys’ High School, and played for the Junior All Blacks in 1959. Before becoming a freelance cartoonist, he worked for newspapers like Dominion and Manawatu Times.

5. What was Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero, and where was it published?

Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero was a cartoon strip featuring a caveman published in Punch magazine, becoming the longest-running strip in Punch’s history.

6. What political themes were present in Murray Ball’s early cartoons?

Ball’s mid-70s UK strips, like All the King’s Comrades, often had political overtones. Stanley, the central character, expressed left-wing attitudes.

7. What are the notable characters in Footrot Flats?

Footrot Flats follows the adventures of a working sheepdog called “Dog,” his owner Wal Footrot, and other characters like Cooch, Cheeky Hobson, Aunt Dolly, and more.

8. How did Footrot Flats evolve?

The comic’s notable traits include its expansive universe, characters aging over the run, and the gradual inclusion of political themes, including environmentalism and parodies of feminism.

9. What awards and honors did Murray Ball receive?

In 2002, Murray Ball was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services as a cartoonist.

10. What was Murray Ball’s impact on cartooning?

Murray Ball aimed for cartoons to have an impact, emphasizing the importance of eliciting a human reaction to the idea behind the cartoon.

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Written by Tor Alosson

I am a passionate writer with a deep love for exploring diverse topics. My writing endeavors span a broad spectrum, allowing me to delve into various subjects enthusiastically and curiously. From the human experience's intricacies to the natural world's wonders, I find joy in crafting words that bring these subjects to life. My creative journey knows no bounds, and I embrace the opportunity to share my thoughts, stories, and insights on everything that piques my interest. Writing is my gateway to endless exploration, a realm where I can freely express my thoughts and ideas and connect with others who share my appreciation for the written word.

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