News People Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball dies aged 78
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Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball dies aged 78

Murray Ball
The creator of Dog, Horse, Wal and other much-loved characters in the New Zealand newspaper cartoon Footrot Flats has died. Photo: AAP
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Murray Ball, the New Zealand cartoonist whose much-loved comic strip Footrot Flats was syndicated in newspapers around the world, has died aged 78.

Ball had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his wife Pam, and children.

The cartoons, which featured the characters Dog, Horse and Wal, ran from 1976 until 1994 in newspapers and were released in book form. They even spawned a musical, an animated film and a theme park.

Tributes to Ball were flowing on Sunday, with many describing the iconic cartoon strip as a quintessential part of growing up in New Zealand.

“Saddened to learn of the death of Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball, a thoughtful NZer who took our unique sense of humour to the world,” New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English wrote on Twitter.

The central character was Wal Footrot’s sheepdog called “Dog” whose thoughts were voiced in thought bubbles.

The cartoons depicted farming life and addressed big issues of the times.

In 1986 the feature film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s (Tail) Tale and its theme song Slice of Heaven by Dave Dobbyn were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia.

As the characters developed, Ball’s cartoons appeared in over 200 papers in New Zealand and Australia.

Ball’s desire was to use his characters to “change the world”.

Murray Ball cartoon Footrot Flats
Cover of a Murray Ball’s book, titled Footrot Flats. Photo: Supplied/ABC

The main character – border collie Dog – saw himself as intelligent and tough, however, he was often quite soft and cowardly.

Even though he has a real name, he despises it and never allows anyone to reveal it.

Ball stopped drawing the cartoon in 1995, saying the Dog character would by then be old.

In 1986, his drawing of a NZ fur seal pup was adopted by the United Nations for the International Year of Peace, and in 2002 he received the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to cartooning.

Pam Ball said her husband had been ill for about six years.

“He’s slowly declining you know, it’s one of these dementia things, we just have to make the most of Murray,” she said in an interview with Radio New Zealand in January 2016, according to stuff.co.nz.

“It’s very sad.”

Friend and long-time collaborator Tom Scott told the New Zealand Herald he received a call on Sunday afternoon to say Ball had passed away.

“He was being nursed at home for a terrible illness,” he said.

“He was an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life, with a full head of hair.”

NZ comedian Cal Wilson paid tribute to ball on Twitter.

“What a huge part of my childhood,” she said.

Ball’s passing follows the death of Australian newspaper cartoonist Bill Leak, who died last week, aged 61.

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