Footrot Flats

Footrot Flats

"Footrot Flats" was a comic strip written by New Zealand cartoonist Murray Ball. It ran from 1975 until 1994 in newspapers around the world, though the unpublished strips continued to be released in book form until 2000. Altogether there are 27 numbered books (collecting the newspaper strips, with additional material), a further 8 books collecting the Sunday newspaper strips, and 5 smaller 'pocket' books of original material, plus various related publications. There was also a stage musical, an animated feature film called "", and even a theme park in New Zealand. The strip reached its peak of popularity in the mid 1980's, with the books selling millions of copies in Australasia. At various times, Ball cited different reasons for quitting the strip, including the death of his own dog, and his displeasure with the direction of New Zealand politics.

The cartoon was based around the life of Wal Footrot's sheep dog, "Dog", on their farm Footrot Flats (hence the title), and the other characters, human and animal, that came into their lives. Dog's thoughts are voiced in thought bubbles, though he is clearly "just a dog" rather than the heavily anthromorphised creatures sometimes found in other comics or animation. The humour was based around the foibles of the characters, which many, particularly farmers themselves, found easy to recognise around them. There was much "humour in adversity", making fun of the daily struggle that permeates farming life. The depictions of the animals are quite realistic and detailed, with a dose of comic anthropomorphism superimposed without spoiling the farming realism.

Main Characters

;"The Dog" : The main character of the book, a Border Collie. Thinks of himself as tough, but is really quite soft and often cowardly. He has a real name (given to him by Aunt Dolly) but despises it and has never allowed anyone to reveal it. Wal always calls him "Dog", gaining loyal devotion. Often put to use to guard things or get rid of rats or pigs - which he fails to do. However, he is a competent sheepdog. He also has a couple of alter egos, "The Scarlet Manuka" (who attempts to 'liberate' cricket balls from being hit by Wal and his team), "Mitey Iron Paw" and "the Grey Ghost of The Forest", that appear from time to time. Was the mascot of the All Blacks for a few seasons. The inspiration for The Dog supposedly came from Ball's own farm-dog, Finn (a little hard to explain, since the strip had already been running for several years when Finn was born). Apparently Ball originally did select a name for the dog but decided to never reveal it. There is a Mary Sue touch about the Dog.

;Wallace Cadwallader "Wal" Footrot : Wallace Footrot was born on the 26th of January in Northern Manawatu. He was educated at Apiti Primary School and later Foxton Agricultural High, where he excelled at tractor reversing and rooster imitations. Wallace established an outstanding relationship with muscovy ducks, but unfortunately failed completely with geese. Indeed he seemed to have an uncanny knack of irritating them. Wallace took a full part in all school activities. He displayed a promising right cross during his time in the front row of the 2nd XV, but was unable to transfer this ability to the boxing ring. He rather let the side down during the inter-school championshipss by throwing in the sponge, which knocked the referee's glasses crooked. He was disqualified. On leaving school, he acquired 400 acres of swamp between the Ureweras and the sea. He is unmarried, although he has an interest in Darlene "Cheeky" Hobson, who works in the Ladies Hairdressers at Raupo.

;Socrates "Cooch" Windgrass : Runs the farm next to Wal, has compassion for all living creatures and things and thus has a natural way with animals. But he is no vegetarian. Owns a pet Magpie called Pew who is constantly attacking Wal (Wal chopped down his family's nest tree, orphaning Pew and making him a 'social misfit'). Cooch never drives a tractor, preferring to plod along on his Clydesdales. He is Wal's best friend. Murray Ball describes Cooch as 'eccentric, NOT an idiot!', having based the character on two people he knows.

;Darlene "Cheeky" Hobson : Wal's girlfriend. Works at a hair salon. Cheeky is despised by the Dog, who is always looking for a way to come between her and Wal. Near the end of the strip's run, she and Wal become engaged, but at the last minute she dumps Wal to move out of town with a male stripper.

;Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones : A local boy who often appears on the farm to give Wal a hand. He first encountered The Dog to use his skin as a fur coat. As a testimony to Murray Ball's skill as an artist, the character of Rangi actually grew up over the years in the book, appearing slightly older in each book from being a little kid to a teenager.

;Janice "Pongo" Footrot : Wal's niece, daughter of Rex Footrot. Like Rangi, she aged during the book. She starts off very much a stereotyped girl, dressing up the Dog in a pram and playing dolls, however she slowly turned into a strong pro-feminist. She insists that she was nicknamed Pongo because she was good at ping pong, not because she ponged as a baby ("Anyway, babies don't smell, MUCH!")

;Dolores Monrovia Godwit "Aunt Dolly" Footrot : Wal's aunt (by marriage). She was born in Cambridge Waikato and was the second daughter of Edward George Bogg and Fiona Godwit Symington. She was educated at Lady Hinema Sacks-Grenville School for Young Ladies and was a prefect, captain of hockey, lacrosse and boxing. Her first cat was Archibald II and she owns a cat home (where Dog was born) in Tauranga. She is very conservative and does not like Wal being with Cheeky at all. But under her strictness she has a kind heart and takes to mothering abandoned lambs in the winter. Dog despises her for giving him his name — which he does not reveal. It is revealed in Footrot Flats Gallery 3 that she was once married to Archi "Toey" Footrot, a barber. Unfortunately he ran off to Australia with "A dumb but decorative darts stall owner with masses of black hair."

;Horse : A large, fierce and practically invincible cat, based on a cat Murray Ball owned. In Book 7 there's a brief ode to Horse written in the front pages, to commemorate the real Horse's passing. The character is a menace to Dog and the other characters, resisting attempts to be tamed by Aunt Dolly or others. He has a girlfriend (Fred) who frequents with a Bikie gang and loves leather. Occasionally fathers kittens. He and Dog frequently cross paths which end up with the Dog on the short end. Horse "spoke" a little in the earlier comics, but in later ones he mainly spoke out via actions and yowls. Later the irascible tomcat Horse became Dog's main nemesis (and sometime ally).

;Prince Charles : A VERY spoilt Welsh Corgi owned by Aunt Dolly. Has a higher view on life from listening to Aunt Dolly and living inside. Often there are "class" clashes between him and Dog. He is easily stirred and the Dog usually has to explain to him the rougher aspects of farm life — like livestock mating and maggots eating without gravy.

The characters are invariably known by their nicknames, such as Cooch, Pongo, Rangi, and Aunt Dolly.

Minor characters

;Rex : Wals younger brother who lives in town and is a potter. Rex is better than Wal at sports and they often compete with Wal coming out for the worst. He also owns Bobsie, The Dog's mum.;Bobsie : The Dog's mother. She is a breeding dog owned by Wals younger brother Rex.;Flash: The Dog's father. The dog idolises Flash and even dares to tell him his name, which makes Flash vomit. ;Puti Puti : Rangi's Cousin. A city slicker, often gains a culture shock when coming to the farm. Usually confuses Dog who attempts to be hip like the city dogs.;Pew : Cooch's pet magpie. Orphaned when Wal cut down his parents' tree; Socially confused and always seeking revenge.;Jess : Cooch's dog as well as the Dog's girlfriend and co-parent. She mainly lives in the "Bitches Box" and has had several litters of puppies with the Dog. The Dog's Tail Tale contains the story of them meeting as puppies.;Cooch's cousin Kathy : A beautiful, occasional visitor to Cooch and Wal. Her face remains a mystery as she is always drawn facing away from the reader. Loved by everyone, including the dog and especially Cooch.;Stewart "Irish" Murphy : Wal's other neighbour. Always appears filthy, probably due to farming numerous pigs, which cause Wal plenty of grief. Has two loutish sons; Hunk and Spit. There is also Lex Murphy, who we know to be Hunk's nephew.;"Irish" Murphy's pigs : A fearsome gang of five or six enormous beasts. Often lurk in the nearby river, causing consternation to unsuspecting fishermen or dogs. Always ravenous, they once defeated and ate some large sharks that swam up the estuary.;Tiger, Wolf and Creampuff, "Irish" Murphy's pig-dogs : They often terrorise Dog who seeks help from Wal, Horse or Major. Now and then Dog tries to take all three of them on at once.;Major : Wal's first dog. A hunting dog, very stern and usually foul-tempered. But has some fondness for Dog, often saving him from Murphy's dogs.;Hermit Ram "The Buffalo" : This character appears now and then. It's a ram that's run off from the group and lives in the scrub of the farm. Now and then it appears with interest in the female sheep and Dog is often sent to stop it. Now and then it's hunted — but often outdoes its pursuers.;Cecil the Ram : An aged stud ram, who patently lacks zest for the task of servicing Wal's ewes. He soon rediscovers his libido when Wal sharpens the butchery knife.;The Goat : The third strongest animal on the farm (the first being Horse and the second Aunt Dolly), The Goat lives tethered to a chain in Wal's backyard. The Goat is a pest, eating trousers and chasing the Dog and Wal. At one point Wal tried to get rid of it by selling it, but when he couldn't he decided to kill it. He couldn't do it exclaiming "dammit, I know this goat!". Didn't have many appearances at first, but soon became more popular in the strip.;Cooch's goats : A cunning pack of goats that use gang tactics to annoy Wal. For example if he plants trees behind a fence, Cooch's goats will stand on each other to get over and eat them. The dog often has to muster Cooch's goats and hates doing so.;Wal's unruly goose : Another classic character would be Wal's goose, who occasionally stalks Wal and bites Wal's butt all the time. In the film "The Dog's Tale", the goose is seen now and then, making an attempt to bite Wal in the farm and finally gets his chance when Wal rescues Murphy from a river.;Other hostile animals : In the early strip, the Dog's main tormentors were the Turkey, Goat, and Pigs (Boris and Dolores). In one strip, the Goose is chasing Wal and the Turkey is chasing the Dog, but Wal kicks the Turkey's head in and the Dog jumps on the Goose's neck, then Wal and the Dog celebrate their partnership.


Sport plays a major part in Footrot Flats. Wal plays all sorts of sports including cricket, golf, fishing, rugby union, tennis and many more. The dog often plays with Wal and an ongoing joke in the strip is how Wal can never beat his little brother Rex in any sport.

Wal plays for the Raupo rugby club as a hooker and is often seen playing and training in the strip. At one point Wal was replaced by a younger man as he was getting too old, but the younger player wasn't as good. The final few strips ever drawn involve an unlikely chain of events which culminate in Wal somehow scoring a try against a touring international rugby side.

In the cricket season Wal plays for an unknown team as an all-rounder, although he is sometimes pictured as the wicket keeper. Cooch often plays cricket with Wal and so does the dog, usually fielding in the slips or in the covers.

Cooch also plays golf with Wal who has a homemade course on his farm. Cooch is better than Wal at golf, even though the course is very hard (the first hole is a par 14). When they do play on a real course Cooch usually wins. Wal claims that the trees are on Cooch's side.

Wal also occasionally plays tennis with Cheeky Hobson and fights for her affections with Nigel Erkstine, another member of the tennis club. The dog is usually the ball boy.

Wal and Cooch frequently fish in various ways: whitebaiting, long line fishing, and most often floundering.

Other sports that get mentioned in Footrot Flats are boxing, polo, soccer, squash, and shooting.

List of publications

Main series
*Footrot Flats 1-27 [The first two editions of Footrot Flats had no number, they were simply titled 'Footrot Flats'. Both were re-released in October 1980 as 'Footrot Flats One' and 'Footrot Flats Two'.]
*The Footrot Flats 'Weekender' 1-8
*The Puppydog Footrot Flats 1-21 [The 'Puppydog' dog versions of the original strips were simply physically smaller and reduced in length; they presumably sold for a lower price.]

Pocket books
*"They've put custard with my bone!"
*The cry of the grey ghost
*"I'm warning you, Horse..."
*It's a dog's life
*"Let slip the dogs of war!"

Combined collections
*Footrot Flats Collector's Edition
*Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 2
*Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 3
*The Footrot Flats 'Weekender' Special
*Footrot Flats Gallery 1-3
*Footrot Flats Sports Collection
*Footrot Flats: The Dog Strips

*The Mini Footrot Flats
*Footrot Flats School Kit (Released in 1986)
*Footrot Flats Japanese Edition (Released in 1986)
*Footrot Flats Chinese Edition (Released in 1990)
*Footrot Flats USA Edition (Released in 1992) "(With Foreword by Charles M. Schulz)"
*Footrot Flats Calendar 1983-1992, 1997-2000
*Footrot Flats Sports Calendar: 1987-1992
*The Ballad of Footrot Flats
*Footrot Flats - The Movie "The Dog's Tale" (VHS, DVD)
*Footrot Flats - The Stage Musical (1984)

Miscellaneous merchandise like activity packs and books were also released.


ee also

*New Zealand humour

External links

* [ The Black Sheep's Footrot Flats page] , a fan-site
* ['s Footrot Flats page] , a fan-site
* [ The Dog's unofish uneffi not official website]
* [ The movie] at the New Zealand Film Commission website
* [ Cartoonists Inc. Documentary] , see also [ (PDF, 0.7 MB)]

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