A few or the Footrot Flats characters, including Wal and Dog. Artist: Mirrray Ball.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Originating in: New Zealand
First Appeared: 1976
Creator: Murray Ball
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In the annals of newspaper comic strips. comics named after someone other than their main characters are not entirely uncommon. For example, Joe Jinks was mostly about Curley Kayoe for years before its name was officially changed; and Fritzi Ritz, same thing with respect to Nancy. In the case of The Family Upstairs and Keeping Up with the Joneses, the eponymous families don't appear in their title strips at all. In Footrot Flats, the true …

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… protagonist is not title character Wallace Cadwallader "Wal" Footrot, but a dog that doesn't even have a name, at least not one the readers ever get to see.

The reason for The Dog's lack of nomenclature is, he despises his name and won't let anyone reveal it. It was originally bestowed on him by Wal's aunt, Dolores Monrovia Godwit "Dolly" Footrot. Aunt Dolly isn't one of The Dog's more favored associates. Exactly how he conveys his contempt for the name, and his refusal to permit its revelation, isn't clear (he has thought balloons like, e.g., Snoopy, but definitely isn't anthropormorphic), but Wal calls him "Dog".

The title refers to the place where most of the action takes place, a farm in New Zealand owned by Wal, 400 acres consisting mostly of swamp, which he acquired shortly after graduating high school. Wal isn't married, but through most of the comic's existence, was romantically interested on Darlene "Cheeky" Hobson, who eventually dumped him, ran off with a male stripper, and was never seen again. Aunt Dolly, who never got along with Cheeky, thought this was a fine state of affairs. Wal is also a sportsman, and often seen playing golf, cricket, tennis, rugby and others. His main rival is his younger brother, Rex Footrot (who usually beats him).

Other regular characters include Socrates "Cooch" Windgrass (the eccentric owner of the farm next door and Wal's best friend), Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones (a young native boy who sometimes helps out on the farm), Janice "Pongo" Footrot (Wal's niece, Rex's daughter), Stewart "Irish" Murphy (Wal's neighbor on the other side) and Horse (a cat). Also various animals belonging to Wal and his neighbors, who treat Wal with varying degrees of hostility.

The whole cast was created by cartoonist Murray Ball, a New Zealander whose other credits include Stanley the Paleolithic Hero, All the King's Comrades, and Bruce the Barbarian, all of which appeared in Punch, the leading British humor magazine. The strip started in 1976, in The Wellington (New Zealand) Evening Post. It's since been syndicated worldwide, but circulation was concentrated in Australia and New Zealand.

Shortly after the comic's debut, it had its first media spin-off — a theme park. It was also reprinted in book form, then collected again and again, for a total of more than three dozen books. The movie version, Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale, was released April 9, 1987. It was the first full-length animated feature made in New Zealand.

Ball ended his comic in 1994. His reasons for quitting are hard to pin down. He's cited the death of his own dog, but he's also cited his dissatisfaction with current trends in New Zealand politics. (He describes himself as a socialist.) The books continued to feature new material for six years after the last strip.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Murray Ball.