Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life - Reviewed by Kerry Lee | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life

Written by: Mason Ball


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Written from the unique perspective of his eldest son Mason, Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life is the story of not only how New Zealand got the award-winning cartoon Footrot Flats, but of a man who fought to follow his passions and won.

From his humble beginnings growing up in a small, rural town in Aotearoa, the book follows Ball’s adventures as a would-be All Black, father, and an aspiring cartoonist. Much like many of us, he set goals and had setbacks, but never gave up.

One of his greatest creations was undoubtedly the cartoon strip (and later movie) Footrot Flats. Centred on the adventures of small-town farmer Wal and his trusty dog in outback New Zealand, it showed us that there could be humour in the trivial, and not everything had to be zany to get a laugh.

In reading Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life, one of the biggest surprises – at least for me – was how closely Footrot Flats resembled Ball’s own life. Examples included the farms Ball lived around and his cousin Arthur – the real-life inspiration for Wal himself.

Like all artists, Ball took inspiration from his own life and put it onto a canvas to create something truly special. Sorry if that sounds a bit melodramatic, but that is exactly what he did.

Mason Ball’s writing should also be applauded. While his father’s life was of course non-fiction, I nonetheless found myself swept up in his dad’s adventures, and more than once caught myself chuckling and thinking, ‘I can relate to that’. That is the power of skillful writing, and hopefully, we will see more of that in 2024.

As I mentioned in my Year in Review just before Christmas last year, biographies like these are important because they make us understand that our problems are not unique to us, and that others have faced them before and come out on top.

This is worth looking out for. If you see it, get it.

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