Six of the Best by Murray Ball

Six of the Best
Murray Ball
Hodder Moa Books 2009

A few months ago, a handsome new Murray Ball book appeared in the shops, in the same format as the deluxe Footrot Flats collections published a few years ago. There are certain obvious marketing problems associated with this product. It’s not Footrot Flats. It comes in a sealed slipcase, with no text on the front or back to explain what it actually is. And – gulp – it costs a hundred bucks. You would have to frickin’ love Murray Ball to buy this straight off the shelf.

Anyway, thanks to the fantastic resource that is the Central Library, I lugged home a copy. Six of the Best consists of six comic strips Murray Ball has produced over the past forty years. The most significant selection is from the Punch cartoon Stanley, a much sharper version of the dreadful B.C.. The caveman Stanley is a similar character to the Dog, although less sympathetic. There have been two previous compilations of these cartoons, although they are super-out of print. You would think this would be a definitive collection, and yet although the images are sharp and the paperstock high quality, this is a dreadful, dreadful compilation. The cartoons have been shuffled, making nonsense of the storylines. The scans of the cartoons are uncorrected, so there are hairs, pencil lines and stray pieces of ziptone on the pages. For some reason the daily strips, half-page ‘Sunday’ strips, and full page magazine strips have been segregated, so the quality and chronology zips up and down. A missed opportunity.

The other cartoons are for serious Ball fans only. Bruce the Barbarian is from Labour Weekly, a vivid if unsubtle attack of Thatcherism that would seem gauche even in a student newspaper. The Prophet is a short-lived anti-imperialist cartoon from the Noughties. The Doctor is an average medical-themed strip, but Nature Calls and The Kids are both charming comics which show a strong Leo Baxendale influence.

Ball’s strength has always been in his unsentimental characterisation, and his main weakness is his portrayal of female characters. The Seventies were not a progressive time for him. Most of these strips have dated badly and I wouldn’t pay a hundred bucks for the book, handsome though it is. Bizarrely it’s advertised (on the inside) as being the third part of a collector’s trilogy, the other two parts being the Footrot Flats collections, even though the first book (a selection of the daily strips) only covers five out of 19 years. I wish they’d reprint the original collections – I’m missing vols. 1, 2, 13, 16, 17 and 22-27.

So, some gaps there.

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3 Responses to “Six of the Best by Murray Ball”

  1. Once, while browsing in the Auckland University bookshop, I saw Murray Ball being interviewed with a feminist academic whose name escapes me. Alas, while I may not entirely sympathise with her (all ideologues should be regarded with suspicion) he came across, in person and without editing, as an frightened, defensive man when dealing with a woman who was not as he thought women should be. He floundered about, resorting to some rather desperate retorts, and in the end I thought that he was rather sad and disconnected. The misogyny of his cartoons was all the more striking to me afterwards. Tom Scott too disappointed me when he said in an interview that he could never read anything written by a woman.

    Well, I’m not a woman, but I thought that the whole point of writing was that one should learn about the thoughts of someone who was not oneself.

    Sorry, but I don’t like Murray Ball. He has nothing to say to me because he has nothing to say that I don’t know.

  2. Much of The Sisterhood was misguided. It was insane to publish something like that at the height of academic political correctness, but at the same time it made some interesting points which were never examined in the subsequent criticism.

  3. Well, that era in academia is over (sometimes called the Voyage of the Jargonauts). Now its fiscal correctness, which is having an even worse effect on teaching and research. The accountant running the School of Architecture and Resign is particularly dimwitted, even for his benighted breed, and is managing to waste more money than he’s supposed to save through his idiocy. A small potted fern would do a better job.

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