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Footrot Flats 5 by Murray Ball
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Footrot Flats 5 (1981)

by Murray Ball

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My husband bought a number of the Footrot Flats comic collections when he was a teenager, and still had them when we first met. He is Australian and I am from New Zealand, and he had not been to NZ at that point, so Footrot Flats was one bit of kiwiana that he knew. It provided a talking point.

I remember reading Footrot Flats in the newspaper as a teenager and I rarely understood the jokes. But then, I did grow up in the suburbs with cats, not dogs. It was only after owning a dog that I began to get it, and living with a Border collie has made me fall in love with Murray Ball's creation because Dog shares so many things in common with our Flicker. Although I don't know what really goes on in the dog's head, I often filter my imaginings through a Footrot Flats lens.

The Footrot Flats film is an abomination. Dog's voice is completely wrong -- smarmy to the point that I wonder if the creators even read the same comic strips. Moreover, Footrot Flats is a story about a farmer and his dog. That old love story arc of the film had no place in this series. As my husband said, the film did have a good Dave Dobbyn soundtrack, but again, what does Slice of Heaven really have to do with the story of the dog?

One of the most clever things about Wal and Dog is that Dog is the animal version of Wal. They share the same anxieties. In fact, a closer reading throws up a lot of exploration into anxiety in general, from Wal's reluctance to slaughter farm animals even though he has to (a deep philosophical dilemma if you think long and hard), to Dog's fear of thunderstorms, I'm not surprised that Charles M. Schultz and Murray Ball shared a mutual admiration.

I thought this after realising that several comic strips which deal with depression and anxiety are doing very well on the Internet right now, from The Oatmeal to Allie Brosch (of Hyperbole and a Half).

I had thought that Brosch had started that trend, but picking up Footrot Flats for the first time in ages has reminded me that no, some of the best comic strips have been dealing with the topic of anxieties for decades. ( )
  LynleyS | Feb 8, 2014 |
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