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Comic Strip / Footrot Flats

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Footrot Flats is a comic strip from New Zealand, by cartoonist Murray Ball, about the life and times of a farmer's dog, known simply as The Dog, his owner and his friends, and the various animals that live in and around the farm.

Characters include:

  • 'The Dog': The main protagonist and mascot of the strip, a border collie whose name he never lets anyone reveal. Much like Garfield's titular character, he seems as intelligent as a person but can only talk through thought bubbles. Has shades of Lovable Coward and Small Name, Big Ego, but generally good at his job and devoted to his master.
  • Wallace 'Wal' Footrot: The Dog's owner, a no-nonsense farmer, amateur rugby player and more or less The Everyman (at least for farmers). Runs a large farm on his own with a large variety of animals, including sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese. And at least one goat and one turkey, which is more than enough.
  • Cooch Windgrass: Wal's neighbour, best friend and right hand man. A Friend to All Living Things whose farm is rather overgrown, and his house has a large tree growing through the middle. He farms goats, which are the perpetual bane of Wal and The Dog, and owns Jess, the dog's girlfriend.
  • Aunt Dolly: Wal's aunt, The Dog's original owner, who runs a home for cats and owns a Welsh Corgi named Prince Charles. Something of a overbearing mother figure for Wallace, though she often helps him out on the farm, and The Dog has a grudge against her for giving him his name.
  • Horse: A tough, mean, near-indestructible stray cat that acts as an enemy, sometimes ally and sometimes point of interest to The Dog.

The comics were so popular that in 1986 a feature-length animated film adaptation was created; Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale. This was New Zealand's first full-length animated movie, and spawned a hit single for Kiwi artist Dave Dobbyn with Slice of Heaven.

The comic has an official website, where original strips and character biographies can be found.

The tropes the comic uses include:

  • The Ace: Wal's brother Rex.
  • Action Girl: Nonhuman example: Dolores the sow, who could loosely be described as a battering ram with teats.
  • Afraid of Doctors: The Dog is terrified of going to the vet. Major does not have the same problem, which the Dog puts down to him being too stupid to be scared.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Horse's girlfriend belongs to a bikie gang, and his ferocity endears him to them.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: The Dog hopes that Pongo will grow into the pony stage soon, so she will leave him alone.
  • Alliterative Title: Footrot Flats
  • Always Someone Better: Wal's little brother Rex, who beats him in every game and sport they compete at. At one point, Wal gets desperate enough to propose the two have their dogs fight, with The Dog disgusted at being expected to beat up the reluctant Rex's tiny little Scottish Terrier.
  • Angry Guard Dog:
    • The three Murphy dogs.
    • Major on occasion.
    • The Dog wishes he was this, but can only build up the courage when burglars touch his food.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Zig-Zagged. The trope applies to most of the animal characters, except for Cecil the ram, who has very prominent testicles. Jess the dog and Dolores the sow also have mammaries when nursing.
  • Asians Eat Pets: One of the characters is Rangi Jones, a Maori kid whom the Dog worries is measuring him for a dogskin cloak, and one day he's going to wake up with his fur stretched on a rack while everything else is being cooked with vegetables in a pit oven for a hangi dinner.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Unlike his father and brother, who restrict their bullying to those who can theoretically fight back, Fat Bastard 'Hunk' Murphy likes to indulges in such petty acts of cruelty as pulling the wings off butterflies.
  • Berserk Button: The Dog hates his name with a passion and will go to amazing lengths to make sure it remains a secret. At a dog show, he sticks himself halfway into a loud speaker trying to get the mouthy beggar inside. Once, to stop Aunt Dolly from saying it, he actually sticks his tongue inside her mouth, much to their mutual disgust and horror.
  • Bizarre Belching: In one four-strip story Horse gorges himself on a massive amount of rotten fish-heads. Just as an incredulous Dog muses he can't believe anyone could eat that many rotten fish-heads with no ill effects, Horse belches and emits a visible cloud of miasma that kills a meters-long stretch of grass.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Pongo.
  • Briar Patching: Subverted when Dog word-for-word attempts to invoke the trick on an angered Wal. Cut to later in which Dog, having been thrown into the briar patch, is cursing out the literary reference as it turns out being thrown in a briar patch is incredibly unpleasant.
  • Bridge Logic: In one strip, the Dog attempts to avoid one of the Murphy's crocopigs by pushing over a tree to allow him to cross the river. However, the dead sapling he pushes over is both far too short to reach the over bank and far too spindly to support his weight.
  • Bring the Anchor Along: When Jess is in heat, the Dog will often take off while still chained to his water tank/kennel; taking the water tank with him.
  • The Bully: Lex Murphy is this to Rangi and Pongo. His uncles Spit and Hunk Murphy are more or less this to Wal and Cooch.
  • Canines Primary, Felines Secondary: The Dog is the main character, and other significant dogs include Jess, Prince Charles the corgi, Major the pig-dog, and occasionally the Murphys' dogs. There is only one prominent cat, Horse, with the possible exception of occasional appearances from his biker-gang girlfriend and a couple of female kittens.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Sometimes the Dog doesn't have a full understanding on the fate of the animals he helps raise. At least once, however, he agonised over the fate of an animal being slaughtered and dressed, before walking up with food bowl in hand.
  • Casanova Wannabe: 'Spit' Murphy
  • Cat Concerto: One strip depicts Horse singing loudly on a fence... until Wal Footrot silences him with a gumboot.
  • Cats Are Mean: Horse.
  • Chained to a Railway: Played for Laughs. After the Dog misses the game-winning catch in a cricket match because he falls asleep, Wal ties him the track for the sight screen and attempts to run the screen over the top of him.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: At times, the Dog is positively saccharine in his love and devotion to Wal, at the same time the amount of effort he invests in his Zany Schemes to drive away Cheeky Hobson at times rivals what he goes through to keep his name secret.
  • Cut Phone Lines: In one strip, the Dog climbs the telephone pole and cuts the wires while Cheeky is on the phone attempting to invite Wal to a home cooked meal at her place.
  • A Darker Me: The Grey Ghost or the Iron Paw; the Dog's invincible alter egos (he wishes).
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Despite proposing to Cheeky (and her accepting) near the end of the strip, the relationship between her and Wal finally ended when she left him to go to LA with a hunky male stripper she met at her hens' night party.
  • Dinosaur Doggie Bone: An early strip has the Dog dragging off a moa bone bigger than he is.
  • A Dog Named "Cat": The semi-feral cat Horse got his name from the first time Wal saw him and exclaimed "Cripes! He's as big as a horse!"
  • A Dog Named "Dog": As noted above, he actually has a real name, but he will die before he lets anyone so much as utter it.
  • Do-It-Yourself Plumbing Project: Wal is fixing the drain from the sink when Aunt Dolly pulls the plug out before he has the pipe reconnected. Seeing the Dog, Wal tells him he is just who he needs. He then blocks the pipe by stuffing the Dog's nose into it. The Dog admits he had been hoping his role would be something more like dashing to Aunt Dolly and desperately tugging on her apron strings.
  • The Dreaded Pretend Tea-Party: Pongo often forces the Dog to be a participant in tea parties with her stuffed toys, usually dressing him as a baby. The Dog hates it (apart from the raspberry drop tea).
  • Ear Notch: Major the pig dog—who hunts feral pigs—is missing the tip of one ear.
  • Editorial Synaesthesia: Whenever Jess is in heat (nearly all the time) she gives off little hearts.
  • Embarrassing First Name: The Dog is so embarrassed by the name given to him by Aunt Dolly, that he actively prevents anyone from learning it, and holds a grudge against her for giving him that name.
  • Enemy Mine: The Dog normally can't stand Aunt Dolly, but will happily team up with her to try and keep Cheeky Hobson away from Wal.
    The Dog: <after he and Aunt Dolly guilt trip Wal into promising to come home from his date early> United we stand, comrade.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Dog is "The Dog" because he won't let anyone know his real name.
  • Everything's Messier with Pigs: Wal's many farm animals include pigs. His neighbors the Murphys have slightly completely feral ones, known and feared as 'Croco Pigs'.
  • Extreme Omni-Goat: Wal got a goat to eat the grass. It eats everything except the grass, and hates Wal. When it gets angry it usually takes Horse to bring it under control. Cooch's neighboring goat farm also causes difficulties.
  • The Faceless: Cooch's cousin Kathy never has her full face appear.
  • Fat Bastard: 'Hunk' Murphy, who gets his nickname from his massive bulk, is the dumbest and cruellest member of the Murphy clan; given to acts like pulling the wings off butterflies. Unfortunately for Wal and co., his bulk belies his Stout Strength.
  • Feathered Fiend: The turkey is a recurring enemy of the Dog, and the Goose isn't keen on Wal either.
  • Formally-Named Pet: Aunt Dolly's corgi, Prince Charles, and Wal's other dog, Major.
  • Foul Waterfowl: The Goose occasionally stalks Wal and pecks his posterior whenever possible. In the film The Dog's Tale, the goose attempts to peck Wal and finally gets his chance when Wal rescues Irish Murphy from a river.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Cooch. Unlike most examples though, he's not vegetarian and will kill to eat. Not always the most conventional animals, mind you.
    • Best exemplified in one strip, where he collects a bee swarm for Wal by tugging on the branch and dropping it into a cardboard box. There's no smoke, he's clad in his usual clothes, and he gets off unscathed.
  • Frying Pan of Doom : Wal once gave his girlfriend Cheeky Hobson a frying pan for her birthday. It wound up wrapped around his head.
  • Full-Boar Action: Major, Wal's other dog, is bred and trained to help hunt feral pigs.
  • Furry Confusion: The Dog seems to sometimes forget that he is a dog.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: Wal once gave his girlfriend Cheeky Hobson a frypan wrapped up with a yellow bow for her birthday. It wound up wrapped around his head.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Wal goes Skinny Dipping at the beach and Hunk and Spit Murphy come along and steal his clothes. He has to be rescued (after a fashion) by Cousin Kathy.
    • Another time, the Murphys do this to Kathy herself. The Dog lends her some clothing to get away; unfortunately all he has is his collar.
  • Good News, Bad News: Used when the Dog has just found a stoat.
    Dog: Wal, bad news: there's rabbits in the veges. Good news: It's not going to matter...
  • A Handful for an Eye: Rangi does this to Lex Murphy in one strip. Not having any sand available, he improvises by using a handful of dried sheep droppings.
  • Happy Rain: Subverted in one bound collection. The front cover shows Wal, the Dog and Cooch walking through a parched landscape and looking excitedly at a mass of clearly long-awaited rain clouds. The back cover shows the same trio trudging grumpily through the ensuing downpour.
  • Head-Turning Beauty
  • Intellectual Animal: The Dog seems to be one of these in a world otherwise populated by mostly normal animals, and even he can't actually speak.
  • Jealous Pet: The Dog is insanely possessive of Wal, and will go go ridiculous lengths to interrupt any date between Wal and his girlfriend 'Cheeky' Hobson.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Wal has plenty of rough edges, but he cares deeply for his pets.
  • Kilroy Was Here: Wal makes a moving speech about how insignificant it makes one feel knowing that an ancient tree will still be standing centuries after he's dead. He then carves "Wal Footrot Was Here" into the trunk.
  • Kindly Vet: The vet is usually depicted as being kind and good at his job, if a little rough around the edges (as country vets are wont to be).
  • Kissing Cousins: Cooch has a pretty poorly hidden attraction to his cousin Kathy (and it's hard to blame him). In a surprising twist, they actually get together near the end of the strip.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The Dog is trying to watch the farm while his owner is away, leading to many What Would X Do? questions. When a situation involving many, many stinging insects arises, it turns out Wal would...hide in the outhouse with the newspaper until they go away.
    What would Wal do, what would Wal do...Wal's no fool.
  • The Lady's Favour: While competing against the Murphys in an athletics meet, Wal ask Cheeky for a handkerchief to tie on the end of his pole vaulting pole. Not having a hanky, Cheeky sticks a box of tissues on the end of the pole.
  • Large Ham: The Dog.
    Dog: Curse this accursed rain! Forty days and forty nights adrift! Well, a day and a half anyway...
  • Lovable Coward: The Dog. He wants to be brave, but...
  • Mating Season Mayhem: Multiple arcs deal with the antics of the Dog (and the other dogs) trying to get to Jess when she's in heat.
  • Mister Muffykins: Prince Charles
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Thoroughly averted with the kids; over the course of the strip Rangi and Pongo grow from spotty brats to hormonal teenagers.
  • The Not Catch: The Dog notices Wal slipping off the hayshed roof and desperately runs underneath him to catch him. Then at the last second he realizes that he's just a little dog and Wal is a beefy adult man weighing at least 90kg and leaps out of the way just in time to avoid being crushed with the sheepish excuse "Missed...".
  • Oblivious Adoption: The Dog was raised in a cats' home, by a cat-obsessed old lady, and for many years thought he himself was a cat. He got over it. Similarly, Horse originally thought he was a baby coat.
  • Odd Name Out: 'Irish' Murphy's three dogs are named Tiger, Wolf and Creampuff.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Very few people refer to Cooch his given name, which is Socrates.
  • Pet Dress-Up: Wal's niece Pongo frequently dresses up the Dog, much to the Dog's annoyance (although he does rather enjoy the raspberry drop tea he gets fed during her make-believe tea parties).
  • Pet the Dog: Horse when with lost kittens - not to mention his own children.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: The Dog, within the introductory sections of each issue, due to uncertainty about spelling. Rather good handwriting for a dog though.
  • The Power of Love: Used once to let the dog walk on water. It failed ten seconds later, because it's not called "The Power of Lust", now is it?
  • Properly Paranoid: When Wal hears that Cheeky has arranged for a male stripper to appear at her hens' night party, he storms over there to insist she leave, but ultimately is too embarrassed to go in and get her. At the end of the night, she confesses to him that she can't marry him after all because she's decided to run off to LA with the stripper.
  • Purple Prose: Jess narrates this way, as shown in the bonus material of an anthology. Lots of descriptions of clouds and the glory of true love.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: At one point Wal pauses in the middle of yelling at the Dog to sniff some flowers.
  • Rugby Is Slaughter: Wal's dreams of rugby glory always end with him a bloodied heap being trampled into the mud. Even that one time he scored a Try after being on the field for 10 seconds.
  • Scary Black Men: The Maori bikers are probably the Kiwi equivalent of this trope.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: The Dog and Horse whenever they team up. Likewise the Dog and Major.
    • Among humans, gentle, animal-loving Cooch is the Sensitive Guy, tough-guy Wal the Manly Man.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: We don't get to experience much of it because it's censored, but Wal's speech is peppered with obscenities when he's at work.
  • Soap Punishment: Aunt Dolly does this to Wal after she hears him swearing at the livestock in an early strip. She runs across several paddocks to reach him.
    • One flashback sequence in the books has the Dog respond to receiving his much-hated name by cramming a cake of soap into Aunt Dolly's mouth.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The Dog alternates between poetic, flowery language and New Zealand slang at the drop of a hat.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Wal is not the great sportsman he thinks he is.
    • He has nothing on the Dog at times.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: A mean local boy keeps threatening and goading Rangi into having his like-minded dog fight the protagonist Dog. He backs down when Rangi suggests his dog fight the local stray cat Horse instead.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The Dog's attempt to describe Cousin Kathy includes that she only has hair on the top of her head and she walks on her hind legs, because all humans look alike to him. Fortunately, Wal can't understand him anyway.
  • Terrible Trio: The Murphies, and their dogs.
  • Thought Bubble Speech: This is how The Dog speaks in most strips, but on rare occasions other animals, or even humans, use it as well.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Applies to Dolores the sow and poor Horace the boar. She's about twice his size and a bit overbearing.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: Most noticeable when the Dog goes to a dog show and sees heaps of dogs who resemble their owners. Although the Dog doesn't resemble Wal at all, there is a degree of resemblance between Wal and Major the pig dog (possibly coincidental) and also between the 3 Murphys and their dogs Tiger, Wolf and Cream Puff.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Townies fill a similar role.
  • Visible Odor: When Jess is in heat, she exudes little hearts.
  • Weapon Tombstone: In a strip about erosion (caused by excessive tree felling), the Dog finds a chainsaw washed down from the hill country in the recent floods. He plants it blade down in the silt and scratches 'R.I.P.' beneath it (with much better penmanship than the Dog usually manages).
  • What the Fu Are You Doing?: Rangi Jones learned all of his fighting moves from watching kung fu movies and, consequently, is shown as really bad at fighting, especially compared to Lex Murphy, who takes boxing lessons and presumably has picked up some street-brawling skills from his uncles.
  • What Would X Do?:
    • In a couple of strips, the Dog is trying to take care of the farm while Wal is away and whenever something goes wrong he asks himself what Wal would do.
      The Dog: Oh no! A weka snatched a baby duckling! Wal's not here. What would he do?" "YA &#^%@& WEKA!!!"
    • Another one, involving large numbers of stinging insects, had him conclude that Wal would... hide in the outhouse with the newspaper.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Wal and Cheeky, and to a lesser extent Cooch and his Cousin Cathy. Surprisingly, by the end of the series Wal and Cheeky break up forever, but Cooch and Cathy actually get together.
  • Withholding Their Name: 'The Dog' has such an Embarrassing First Name that he never allows it to be said or revealed in any way in the comic, and holds a grudge against Aunt Dolly for giving him the name.

Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale provides examples of:

  • Big Game: A rugby game with an All Blacks selector present.
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: The Dog ends up on a conveyor belt that is moving towards a swinging circular sawblade, three very vicious, very evil dogs surrounding the sides, ensuring he doesn't escape. He does, of course.
  • Credits Gag: "Anyone caught pirating this picture will be eaten by The Murphys' Hellhounds."
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: During the rugby game, Wal throws an uppercut in the scrum... and punches himself. To add insult to injury, the referee tells him that next time he punches himself, he'll be sent off.
  • Lumber Mill Mayhem: The Dog gets chased through the Murphys' sawmill by the Murphys' dogs, narrowly avoiding the whirring buzzsaws.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Early in the film, the Dog starts drowning, prompting a flashback to his first day on the farm and his first encounters with Wal, Major, the Murphys, Jess, Cooch, and Pew.
  • Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You: In the Dog's flashback, Wal's reaction to the new puppy going missing. He's too busy telling Cooch what a great little fellow the Dog was to notice that the reason for Cooch's visit is that he's found the Dog and brought him back.
  • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: Wal begins his rugby training by smashing two handfuls of eggs together into a glass, drinking them down... and rushing off to the toilet to vomit them back up.
  • Saw Blades of Death: The Dog gets chased through the Murphys' sawmill by the Murphys' dogs, narrowly avoiding the whirring buzzsaws.
  • Third-Person Flashback: The Dog's flashback is in third-person — and includes Wal waking up, getting dressed, spotting Aunt Dolly's car approaching, and rushing around clearing up... none of which the Dog (who was in the car with Aunt Dolly) was there for.
  • "Yes"/"No" Answer Interpretation:
    Cooch: You wouldn't happen to have seen my stag, would you?
    Irish Murphy: Ah, piss off!
    Cooch: Is that a yes or a no?
    Irish Murphy: That's a formal recommendation.