Ball grew up in New Zealand before spending some years in Australia and South Africa. As a young man he worked for the Dominion newspaper in Wellington and the Manawatu Times before becoming a freelance cartoonist and moving to England, where he found work with publishers DC Thomson, of Dundee.

He developed his character Stanley and had it published in the influential English humour-magazine Punch. Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero featured a caveman who wore glasses and struggled with the Neolithic environment. It became the longest-running strip in Punch's history, and other English and non-English speaking countries syndicated it. Ball continued to contribute to Punch after returning with his family to New Zealand.

Ball's early cartoons often had political overtones (his mid-70s UK strips included All the King's Comrades, and he described himself in the introduction to The Sisterhood (1993) as a socialist. Stanley often expresses left-wing attitudes[citation needed]).

After 1975 Ball wrote several comics in New Zealand (for instance 'Nature Calls'), but it was in 1976 that he first published the strip Footrot Flats in Wellington's afternoon newspaper, The Evening Post. It rapidly led to the demise of his other strips (including 'Stanley' which he was still writing for Punch.

The strip follows the adventures of a working sheep-dog called (if anything) "Dog" or "The Dog" or "@*!, his owner Wal Footrot and the other characters, human and animal, that they encounter or associate with. Ball expresses Dog's thoughts in thought-bubbles, though he clearly remains "just a dog" (rather than the heavily anthropomorphised creatures sometimes found in other comics or animation).

Ball's Footrot Flats has appeared in syndication in international newspapers, and in over 40 published books.

Ball has said he has always wanted his cartooning to have an impact. "The heart of a cartoon is the idea, an artist can create a painting, hang it on the wall and be satisfied with what he has achieved even if no-one else sees it. In cartooning you must get a human reaction to the idea. The task of the cartoonist is to translate his idea into a drawing that will have impact".

Ball lives with his wife Pam on a rural property in Gisborne, New Zealand.