Artists of Chiang Mai  |   Kampung boy balik kampung  |  Lat color cartoons  | 


 With 40 years of illustration behind him, Lat's frankness and tongue-in-cheek brand of humor goes down well with the Malaysian public, (even tightly censored Malaysia). And internationally, Lat's work has become known as the essence of Malaysia.

Lat was born in Kota Bahru, Negeri Perak, on March 5, 1951. He spent his childhood carefree in a typical Malay village.

"At four, five years old, we would all go bogel (naked). You never know whether you'd have to swim upstream or downstream, and (if you had clothes on) you'd have to go back for them, that way it wasn't such a bother," he explained to the laughter of the audience. Lat's comical narration and his blunt storytelling make him as funny as his cartoons.

Lat's extraordinary talent as an artist was nurtured at an early age. He was supported by his father, who he said was also a very good artist, and his mother, who gave him the money for indian ink and brushes.

"I didn't have any money so she bought them for me. When I grew up and it was my turn to give her my salary she cried. I told her that this was to repay the money she spent all those years ago," he said, adding that he had drawn comics based on stories published in the Utusan Melayu daily at the time.

"After watching wayang, I would draw what I had seen. My father would get me to draw the cowboy from the movie that we had seen. After going to the circus he would ask what animal I liked and get me to draw that."

His comic strip, Keluarga Si Mamat (Mamat's Family) ran in Berita Minggu for 26 years.

Lat left Ipoh in 1970 to pursue a career in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, but instead of employment as an artist, Lat was employed at the New Straits Times as a crime reporter.

"My chance to draw for the paper came after I drew a cartoon for Asia Magazine based in Hong Kong, the magazine was about the Asian culture and way of life and was given free with the New Sunday Times," he said, explaining that his first cartoon was about the circumcision tradition in Malaysia.

"When the drawing was published, the New Straits Times asked me to draw for them."

The idea of drawing cartoons about simple Malay traditions first came when Lat was visiting the United States, he was suddenly struck by homesickness, not for Kuala Lumpur where he lived, but for Kota Bahru where he grew up.

After almost 30 years, Lat left the New Straits Times and Kuala Lumpur to return to Ipoh where he lives today.

At first it was difficult for Lat's four children to adjust to small town life, but Lat felt it was important for them to get in touch with village life and the rest of his family.

"I was also giving younger cartoonists in Kuala Lumpur room to grow original ideas and not feel like they had to create spinoffs of my work," he explained.

Leaving the capital did not mean Lat's cartoons were no longer popular, however.

"I thought that once I returned to my kampong, I could live in peace. But instead work followed me from Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur wouldn't leave me alone," he said, adding that these days he draws his cartoons at home and sends them via email.

"I work at home, not in a studio. I sometimes draw at the dining table, sometimes on the porch, and even in corridors... I don't have a studio," he explained.

His latest work is a pocket-money guide for children called Buku Wang Saku (Pocket Money Book) published by Bank Negara Malaysia.

Typical of Lat, who loves to reminisce about the "good old days", Buku Wang Saku includes recollections about how people saved their money in the olden days.

"When I was still at school in the village, we'd get pocket money of 10 cents. Five cents spent for noodles, for instance, and another five cents for drink. But some of my friends kept their money, they didn't spend it on food at school, they saved the money in a hollow bamboo stalk and hung it on the wall".

Lat has always been very careful in his comical depictions, avoiding sensitive issues such as religion and the economy, because "if my knowledge isn't too deep, I must not pretend".

He also tries to avoid ethnic issues that are not his own. "In Malaysia there are many ethnic groups with their own traditions. As a Malay I must not comment about other ethnic traditions, I can only comment about the Malay tradition."

And, even in commenting on politics, Lat prefers to magnify the general reaction of the masses and not make controversial statements.

"Compared to political cartoons in Indonesia and India, Malaysia is very backward," he admitted.

In 1994 Lat was given the honorable title of Dato' from the Sultan of Perak for his role in introducing Malay culture to the world.

"In the olden days as a 'Dato' I would have come here on an elephant," he said laughing.


Copyright 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.

The Electric New Paper :
Kampung boy balik kampung  *(goes home to village)
Discovery Channel films famous Malaysian cartoonist Lat's life story
TALKING to Lat, one doesn't have to look far to see where the inspiration for his famous cartoon strip Kampung Boy came from.
By Fawziah Selamat   08 August 2003
TALKING to Lat, one doesn't have to look far to see where the inspiration for his famous cartoon strip Kampung Boy came from.

The rotund cartoonist may be 52 but his nervous demeanor (he kept twiddling his fingers throughout the interview), boyish looks and slightly unruly hair gives the impression that Kampung Boy is seated right in front of us.

Kampung Boy, of course, is the Malaysian cartoonist's funny and sensitive comic strip of a rural Malay childhood.

In Singapore to plug Crossings: Datuk Lat, a documentary based on his life story, Lat revealed his life has hit a new crossing. You see, he's decided to slow down and perhaps even retire in three years' time.

First on his mind was to resettle his family in his old kampung of Gopeng in Ipoh and away from the frenetic pace of Kuala Lumpur, where he had devoted almost three decades to drawing cartoons for newspapers as well as for his books.

But being the famous cartoonist that he is, Lat has found that celebrity has its own way of throwing him an unexpected curveball.

Said Lat: 'I wanted to move back to Ipoh as I wanted to give room to the younger set of cartoonists. I also thought there would be less work for me (in Ipoh) but the work followed me (there) instead.'

Lat still draws three cartoons a week for Malaysian newspaper, New Straits Times.

At the same time, Discovery Channel thought it was time to make a documentary on one of South-east Asia's most prolific cartoonists.

Said Lat: 'I wanted to take part as I wanted to retrace my own footsteps.

'Also as my own boss, I don't get promoted but getting a show on Discovery, I guess I could call that my promotion. To me, it's gratitude from people who have paid attention to my work.'

ALAMAK, STILL DRAWING?

While accolades for his work may be coming in fast and furious, his own kampung community has a difficult time coming to terms with a 52-year-old Datuk (Lat is the only cartoonist conferred the title of Datuk) who does nothing more than draw cartoons for a living.

'The kampung folk have asked me what new project I have in mind but when I tell them I'm still doing the same thing I've been doing for the past three decades, they get worried,' said Lat.

'To them, when you're still drawing at the age of 52, they think something must be wrong.

'After all, drawing (to them) is for kids.'

But the father of four children, ranging in age from 11 to 20, has a soft spot for drawing, especially his kampung fables, as he believes the young need to be reminded of their roots.

He said: 'When the young ones understand more about their origins, it helps them to be humble and not arrogant just because we now have posh cars and maids.'

'Let's just hope we don't find out our ancestors were pirates.'

Crossings: Datuk Lat will be shown on Discovery Channel on Sep 21 2003 at 8pm.


'My work's not so political'

LAT, who is rarely known by his full name, Mohamed Nor Khalid, is most noted for his popular comic works on kampung life such as Kampung Boy and Mat Som.

But he has also been making waves as a satirist, although if you mention that to him, he'll wince, as if uncomfortable that his work should be seen as political.

When reminded that he had taken a potshot at Singapore during the height of the Newater issue (Lat's two-panel cartoon depicted a parched Singaporean, crawling in the desert, asking for Newater to quench his thirst), Lat maintains that it is the people's reactions and grouses which provide inspiration for his work.

He said: 'In Malaysia, I would depend a lot on the government and if I didn't agree (with their policies), I'd grumble.

'And that's where my role as a cartoonist comes in - to translate the reaction of the people into humorous cartoons.'

Clearly uncomfortable with having a political label attached to his work, the affable cartoonist quickly added: 'My work's not so political. I'd call them my social commentary.

'They're my 'periuk nasi' (Malay for rice bowl). So I have to do them.'


 December 22, 2013 08:46:19 AM

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