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Lat - Malaysia's Cartoonist

A few weeks ago (been meaning to blog about this before, but am busy) I got the chance to attend a talk by Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid , or as most people know him, Lat. A national icon, he articulates the many facets of Malaysian society through his evocative cartoons.

He gave an interesting talk, going over his own life story, and making a few comments on the development of cartoons as an art and Malaysian society. Listening to Lat was almost like reading one of his comics, I felt myself slipping into a warm, cosy, other place, where hearts are bared on sleeveless arms and friends meet after school to play into the evening. It reflects the power of art, and Lat’s artistic skill, that I could feel the nostalgia even though I am not Malaysian. His rendering of scenes of his early life, evoked that sentiment of cosiness which in me is associated with winter afternoons in a warm room, playing board games or reading a favourite adventure story.

I was introduced to Lat's cartoons in 1987, the first time I came to Malaysia, and it helped me to understand many of the subtleties of Malaysian life. One cartoon I remember is where you see a news reader looking serious, with shirt and ties and reading the news; in the next picture, you see he has finished and is walking away from the desk, revealing his sarong. Maybe this is the essence of what Lat represents in his cartoons, reminding many Malaysians of their roots in kampungs and the chaotic developing cities of the sixties and seventies.

His talk was a reminder of how far Malaysia has come in such a short time, a rapid acceleration into a different world, but one where most Malays, and many of the other ethnicities, still have memories of kampung life and the enforced simplicities of poverty, where a small shared snack is a moment to be cherished.

In spite of his warm demeanour, and easy-going manner, I couldn’t help but deduce a steely determination underlying it. He seems to have been very hard-working from when he was a teenager – when he was 14 he had already produced a comic

and by 16 he was making RM200 a month, apparently the same as a clerk would get then. Meticulous too: he showed us a photo of him at 16 which, he explained, he had carefully planned by placing particular objects in the background, wearing a wristwatch, and so on.

He used the money as any teenager would, on records, comics and memorably, fixing an old motorbike for RM200 – the mechanic told his father he was mad, but the father said he had earned the money, so he could do what he wanted with it. I can well imagine him riding down the road with the wind in his Beatles-length hair and humming ‘Ticket to Ride’ :-)

There was lot more: memories of school where Mrs. Yew (the teacher with pointy glasses that all Lat readers will be familiar with) was somewhat fearsome but encouraged him to draw; meeting up with friends and a pre-arranged agreement to comb their hair forward like the Beatles (‘more shocking than changing your religion’ in those days); his early days as a journalist and move to KL; and his rise to prominence.

At the end of the talk he was asked a few questions. On modern cartoons and styles he said that time is the real test of good art, and he was happy with his style. On politics, he said that he preferred to leave that to political writers, but recounted a recent incident where one of his pictures was rejected by the editor because it portrayed a retired political figure – although the context was not political, he was told that publishing his cartoon would make that figure seem important. It shows the importance given to Lat, and the respect he commands amongst most Malaysians.

After the talk was over he was surrounded by people eager to get his autograph

and I even saw him drawing something for someone. Then, I wished I had brought a copy of one of his books, so that I could bring home a souvenir of that unique hour spent in the presence of a true artist.

Here are a few links relating to Lat:
Kampung Boy Review (Which goes completely off the rails about half-way through.)
A Tribute To LAT (Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid), The Malaysian Cartoonist


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hweicheng on :

If my memory did not deteriorate, he was my headmaster once....back in primary school....i remember my sister got one of his comic books....I think each student got one....

I'm not sure if I'm making this up, as I was just 7 back then when he was still serving for my school.... LOL

julian on :

You may be mistaken there - in his talk he never mentioned being a headmaster, or teacher for that matter...

Lat on :

Nice to read comments from all of you...I became a newspaper reporter at the age 19...that was my only other job. I became a full-time cartoonist five years later. Since i was 13 i had always been known in my hometown as "Lat the (young) fellow who draws cartoons"....
Now I guess I am the oldie who still draws the cartoons.

The Kampung Boy was done in 1978-79....i was living the then beginning-to-boom-Bangsar. I missed kampung life...the text was in English as i had already been known for my regular cartoon column in the New Straits Times then (in English of course). I wanted to do new things apart from i did a cartoon book.
Whatever language it is in, it's the drawings that do 90% of the work to reach out at people.


julian on :

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! My blog is much honoured!

Looking forward to many more cartoons from the 'oldie' ;-)

salim on :

Dear Mr Lat,
my name is salim and it is possible for me to have your email address please.
thank you.

julian on :

Hi Salim, unfortunately I'm not Lat, and I don't know how to contact him. You can try to contact him via the New Straits Times - it may work.

(If Lat comes by here again - this is the second time someone tries to contact me via this post. And the email I had does not work any more - just FYI :-))

Gerald Heng Sr. on :

Budak Kampong sekali ini nama dia Lat Otak dia Mendaki lah !Jika Tempat beranakan dia bukan Kota Baru,chepat Lat beleh ber-butaan Kota itu tinggi akal dan seronok Otak ! Bukan Budak Kampong tetapi Budak Bandar ke-balek Kampong Kehidupan Elok Sedap dan seronok !!Allah Tak Arkbarr, Manusia Kampong Arkbarr Leh ! Mat Salleh pun bersokong Lat !

Gerry Heng-Tuah [sudah Tua Rambut pun sudah Puteh Puteh !] Boston,MA,USA. :-O :-O

town boy lover on :

Hello Datuk,

I have always been a fan of your work and how true to life are your messages. I especially like your work in town. I believe is somewhat autobiographical. I am just curious, what happen to your friend Frankie ?

julian on :

I'm not Lat I'm afraid.

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