One Small Voice: Lat

Published on 26 January 2017

Renowned Malaysian cartoonist LAT talks art and life. Interview by Pamela Ho

If you are born to draw, you’ll know from a young age. If your parents say you’ve been drawing too much and there are other things to do, you’ll be drawing behind the door! It’s the same for a child who loves to sing or who is always with storybooks. When I saw an interesting billboard or even a Planta margarine poster, the first thing I did when I reached home was to try and draw that!

I started drawing at the age of four. I knew my drawing was special because during art classes in primary school, my classmates would gather around my table; even the teacher would stand behind me and watch me draw. Each time we were given a new assignment, I was excited to see what I could do. But then, the next period was Mathematics and I was the worst student!

Mum and dad encouraged me totally. My form teacher, Mrs Hew, would ask me to illustrate poems we learnt, then pin my works on the wall. While that helped, you’ve still got to prove that there is something special about you. I got my first comic Tiga Sekawan published when I was 13. I was paid 25 ringgit, which was a lot of money for a kid back in 1964!

I’ve been drawing for newspapers and magazines for over 50 years. I’ve since cut down and moved back to Ipoh with my family. I’m currently working on a new graphic novel — a continuation of an earlier work, Mat Som. People call it a graphic novel, but I treat it more like a comic!

People say my cartoons unite people. But well, my best friends have always been multiracial. We played the guitar together, had sleepovers, went to the art gallery one day, the football stadium the next. It’s been part of my life as far as I can remember, so of course it’s important to me.

It’s so easy to be popular with the masses, to say something that resonates with society but at the expense of someone else. You don’t put people down. That’s why I tell artists who draw cartoons and especially caricatures: the happiest and most satisfied person should be that person you’re drawing — that’s my motto.

At the end of the day, I don’t think you become a better person by doing art. You’re supposed to be better as you grow older, observe life, and learn.

Cartoonist Mohammad Nor Khalid — better known as Lat — has captured Malaysia’s character and soul for over five decades in editorial cartoons, books and animations. A former reporter and editorial cartoonist with national newspapers Berita Harian and New Straits Times, Lat was conferred the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (2002), Eisenhower Fellowship (1998), and the honorific title of ‘Datuk’ by the Sultan of Perak in 1994. His recently released autobiography, Lat: My Life and Cartoons (2016), includes true stories behind his bestselling comics, The Kampung Boy, Town Boy and Mat Som.

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