Eddie Campbell interviews Mohammed Nor Khalid, aka LAT, author of KAMPUNG BOY, and the upcoming TOWN BOY. Lat is revered throughout Southeast Asia for his work of many years as the greatest cartoonist from Malaysia. First Second is honored to launch its author on author interviews with this gem in three parts — special thanks to both of them.
Hi, Lat. Eddie Campbell here. We exchanged a few emails around five years ago. It is truly wonderful to see our books appearing from the same publisher after all these years. I hope we get to meet sometime.
CAMPBELL: The ‘Lat’ abbreviation has served you well over the years. The titles of your books have usually been a play on the name (Such as “Better Lat than never’, ‘Lat’s Lot’, and ‘Lots of Lat’. What’s your full name and how does it feel to be internationally known by such a short one?
LAT: Lat is short for the Malay word “bulat” meaning round or moon-shaped…the moon is bulat, the soccer ball too…and so is the globe…The family wouldn’t call you Mohammed Nor Khalid when you’re a stark naked toddler running around the village house. The name Lat got stuck till school days, early adulthood and eventually up to the end. My books had been passed around between Malaysian students studying abroad and people of the countries they were in right from the 1970’s….In a way, I had already “gone international” even then…
CAMPBELL: I’m writing here with eight big Lat books in front of me, which must be only about a quarter of the total. The marvel is not that you are now winning accolades in the USA but that it took so long. Something about the style of your work and its charm makes me want to fetch out my handful of books by another great cartoonist, Carl Giles, who was a regular in the British Daily Express for over fifty years between ’44 and the mid-‘80s. Was he a favourite of yours in your early days?
Here’s a reminder, from 1961:
LAT: In my school days I drew in the style of Malaysian comic artist Raja Hamzah and cartoonist Rejab Had…later I thought I had been more influenced by Frank Dickens who drew Bristow…Ralph Steadman because I was reading Rolling Stone magazine in the later Nixon years… I first saw a Giles’ cartoon in the Daily Express in March 1975…the subject was “White Easter” as it was snowing in London, I was walking around Bayswater very excited about snow flakes falling….then that cartoon appeared on the front page….and it was my first trip to the United Kingdom too. I didn’t see much of Giles’ cartoons in the UK. I would see the works of other cartoonists in Punch and Private Eye.
CAMPBELL: What other things were you looking at when you were young? Davey Law’s Dennis the Menace perhaps?
LAT: The little Kampung Boy with the pile of hair is supposed to be me in the early days…there were two types of boys in the cartoon and comic world at that time – naughty ones with the bushy hair and nice boys with the nicely-combed centre-parting hairdo. Cartoonists the whole world over would draw like that…you’d see characters like Smasher and Dennis the Menace as good examples. Yes I read Beano and Dandy when I was a kid. We bought them second hand….no, more like third or fourth-hand… at the Sunday market. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be able to borrow Classics Illustrated comic books from school friends. The first one I read was The Man Who Laughs (Victor Hugo?)