CAMPBELL: There must have been a terrific demand for Kampung Boy over the years. I wonder if you can tell us how many copies of it have sold all together since it was first published in 1979?
LAT: I can’t tell you off hand the total number….it had gone through the 11th reprint a couple of years ago..
CAMPBELL: They made an animated series of the Kampung Boy for television a few years ago. Can you tell us a little about that. Did it live up to your expectations?
LAT: In the 1990’s Malaysia launched its own satellite TV station ….and I wanted to get in touch with the most important audience of all— the toddlers. Measat (Malaysia East Asia Satellite TV) offered me to do this made-for-TV Kampung Boy animated series that would appeal to the pre-school and primary school kids. I came out with story ideas….to develop them we worked in a big team. So it was the work of a very big production team.
CAMPBELL: My favorite of all your books is without a doubt Town Boy, the follow up to Kampung Boy. It was a book about your teenage years, very funny but also so poignant in places, in its accounts of first girl friends and partings from boyhood pals. I wonder if you are more fond of this work which sits a little in the shadow of the more famous Kampung Boy?
LAT: Town Boy was about growing up as a teenager in Ipoh (where I have come back to… in my semi-retirement days)…The teenager discovered new very exciting things….I learned a second language…and I understood what was said and sung on the radio….I Wanna Hold Your Hand…I heard this Western girl singing “I Will Follow Him”….how cheeky…and I wondered how a girl could go a post office to mail a parcel to answer the call of her boyfriend who said please “Send Me The Pillow That You Dreamed On”…
I made new pals and they were Chinese, Indians and Eurasians…we’d meet at our rendezvous – either the Rex or Lido cinema….We saw the cheap matinee re-run movie about David Niven going around the world…his assistant (Passepartout) rode a very funny bicycle with one huge wheel…we laughed…my young brother Rahman and I laughed so hard till there were tears in our eyes….I was very happy because I still had some coins in my trouser pocket and later we’d play one song at the juke box…the song was about a new dance called the Mash Potato…the name of the singer was quite easy to remember….D D Sharp…And I had money given by my mom to buy my drawing papers, dipping pens and black ink…
I’d pay mom her money back because the sixties also saw me drawing for the entertainment magazines and newspapers…I made a lot of pocket money from cartoons in the newspapers on monthly basis…I was 17…Beatles were singing Hey Jude…Cowboy movies were getting sophisticated…They even had Burt Bacharach writing the score…Town Boy were the days before I moved to the capital city to venture into life as an adult….and later a professional doodler . Yipee!
CAMPBELL: I noticed you returned to the subject of the Kampung in 1993 with Kampung Boy Yesterday and Today. The modern sequences were done in lovely watercolours. I wonder what you think of the technological advances in publishing since ’93, with computers and all. I see they’ve made a font out of your hand-lettering for instance. And do you send your art to the paper or book publisher now on disc or even email? I wonder what the boy in the Kampung would have thought if he could have foreseen it all?
LAT: Anybody would end up writing like me if they’re writing in a hurry…..I don’t do much coloring any more…if I do I’d use water-color or felt-tipped marker pens…I only use the computer to look at my e-mail….My wife Faezah helps me scan my drawings and e-mail them to the newspaper office in far-off Kuala Lumpur.