(An editorial cartoon from Lat, from the beginning of 2007 — click to enlarge)
CAMPBELL: A couple of the books I have here are collections of your newspaper cartoons. We would probably refer to them as ‘political cartoons’. I would imagine this is your ‘bread and butter’ work, but I’ve read that you don’t think of yourself as a political cartoonist..
LAT: I have never been a political cartoonist….but an editorial cartoonist- yes…Yes, these editorial cartoons would be compiled into a book every one or two years and we’d call it Lat’s Lot…Lat was Here…Lat Gets Lost etc….all pertaining to Malaysian current affairs…events…daily life….social commentary. I don’t think I am a political cartoonist because whenever I draw politicians the issues I touch on are very light humor…not deep enough….because politics don’t last….I prefer my drawings to last a longer life like in the Kampung Boy and Town Boy books.
CAMPBELL: One of your other books shows you travelling around in Europe in ’79 or ’80. This was the first work of yours I ever saw, way back in 1982. Were you sending cartoons back to your newspaper and was the paper contributing to your expenses, or did you put your job on hold while you went to see the world?
LAT: Suddenly I became famous in the late 70’s because or my Scenes of Malaysian Life cartoons in the New Straits Times English daily….Malaysia had longed for local yokels…I drew folkie stuff…the public liked it…they said it was about their lives….from a Day at the Races to the Malay, Chinese or Sikh Wedding ceremonies….I could handle it rather easy because I was still a reporter in that newspaper at that time. You know what reporting is like….GET THE STORIES! So the foreign embassies and high commissions in Malaysia was certain about one thing:” If we invite this guy to our homeland (all expenses paid), he’d draw about us! It’d be good to know what he thinks about our country…!”
The first embassy to send me an invitation was none other than the USA……under the International Visitors’ Program….early 1977….I zig-zagged across the continent…Elvis was alive…the first month was official (I was escorted) treated like a VIP from Washington DC to Phoenix…when that ended I asked for an extension of stay…on my own…(spending my own pocket money)…I was a hippie. I took the Grayhound bus from Phoenix to Memphis…then Nashville…finally ended up in Santa Fe and stayed for a few weeks. The locals thought I was a Hopi.
Yes, when I got invited to those various countries I drew about my travels … the hosts paid the expenses….Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany… Later I preferred to save money and traveled on my own during holidays because I love traveling to other countries….and I prefer traveling with my wife and kids.
CAMPBELL: Kampung Boy is your most famous work. I’m curious as to how it came about, since there has never been an automatic market for a cartoon memoir. Did you go to the publisher with a finished project, or with a plan for one? I imagine this was right at the beginning of your career, so you wouldn’t have had a reputation at that point.
LAT: Kampung Boy is about the early childhood in a Malaysian village. I drew the pages in 1977, 78…and it got published in 1979. We had become city rats and I wanted to tell people about our origins. I didn’t have a dateline for it….I just drew when I had free time at home. My three books before Kampung Boy were all compilation of editorial cartoons….so I decided to give to the public a fresh work. Of course I was new, the world was new….they wanted more and more. Needless to say, I was no longer a stranger to Malaysians when that book was put out on sale.