04 May 2009

Lat Lover

He is THE Malaysian hero.

A naughty boy with unruly hair who grew up in a Malaysian village with a notorious predisposition to get into trouble.

His name is Lat.

Gifted with a great sense of humour and blessed with the ability to pull the leg of every race and political figure in the country by the power of pen and paper, his cartoons have been cherished in Malaysia for nearly three decades. The animation of his Kampung Boy landed a Best Animation award at the Animation Film Festival in France in 1999, his drawings fly with you on AirAsia planes and he managed to make fun of the PM without getting sued for defamation (at least he hasn't published any court sketches as far as I am aware of...)!

(Image: Former Singaporean PM Lee Kuan Yew with former Malay PM "Dr. M.")

Imagine my excitement when one unsuspecting afternoon last week, I lazily open a high-gloss expat/high-level magazine and on page 5, stumble across the announcement that on the following May Day weekend, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is going to accompany live a trilogy of specially commissioned animated short films by Lat! Cheapest ticket: RM 25! I couldn't help but exclaim, “WHOA!” and make other cafe guests look over in surprise (or suspicion) from their netbook tunnel vision.

My first impulse was to screw my holy cafe break and storm to the ticket office (I was literally five minutes away). That's when I remembered the last time I excitedly bought a concert ticket last minute, it involved two hours of running up and down Suria (six floors) looking for the cheapest deal on a pair of formal trousers (no jeans) and a pair of elegant-looking shoes. Sure enough, the shop that had it all and in my size (15 min before the show) was Marks&Spencer. I tried both on, was prepared to rush to the drug store afterwards for some pins to shorten the trousers into place.

To my endless regret though, my card didn't work! I even had the items put aside to dash to the ATM but to no avail. It was a shame for I really wanted to go to “A Viennese New Year” and hear how the Malaysian Philharmonists play Strauss, part of whose extensive opus is played every year at the traditional New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonists! The tickets for THAT are sold out half a year in advance and cost up to 940€! (It helps to have gone to school with two philharmonists). Life decided to teach me a lesson in renouncement that day...

The irony is of course that while I never went to the Royal Opera House in London (apart from the summer open air screening of Don Giovanni in Trafalgar Square) where they actually let people in in casual wear (!) and jeans (!!) for the noble purpose of reaching out to a larger scope of people (in Vienna, going to the opera is a very serious business – people dress up to pay respect to the institution, even if their ticket cost only 3.50€ and they have to stand for three to four hours), half across the world, I now could not go to a cultural event I was dying to see for deciding to backpack without evening gown.

Anyway: So this time, despite my dream to see the legend in person, despite the possibility to attend the world premier of his latest tongue-in-cheek depiction of Malaysian life, and despite my silent urge to lift the jinx on me and anything Petronas (two events I wanted to see but didn't see and I also haven't been yet up the Towers), with a huuuge sigh of disappointment, I sit back in my chair again and decide to await the newspaper report and release on DVD, missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend what has before and after been described as “a grand tribute to his work”!

Some of you may wonder what sparked off this obsession with a comic not so well known in Europe. I first came across Lat and his work when I started uttering my first words in Malay and had this idea that my newly discovered passion for comics & graphic novels would help me learn faster if only I could get hold of some good Malay ones. I delved deeply into the recesses of the SOAS Library which usually holds all kinds of surprising treasures, only to emerge with surprised empty hands (I did find a book on “Malay editorial cartoons” though).

Quickly remedied on my first visit to Malaysia in January, I now also proudly hold two of Lat's more than 30 comics: Kampung Boy (the pilot of the series) and Dr. Who?! (a one-off about the illustruous figure of re/former visionary PM Dr. Mahathir Mohammad) next to my cherished illustrated versions of Poe's works (yes, including Nevermore!), Kafka's Trial, Persepolis, Alan Moore's The League of Extraodinary Gentlemen and Aya (a lovely African woman's account of growing up a young lady in Africa).

While the Kampung Boy hasn't taught me any Malay (naturally published in English), he definitely gave me something more valuable for more difficult to gain: Insight into what is typically Malaysian – with a twinkle in his eyes.

1 courageous comments!:

Anonymous said...

Ya, kartun Lat lucu. Aku baru membaca Kampung Boy. Nah, dulu pernah membaca kartun Lat di koran. Kurang tauh ada buku2 juga.


Mat Saleh