A GEM LIKE NO OTHER: As a much-loved Malaysian icon, Lat celebrates his 50th year as a cartoonist. Suzanna Pillay writes about his career milestones
THERE is just no one like cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat, when it comes to capturing the funny quirks and foibles that make us Malaysian in his cartoon characters.
His ingeniously wry and well-observed drawings of our idiosyncrasies are presented with so much charm and wit that we cannot help but laugh along with him, as we get our legs gently pulled.
Even political figures have not been spared Lat's good-natured ribbing.
Former prime ministers like Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad have been captured with hilarious accuracy in his simple cartoons, much to the delight of Lat fans.
Lat posing with a cartoon of himself.
Just 13 when he published his first comic book, Tiga Sekawan (Three Friends Catch a Thief), in 1964, Ipoh-born Lat's commercial success continued in 1968, when he produced Keluarga Si Mamat (Mamat's Family), a comic strip for Berita Minggu (the Sunday edition of Berita Harian).
Unbelievably, the highly popular weekly series enjoyed a 26-year run.
Two years later, upon finishing his Form Five studies, he became a reporter.
Even then, he continued to draw and contribute his cartoons to various publications.
His contributions to the New Straits Times began in March 1974 and his cartoons continue to be published in the paper till today.
Lat, 63, has published more than 20 volumes of cartoons.
Perhaps, his best-known work is The Kampung Boy (1979), which has been published in several countries in various languages, including Portuguese, French and Japanese, and has been reprinted 16 times.
It gives an account of his early years growing up in a Malay village and captures the lifestyle and essence of rural kampung life.
So successful was this cartoon that it was adapted into a 26-episode television series in 1997.
His name and works are synonymous with Malaysia and recognised internationally, with The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Spanish cartoonist Sergio Aragones, the creator of the comic book, Groo the Wanderer, being among his fans.
Recognising Lat's rare ability to make every Malaysian connect with his multiracial cartoon characters and foster social harmony, the sultan of Perak conferred an honorific datukship on him in 1994.
In 2007, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Anthropology and Sociology.
In appreciation of Lat's ability to get Malaysians of all ages and races to identify with his unique cartoon characters, low-cost airline AirAsia featured Lat's illustrations on two of its planes: on its Boeing 737 in 2004 and its A320 in 2009.
Lat's other accomplishments include an Eisenhower Fellowship in 1998, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2002 for capturing Malay rural culture in his works and the Italian Civitella Ranieri Visual Arts Fellowship in 2010.
Suzanna PillayNST Nation General Marc 30, 2014