Professional doodlers were a joke, Lat says

But now, doodling is considered an art form and even a genre of its own

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

IN SCHOOL, most of us doodled during boring lessons.

Our textbooks would be decorated with meaningless scribbles, the characters would depend on what we were daydreaming about and would be forgotten at every turn of the page.

Who would have known that such spontaneous doodles played an important role in one’s life?

A survey by the University of Plymouth’s School of Psychology found that participants who doodled during phone calls were able to process 29% more information compared to those who only took notes.

Doodling has also been known to bring therapeutic effects and increase productivity in the classroom and workplace.

Renowned local cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Mohammad Khalid, who is commonly known as Lat, loved doodling back when he was still a kampung boy (village boy). “I would draw spontaneously, using pen or pencil, without thinking or waiting for ideas,” he said.

If back then, doodling was thought of as a waste of time, these days, people appreciate the benefits of doodling.

In the US, virtual phone system provider Grasshopper has hired professional doodlers to help record ideas during meetings. These professional doodlers are freelance artists or illustrators.

Lat said people used to make fun of those who called themselves professional doodlers because doodling was not considered as creating real art, but just drawing for the sake of it.

“But now, doodling is considered an art form and even a genre of its own,” he said, adding that there are artists who are so passionate about doodling that they have become successful professional doodlers.

Kampung Boy has gained popularity around the world, where it was translated into 12 foreign languages such as Arabic, French, Japanese and Korean

The Kampung Boy

Lat’s comics are humorous and good-natured. They capture the hearts of Malaysians as the main themes are unity and harmony in diversity.

Because of this trademark in his artwork, Faber-Castell (M) Sdn Bhd recently chose Lat to collaborate with in celebrating the diversity of Malaysia.

In conjunction with this partnership, he unveiled three exclusive drawings on the nation’s three major festivities, namely Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year and Deepavali.

Faber-Castell Malaysia group MD Andrew Woon said Lat is an ideal partner because his iconic cartoons are still celebrated by all Malaysians and that his drawings can unite Malaysians from all walks of life.

To the artist, one of the key aspects of unity is understanding one another.

“In order to get other people to be interested in you, you must first be interested in them.

“We cannot promote our own kind (of pieces) without learning about the others,” he said.

Just like any other creatives, Lat is not immune to falling into an artist’s block; however, his interest in other cultures has helped him overcome this issue.

“I would run out of ideas and when this happens, I would try to look at rare subjects where I would have to do researches on cultures that I did not really know much about.”

Being a master storyteller that he is, Lat light-heartedly shared a moment back when he was a cartoonist at the New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP).

In 1974, Lat asked a chapatti seller about Sikh weddings because he wanted to make a story out of it.

“I asked him when and where the next wedding was, so I could attend it. “I wanted to make a funny story out of it, but the man said there was nothing funny about a Sikh wedding.”

However, the chapatti seller finally told Lat that there was going to be a wedding on the coming Saturday, during lunch time, in a Sikh temple in Kampung Pandan. On that Saturday, Lat took a bus there.

“If I wrote a half-page long article about a Sikh wedding, nobody would read it. If I wrote an article about a Malay wedding in the newspaper, nobody would read it.

“It was a tough time convincing them (about telling the story through cartoon instead) because this was 1974. Not many people knew about me yet.”

Lat’s story about the Sikh wedding became critically acclaimed as for many days, phone calls were made to the editors at NSTP, praising his work.

“People of this country have various origins and backgrounds.

“We come from different cities, different towns, different races. That is the attraction.”

The editors then gave him the freedom to draw whatever he wished. Since people of different races and age groups read the newspaper, Lat took the opportunity to introduce them to the different cultures and heritages of Malaysia.

Lat (left) and Woon. Woon says Lat is an ideal partner because his iconic cartoons can unite Malaysians from all walks of life

“NSTP gave me six columns to draw, which was quite big. Back then, newspapers were in broadsheet format.

“I also had to make sure that my stories were attractive because while drawings about culture and heritage were normal for magazines, they were generally not considered newsworthy for newspapers,” he said.

Some of Lat’s famous works are his Kampung Boy series which were first published in 1979 by Berita Publishing Sdn Bhd.

It tells the tale of a young boy named Mat who lived the rural life of the 50s in Perak. The comic explores the typical life of growing up in a Malay kampung where he learns religious studies, works in his father’s plantation and makes mischiefs.

Kampung Boy has gained popularity around the world, where it was translated into 12 foreign languages such as Arabic, French, Japanese and Korean. The comic was very successful in Japan and caught the attention of the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino, Princess Mako.

There were even talks for Lat to develop a live-action film with a French director last year.

“When I created Kampung Boy, it was all about teenagers. Teenage years are when you start to really mingle with your peers. That is when you learn about each other, discover similar interests and learn about each other’s differences.”

Next, Lat worked on Town Boy. This sequel to Kampung Boy tells of Mat’s move to Ipoh and his experiences from the quiet life of the village to the bustling streets.

When he was a primary school boy himself, Lat’s father could not afford to buy comics for him, so he exchanged them with his schoolmates.

He was inspired by the works of local comic artists Raja Hamzah and Saidin Yahya. Back then, the comics that were sold in the newsstands were all written in the Jawi script.

“We were also reading foreign comics at school like British War and World War II comics. There were always people with comics, so we exchanged them.” Growing up, Lat did not know much about art and his drawing skills were self-taught. Exchanging the comics between his schoolmates gave him the opportunity to learn how to draw.

“Those war comic books did not have the names of the artists, just the publishers’, because the artists were all commissioned to draw.

“They were given the stories, the script, the dialogue and the caption. They then did research on war machines, weapons, equipment and motor vehicles which they had to draw,” Lat said.

Growing up admiring anonymous foreign artists, Lat later became a subject of admiration by at least one international artist. He had a visit from Matt Groening, the creator of the popular satirical cartoon sitcom, The Simpsons.

“A friend told me that Groening read Kampung Boy, and he liked it. So, he told me to call up Groening’s office. At the time, in 1995 or 1996, I was in Los Angeles doing animation for Kampung Boy.”

Groening came over to the hotel where Lat was staying, much to the hotel staff’s disbelief.

There is now a Facebook page called “Dunia Kartun Lat” (Lat’s Cartoon World) dedicated to Lat and his work, run by Nizam Khalid. Nizam, who has been a fan of Lat for almost 36 years, described the artist’s work as simple, yet very detailed. “His wit is irresistible,” he said.

Nizam’s favourite is Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today because it is very nostalgic to him.

Although Lat’s works are focused on Malaysians, they are loved by people beyond Malaysia’s borders.

Lat’s comics are humorous and good-natured. Because of this trademark in his artwork, Faber-Castell Malaysia recently chose Lat to collaborate with

More about Lat

Lat was born on March 5, 1951, in Kota Baru, Perak (not to be confused with the capital of Kelantan).

The eldest son of an army clerk father and a homemaker mother, Lat spent his childhood in the village, where life was simple, and the folks friendly.

In school, Lat’s teacher was Moira Hew, a popular character in his comics with her butterfly-shaped spectacles. Hew had peacefully passed away on March 8, 2017, at her home in Canning Garden.

When Lat first applied for a job at NSTP, there was no cartoonist post available, so he worked as a crime reporter there instead, as he needed to be the breadwinner of the family.

The newspaper only offered him a job as a cartoonist after his work Bersunat (a Malay circumcision ritual) was published in a Hong Kong magazine called The Asia Magazine.

Lat finally left NSTP to work on his own terms in the 80s.

The legendary cartoonist has won several awards, including the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (2002), the Petronas Malaysian Journalism Awards Night for Special Jury Prize (2005) and was presented the Merdeka Award (2014) by the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

Although Lat’s works are focused on Malaysians, they are loved by people beyond Malaysia’s borders

Notable Works

  1. Tiga Sekawan (Three Friends) was his first comic. It was published in 1964 when he was only 13 years old. At the time, he was contributing cartoon strips to newspapers and magazines to support his family.
  2. Mat Som (1989) tells the story of a struggling young writer who is trying to make a living in Kuala Lumpur in the 80s. The comic was later adapted into a live-action film in 1990 by Professor Dr Hatta Azad Khan and features prominent actors Imuda, Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina, Zami Ismail and Adibah Amin.
  3. Another companion to his Kampung Boy series is Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today (1994), which serves as a comparison between his life growing up in rural Perak and the modern life during the 80s and 90s.
  4. Dr Who?!: Capturing the Life and Times of a Leader in Cartoons (2004) is a comic book based on Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Moha- mad’s comments. Lat’s caricatures of Dr Mahathir made a comeback last year after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th General Election, which saw the latter making a comeback as the seventh PM.