MALAYSIA - Here's the irony. Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, or Lat, is probably more instantly recognisable as a cartoon in his own works than as himself in real life. Those who grew up with his regular cartoon column in newspapers and his popular books such as The Kampung Boy, Town Boy, Keluarga Si Mamat and others would attest to that. The spiky-haired chubby boy with the beady eyes and toothy grin is now a timeless Malaysian icon. Schoolchildren in the 1970s and 80s emulated Lat's style of drawing and few who grew up in those times would deny that they also tried their hand at drawing that chubby boy.
He started his career in the 60s as a cartoonist for Berita Minggu. He has a knack in capturing everyday scenes of Malaysian life, everything from the popular "bas mini" and durians, to politicians and other famous folks.
Lat was already working as a reporter when he was given the task to draw a regular cartoon column. He remembers his chief editor at the time "was a very strict fella, real conservative and he wore a suit every day and I was in my early 20s, with very long hair and very hip, and I didn't know how we could meet half way."
In a transcript provided by National Geographic Channel, Lat said: "But I had the audience, the people in mind, and how to reach out to those people who read the newspapers, people of various ethnic groups."
He started off drawing about weddings, because "you can't go wrong with weddings, everybody attends a weddings." In between, he slipped in drawings about football, eating habits and bus rides. Soon, he became popular and was like "wah, a rock star". His fans then started requesting that he draw about politics.
"But it was a subject which at that time I didn't really follow," says Lat, "and what I did was I started to draw caricatures of prominent Malaysians and politicians, and that's how I started to draw Tan Sri (Abdul) Kadir (Yusuf) who was our head of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and he was (Law Minister). He was easy to draw, very slim, and when the drawing came out, he told people 'I'm going to get that Lat one day', which meant he liked it."