I was at MPH in 1Utama when I came across this book which had been out of stock the last time I was here.

My first exposure to Lat was back in 1977 when my parents bought Lots of Lat, a compilation of Lat’s cartoons that had been published in the editorial page of the NST. I had been oblivious to his cartoons then, as I could never imagine myself fervently reading a broadsheet, let alone at that tender age. Lat’s books have different covers of late, but this was the one[1] we have in our household:

Lat’s first book was one that I held dear to my heart for a multitude of reasons. Take The Story of a Perak Wedding as an example – I remembered trips to Taiping during my school holidays where we’d visit relatives on my late mom’s side, and there were always weddings to attend. Some aspects of Lat’s description rang true to me to the point that I wondered if some of the caricatures he drew were those of my aunts. That’s a seven-year old’s imagination for you.

And then there was Lat’s caricature of his teacher, the late Moira Hew. To me, she seemed to be a mix of my late mom and some of my garang teachers. Or the one with the old B&W photos, which reminds me of the photo albums of my parents zaman muda-muda dulu. Also, I could have sworn seeing those camera trick photos being sold by a vendor at Tugu Negara KL when I went for a visit in them days. The Lat in London strip was another fav in the book, followed by the one of Holland. It wasn’t until much later in the late 80s when I had visited 44-46 Bryanston Square[2] that I noticed the accuracy of his drawings. Suffice to say, thanks to this book, I began to ‘read’ the NST op-ed page.

Since then, his subsequent books like Lots More Lat and Lat’s Lot were welcome purchases, although I’d read almost all of them prior following my ‘interest’ in the NST’s editorial page. Then came The Kampung Boy and later, Town Boy. I have to admit that despite my keen interest in Ipoh being the town I was born in, I didn’t know Ipoh at all. I remembered asking my Ipoh class mate all I could about the town from what I read in Town Boy to the point that I finally visited said classmate’s house in Rapat Setia for a weekend just to see the town for itself. Of course, I did my ask my parents about Ipoh too, and now and then, we’d drop by if we were ever in Taiping.

Ipoh wasn’t the only thing. My love of Japan, for example, started all those years ago during my childhood, with his Lat in Japan strip from Lots More Lat being one of the reasons. I knew this particular part of the strip by heart, only to know what the words mean much later when I learnt some nihon-go.

Now, coming back to Lat’s autobiography that I bought. Along with many of his fans, I’m sure we’d think we know Lat from his books especially The Kampung Boy and Town Boy, but the autobiography gave me a few “aaah, no wonder” moments on turning the pages. Those aforementioned books were actually semi-autobiographical, with Lat taking some artistic license in creating the characters, like Frankie in Town Boy (yup, there was no Frankie who was actually an amalgamation of two of Lat’s Chinese friends). Lat’s back story of how his dad was a clerk in the 5th Malay Regiment made me realise why Lat knew so much about life as a military kid. Lat’s earlier life living in several parts of Malaysia (obviously not made known in The Kampung Boy), including KL, made me realise his knowledge of the city especially that of Kampung Baru (a good example would be the A Brave New World strip in Lat’s Lot) didn’t start when he was a fledgling crime reporter at the NST. I had suspected that his seminal work from 1989, Mat Som (only my fav Lat book ever), was based on his life then, but the autobiography told of his dalliance with the world of sastera in the early 70s with the likes of Latiff Mohidin and Usman Awang – which made more sense now when I read Mat Som.

Bits of what had been written in the autobiography can be seen in this Crossings documentary on Lat that was on the Discovery Channel back in 2003.

Lat’s style in his cartoons or even storytelling hearkens from a more innocent time compared to what one reads these days. And these are local comics that I am talking about. In the docu, there was one thing Lat had said which I think rings true to the sharp but non-malicious messages in his comics:

“If you have bad intentions, then you shouldn’t draw.”

Indeed.

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[1]Unfortunately, no longer in mint condition. Some of the panels had been coloured in by a younger version of yours truly using colour pencil thinking that the cartoons would look better in colour.
[2]The original Malaysia Hall in London.