Like most Malaysians of my generation, I was an avid reader of the cartoonist Lat. His cartoons were funny, smart and relatable, though some of his work based on his travels outside Southeast Asia could sometimes be racist (for all the usual reasons around commenting on cultures other than your own). Outside Malaysia, he’s most well known for The Kampung Boy and Town Boy, two autobiographical volumes both available via Hennepin County Libraries.
My personal favourite is the graphic novel Mat Som. Typical of Lat’s best work, it’s deeply human: funny, touching, vulnerable and posturing. The book follows the title character, an aspiring writer, as he looks for work, struggles with money, wonders about his life and deals with his family. It’s a story most of us know well, and it’s both comforting and riveting in its familiarity.
It is this familiarity, our comfort as Lat quietly examines class, race, politics, gender, “progress” and art, that makes his work for eminently readable even on the other side of the world.