By John A. Lent

LAT (Mohamed Nor Khalid) is one of the most-read and prolific cartoonists in Southeast - if not all of - Asia, and with the continued, widespread reprinting and translating of his cartoons, he is gaining worldwide fame. In fact, few cartoonist anywhere have achieved the exposure and status of Lat. A movie, musical play, animation series, many commercials, all types of merchandise, and even a McDonald's "Kampung-burger" have sprung from his works. His many achievements were crowned with the awarding of the very prestigious Malaysian honorific "datuk" in 1994.

Lat was born in 1951 in Kota Baru, a kampung (village) in northern Malaysia. His professional career began at the age of 13 when his cartoons were published in Majallah Filem and Movie News. While still in his teens, his first comic books, Tiga Sekawan, and "Keluarga Si Mamat," has appeared weekly in the newspaper Berita Minggu since he was 16 in 1967. Upon graduating from high school, he sought a position in the art department of the largest English-language daily, New Straits Times, but instead was made a crime reporter. By 1974, his artistic talent was recognized and he became editorial cartoonist of the Times. He left the daily a decade later to freelance.

Over the years, Lat did all types of cartooning - political, social, and gag cartoons; comic strips, commercials, and animation. His annual compilations of his strips into books were extremely successful, one, Kampung Boy, selling more than 100,000 copies. Lat's cartoons go down easy because the universality of his messages and images.

Lat is at his best portraying the common folk and being himself, in a type of autobiographical comics that differs significantly from the usual fare in that it is neither fill of neuroses and psychoses nor dragged out with mundane. Lat celebrates life - his life when he was starker (naked kid) chasing chickens around his kampung yard, a befuddled teenager trying to figure out how to approach the town beauty, or a father looking a bit bewildered by, but rather tolerant of, his own children's curtain-climbing antics.