February 19, 2008
A Slice of Life, Malaysian Style
This book was a 2007 Graphic Novel Cybils Award Nominee.
Mat's family just moved from the country to town, which means change in every aspect of his life, from the blocky little house he now lives in to his classroom full of boys from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Mat lives in the Malaysia of the 1960s--as did the author of Town Boy, the popular and prolific Malaysian cartoonist known as Lat.
It's probably safe to assume that Lat's own childhood and teenage years served as inspiration for this funny, expressive sequel to Kampung Boy. With artwork that's just a bit reminiscent of R. Crumb, Lat portrays the day-to-day adventures of Mat in an expressionistic and distinct style. From making friends in his new school, to getting to know the prettiest girl in his class, to dancing to loud American rock music, the everyday realities of Mat's life are easy to relate to.
At the same time, Lat's very individual artistic style nicely depicts the feeling of being in Malaysia--the foliage, the architecture, the atmosphere of the town as Mat bikes and runs along its streets. The reader really feels like they're getting a glimpse of what life was like growing up in the Malaysia of the '60s. Though, from time to time, the characters were drawn in a sort of caricatured style, Lat's equal-opportunity sense of humor makes it clear that he is not mocking any particular ethnic group. Rather, he's portraying a specific place and time through his own unique cartoonist's lens. This is a rather quiet, though quirky, title suffused with warmth and humor, but it's an eye-opener for anyone unfamiliar with the setting.