Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Finally, a book for everyone.

Kampung Boy
By Lat

In many ways this book reminded me of The Little Prince, only the basis comes from Malaysia rather than the western Euro-centric world view. It’s the story of a young boy growing up in a Malaysian village (Kampung) in the years up until he leaves to boarding school. The book documents the frontier of that region and the culture coming into direct confrontation with the industrialized world. In many ways it is the Malaysian mash up of works like Anne of Green Gables and Peanuts.

This isn’t totally a coming of age story but an exploration of the Garden of Eden that is childhood. You have little cares in the world other than having fun and exploring your ever growing boundaries. And that is what you get here. A boy who, as he grows, experiences more and more of the world, moving from his home to his Kampung to the surrounding countryside in an ever increasing circle. His concerns also grow as he does from hearing a distant monster to finally seeing a tin dredge in action to “stealing” tin in the shadow of the factory.

As the main boy grows his idealized setting slowly disappears just as that way of life has slowly being swallowed by increasing industrialization. It is fascinating to read and the economy of language used to tell the story allows for the story to contain more meaning than an overly verbose description or enough language to beat the message over your head.

The artwork is compared to Charles Schultz by Matt Groening. I can sort of see the parallels because of the rough style and the economy of line but I’m not totally sold on that. Where Schultz simplified his characters into clean lined versions of an exaggerated human form, Lat is much more loose and rough around the edges. The settings are much more defined but the entire perspective is always slightly childish in the same way that Bill Watterson used to stylize the day dreams of Calvin. This is exceptionally stylized work but it always catches the action and emotion perfectly. There is a great sense of wonder and love here that can’t help but remind you that this story is presenting the idealized world of a child to the reader. I can only imagine that it helps younger readers identify with the work themselves as they see their own drawing style mimicked in the pages.

I really enjoyed this book, both for the message and the art. The only thing sort of bothering me is figuring out the audience for it here. It’s not totally directed at people my age although we’re the closest audience since we’re buying comics and comic art already. But the story is for kids and would really be something worth while to get a new reader, especially one that is interested in the wider world and wants to be an explorer or traveler. I can imagine this being picked up by precocious parents who only let their kids listen to world music but it would be worth while if the non-wankerish set figured out that this is well worth any young reader’s time.

This is one of those small books that just sits on your shelf reminding you that bigger isn't always better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

School libraries are filling with graphic novels. Kids will find this gem.