News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Ruminations on the Opening of Rumah Lat dan Galeri (or, Lat is still a simple man)

by CT Lim

Years in the making. And inevitably delayed by Covid. Rumah Lat dan Galeri (the Lat gallery), a permanent museum devoted to the Malaysian cartoonist, finally had its official opening on July 8, 2023.

I had received a call from Lat two  weeks prior, asking if I was free to attend the opening. I said yes. I have known Lat since the 1990s and all of us are getting on in age. These days I travel to meet up with friends, most recently in June, with a trip to Hong Kong to visit the political cartoonist, Zunzi. 

Lat also asked me to contact Miel, a cartoonist for The Straits Times in Singapore. Miel and I had done a road trip in 2009 to visit Lat in Ipoh. That trip was partly for me to seal the deal with Lat for his contribution to Liquid City Volume 2, a Southeast Asian comics anthology which I co-edited. He sent in a short story about the thrills of attending a soccer match. 

I once described Lat as a simple man. I think that is still true. But life is complicated. When we arrived at the gallery, an instrumental version of "Just My Imagination" was playing in the background. We imagine our best selves and future, but sometimes reality lets us down. Life is often a series of disappointments and disillusionments. 

But dreams also do come true, as in the case of the Lat gallery. The opening was no simple affair. The event was graced by the presence of the Sultan of Perak and his wife. It was a full-on Malay royalty occasion, a first for me and totally fascinating, the rituals and procedures. 

The Sultan was a cool guy. He not only officiated over the opening and made Lat the royal artist / cartoonist of Perak; he also played the cartoon historian. In his speech, he gave a historical overview of Lat's career and cartoons. (Ok, most likely he did not write his own speech, but it is still cool that he made it.)

The Sultan and his wife

After all the speeches and the private tour for the VIPs, we were able to go around to see the gallery and the recreated kampung house on our own. Being the consumers we were, we headed to the gift shop to buy mech - caps, tees, pencil cases, etc. 

Lat merch

The gallery was a mix of reproductions (the old Lat cartoons: the originals were long lost) and originals for the newer pieces. There was a preview of the new book, Mat Som 2. Long anticipated and in the works for the past few years, Lat was aided by Arif Rafhan for the inking. Arif and his family were there too to attend the opening and we chatted. 

Mat Som 2

There was a recreation of Lat's desk in the gallery. Next to it was a record player. I wondered if it was a Bob Dylan vinyl on it and true enough, it was Nashville Skyline. My friendship with Lat was cemented by our love for Dylan and old John Wayne movies. I remembered Lat telling me that when Nashville Skyline came out, he was a young man and poor. He could only buy the EP version of the album (with less songs) and could only afford the full album later on. 

This got me to reflect on what would be my opportunities if I were born in Malaysia. Would my family be middle class like Frankie from Town Boy? Would I have to go overseas for my further studies? Or would I be a Chinese gangster in Cheras?

But enough of my ruminations (but the best works of art do that to us). Finally we found Lat and we recreated our kampong shot from 2009. 

Miel, Lat, and CT Lim in 2023

CT Lim, Lat, and Miel in 2009

Lat and family were tired by the end of the event. Many asked Lat for autographs and quick sketches. Some even took the plates from the catering to get Lat to draw on. We decided to let Lat rest. I went to Ipoh to start my food tour of the town. I also found a rare P Ramlee remastered record. I told Lat and he said that was a good buy. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Le Petit Poilu in concert: a fresh take on music and movement in comics


Le Petit Poilu in concert: a fresh take on music and movement in comics

A “BD-Concert” at the Comics Art Museum in Brussels, Belgium. June 10, 2023


Reviewed by Laurie Anne Agnese





 On a Saturday morning in June, in a small room just off the busy and bright majestic art nouveau hall of the Comics Art Museum in Brussels, three rows of small children were sitting on the steps in front of a stage with two musicians and a screen.  Their parents, seated in chairs behind them, were coaxing them to be quiet and still.  For some of these children as young as 2 or 3 years old, this was their first live concert; for nearly all, it was their first BD concert. 


 The BD concerts were programmed for the museum’s temporary exhibit of Le Petit Poilu (on display until August 15 2023), the popular wordless bande dessinée series that the Belgian cartoonist Pierre Bailly and scriptwriter Céline Fraipont created for preschool children. What is special about Le Petit Poilu is how children as young as 3 years old can read the pictures on their own and understand these complex stories independently of their parents. 


 The performance, the first of three scheduled that day, combined projected images from the comic to original live music. The concept leaned into the unique comic forms of Le Petit Poilu, while borrowing cinematic techniques to draw out the tensions and meaning of the story.  Stéphane Arbon, wrote the score, and Christophe Bardon performed the live soundtrack mixing blues, rock and jazz to bring to life one of the older and better known stories in the series, Pagaille au Potager (Garden Frenzy).  The two have been collaborating for more than twenty years, both as TOTOF et le grand orchestre intended for kids, and other collaborations.


 In Pagaille au Potager, Petit Poilu starts his day like any ordinary preschooler - waking up and getting ready. But on his way to school, he falls down a mysterious hole and digs himself out into a lush, oversized garden where he has fantastical adventures with a group of friendly insects.


The good times are interrupted with the seemingly gratuitous aggression of a bee who attacks and stings Poilu’s red nose that balloons with pain. The group sets out to enact their own revenge on the Bee.  But during the dramatic confrontation, Petit Poilu witnesses the Bee’s troubling situation, pauses and dares to react with kindness, offering the Bee a chance to be friends. This is a classic Poilu story, mixing fantasy together with real world empathy. 



 Pagaille au Potager was the first Le Petit Poilu series to be made into an episode of the animated series, transforming the twenty-eight page wordless album into a fast-paced seven minute cartoon. This version, with characters sometimes speaking in balderdash and other nonsensical sounds, is entertaining and quick to the point, but more defined and narrower than the comic.



The BD concert is a fresh interpretation of the story, and rich with the human touch of the expressive line drawings, well-developed plot lines, and the live percussion and stringed instruments. At forty minutes long, the concert significantly slowed down the story, particularly the pacing of the visuals, allowing the audience to linger on the panels for much longer than they would while silently reading. The overall effect still gives enough space for interpretation, and feels true to the comic’s original form. The slide show, for example, played with the concept of the page in comics, carefully timing the display of still images, one next to the other, eventually filling the entire screen.

In other vignettes, basic cinematic techniques such panning, zooming, or animation, brought gentle movement to the characters and textures to the story, and were meant to direct the eye to emphasize beauty of the illustrations or highlight the tensions in the story. The score, however, was the consistent cinematic throughline; the original songs punctuated with sound effects, is playful and resonant, and in itself a reference to the musicality of the original comic.

Because of its use of structure and repetition, Le Petit Poilu is not silent at all, but actually quite musical and rhythmic. Arbon and Bardon’s interpretation and musical performance had much to add to the emotional richness of the story.


All photos and video taken by Laurie Anne Agnese