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December 03, 2006

Gonick & Lat

I passed around my copies of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe in my classes last week.

These exist so far in three volumes:
I. From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great
II. From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome
III. From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaisssance
(These all have sample pages, incidentally, if you're curious)

I often mention these books in class, since linguistics deals with history and these are the best (and by far the funniest) histories I know.

The students loved it, of course. They always do. When I went to find a web site to refer them to, however, I found (on Larry Gonick's home page) that his latest volume is coming out next month.

That's a great piece of news. This book is apparently the start of a new series (The Cartoon History of the Modern World -- From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution), without the time travel motif, but still much the same in spirit.

Like The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, I think these books should be part of the permanent library of every college student in the Anglophone world. They tell the truth and they tell it well. You can't ask for more in a book.

Looking at the stuff about Gonick's cartoon books reminded me of my other favorite cartoonist, Lat. (Larry Gonick admits that he's been a fan of Lat for years.)

"Lat" is actually a childhood nickname (short for bulat 'round', since Lat was a little on the "husky" side as a child, bodyshapewise) for Mohammed Nor bin Khalid (who has become Dato' Lat while I wasn't paying attention, in 1997 -- not that he didn't deserve it: he really ought to be Tun Lat, except they only give that honor to politicians, worse luck).

Lat is the Garrison Keillor and Bill Mauldin of Malaysia. Together. Greatly beloved, and exceedingly funny. He gets Malaysian life just right. He fearlessly makes fun of those who take themselves too seriously, he plays no favorites (he himself is Malay, but he portrays Malays, Tamils, Sikhs, and the several varieties of Chinese who inhabit Malaysia with great affection and accuracy), and his cartoons and cartoon books are like nothing I've ever seen in the USA.

My only complaint about his work is that it's too hard to find. His wonderful cartoon Bildungsroman memoirs Budak Kampung 'Kampung Boy' (in both Malay and English) and Town Boy (I've only ever seen an English version) have been followed by dozens of cartoon collections that are both hilarious and instructional (especially since some of them are in Malay).

I collected as many as I could find when I was in Malaysia (1986), but it's been 20 years now and there's lots more. I wish I could order them all online. Perhaps that will be possible some time soon. Insha'allah.

Posted by jlawler at December 3, 2006 02:22 PM


I have to admit that I learned Statistics from Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Statistics. It made my textbook comprehensible.

Posted by: clunis at December 4, 2006 12:49 PM

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