The Star's C.W. Kee, hard at work.
Star2's resident cartoonist CW Kee recollects how meeting Lat, sitting next to chatty typists and failing his art exam all played into his comic world.
You wouldn't know it but cartoonist CW Kee, the man behind Malaysia's longest-running daily newspaper comic strip, actually failed his Art exam in high school. But with the belief that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it – or “pushed into a corner”, as Kee puts it – he learned to draw until a callus formed on his middle finger from holding his pen.
Recalling his formative years on his path to stardom, he remembers when he was 13 and on a class trip to a local English newspaper. Grabbing his chance, he raised his hand and asked if he could meet the paper's famous cartoonist Lat. His dream was granted and he alone was ushered into Lat’s room.
“He was sitting in a room reading a music book,” Kee says. This meeting made a lasting impression on young Kee because as he grew up to be a cartoonist himself, 70% of his creative process involves him sitting at his desk, reading materials and trying to get inspiration.
“I was very lucky. At first, I sat near the typists, who gave me material on domestic life. I was luckier later, too – my desk was near young people who talked about topics that were relevant to them. Right now, I am seated nearer to even younger people, allowing me to stay relevant.”
Kee, 54, says he just has one of those faces that people want to pour their hearts out to. “A ride in the lift can be quite fruitful if you keep your ears open,” he says with a mischievous glint in his eye.
His interest in comic strips started when he saw the original Star Wars in the cinema when he was 16. “I wanted to become a filmmaker. When I realised that wasn’t possible, I figured I’d do comic strips and tell my story in three frames instead of 24 frames per second (the standard rate for a film),” he shares.
In 1981, the day after he completed Form 6 in high school, Kee subscribed to The Star. When the paper was delivered to his home at 6:30am, he scanned the headlines and posted a strip he’d done to the editors by 8:30am. “After four days of doing this, The Star asked me to come in for an interview. I went and got a job as an editorial artist as they didn’t have a position for a cartoonist,” says Kee.
For the next two years, he was the only editorial artist for the paper. Today, the Editorial Artist department employs more than 30 people to work on visuals.
“I had to draw maps, come up with logos, charts and illustrations. There were so many maps that I traced – yes, I used tracing paper – especially during the The Falklands War (1982) and The Bosnian War (1992). And everything needed to be ready by 8pm because there would be a van bag waiting to take the visuals to the airport for the Penang edition. The plane is not going to wait for you! I was always looking at my watch back then, so much so that when I became a cartoonist, I never wore a watch again.”
The Star offered him a strip in the Sunday comics page in 1984 – “In whatever space there was left after the foreign strips were pasted on the paper.” – and then in the Metro pullout, and finally in Section Two’s comics section in 1986, where he has since become a staple.
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