Cartoonist Little’s debut graphic novel is called Lawak Shabu Shabu – Semanis Madu. That’s a long title! Broken up here’s what it’s all about. Lawak is a stand in for comedy or comic. Shabu Shabu is a type of hot pot meal from Japan. Semanis Madu means as sweet as honey in Malay. So you could say the title is Comic hot pot as sweet as honey. This comic book’s premise is simple, it’s about a small eatery where crazy customers and crazy waiters and cooks eat and work at. The main waiter is a giant white chicken. The restaurant’s owner is a fat balding male ballerina with a 5 day beard. It seemed that Lawak Shabu Shabu – Semanis Madu has really caught on with readers in Malaysia and is one of the most popular titles. At the time of writing three other volumes had been released.
The bookstore clerk who helped me compiled the list of good Malaysian comics insisted that this series was one of the most popular and that I had to cover it for this series on Malaysian comics at The Comic Book Bin. Malaysia is known for its varied and rich cuisine. Well, here’s a series that celebrates that with humour. What’s interesting to me, beyond the crazy customers who ask for all kinds of weird things and the staff of the restaurant is the way the individual comic strips are presented. On the left, there’s a blurb with one of the main characters featured within the three strips on the right. One of the strip is on the same page, the other two are on the next page on the right. The strips are drawn vertically as opposed to horizontally. You read them from top to right. Most of the strips are simple gags broken down in 4 panels. A tytpical strip would be this one. A kid is making a tantrum because he wants fishballs in his hot pot meal. The poor mom accompanying him doesn’t know what to do. The chef and owner of the restaurant gives the chicken waiter a giant meatball so the kid can stop complaining.
The humour is very direct and although I cannot read Malay, most of the gags are visual and thus easy to understand. Many of them require knowledge of Malay to understand the full context however. This is especially true of some of the gags where there is some continuity between the strips. They build up on a situation introduced earlier sometimes into several strips. Not all of the stories occur at the restaurant. Many happen outside but follow familiar characters.
I like the simple cartoons in this book. They are quite polished for a debuting artist and the colours vivid. This series is very kid-friendly. The humour feels irreverent and Little’s timing feels just right. For a non-Malay readers this series will not be as easy to relate to or understand because of the language barrier, but if the captions were translated into English, this series, with the high production values it has would easily find a devoted audience outside of Malaysia.
The other three volumes published in this series are;