'L'Arabe du Futur', volume 4.

Riad Sattouf is a French-Syrian comic creator and filmmaker, known for his sharp observations of society, and youth culture in particular. His comics and films chronicle the lives of everyday heroes, including himself, often through a sociological lens. The serious subject matter is balanced with his comical drawing style, that has its roots in the late 1990s French indie comics scene. For Charlie-Hebdo magazine, Sattouf turned his observations of Parisian youth into a comic series: 'La Vie Secrète des Jeunes' (2004-2014), while for Fluide Glacial, he gave a dystopian view on machismo in his fiction feature 'Pascal Brutal' (2005-2018). Several of Sattouf's films and comics are fully or partially based on his own youth and life experiences, most notably the six-volume graphic novel series 'L'Arabe du Futur' ('The Arab of the Future', 2014-2022). In this award-winning series, he chronicles his childhood as the son of a Syrian father and French mother, growing up in Libya under colonel Khadaffi's regime and in Syria under president Hafez Al-Assad. 

Early life
Riad Sattouf was born in 1978 in Paris, as the eldest of three children in a French-Syrian family. His father was Abdul-Razak Sattouf, a man with a complex character, balancing between modern, secular Arabism and the conservative and traditional standards of his Sunni-Syrian background. Riad's mother Clémentine was a reserved French woman originating from the Brittany region (Bretagne). The couple met in Paris, while studying at the Sorbonne University. When Riad was still a little boy, the family moved to Libya, where his father - a graduate in History - was offered a teaching position. They later moved to Syria, where the family settled in Abdul-Razak's hometown Teir Maalah, near Homs.

In between, the Sattouf family spent periods of time in France, eventually living with Clémentine's family in Rennes. After receiving a Muslim education in a Syrian village school, Riad spent sixth grade in France, where he discovered the gap between Arab and Western education. As a child with both French and Syrian roots, young Riad was treated as an outsider wherever he lived. In Syria, he was a Frenchman, mockingly named a 'Jew' because of his blonde hair, and in France, he was "an Arab with a strange name".

Meanwhile, Abdul-Razak Sattouf became more and more absorbed by the traditional views of his Sunni family, determined to return to Syria where he expected great prosperity was awaiting him. When mother Clémenine refused to leave France, father Abdul took all the family savings and their youngest son Fadi and returned to Syria, this time for good. The loss of her youngest son plunged Riad's mother into a deep depression, which only enhanced her son's sense of alienation.

'Petit Verglas' #1 (2000).

While spending his childhood years in Syria, Riad Sattouf was introduced to European comics through his maternal grandmother, who sent him editions of Tintin magazine. Later on, in France, he grew a particular fondness for the science fiction work of Moebius, Philippe Druillet and Enki Bilal, while also enjoying action movies like 'Conan the Barbarian', and the anime of Rumiko Takahashi. In his professional life, Sattouf mentioned Hergé and Chris Ware as important influences on his storytelling. A loner, Riad Sattouf found escapism in drawing. After his secondary education in Rennes, he studied Applied Arts in Nantes, before being admitted to the Parisian Gobelins art school to study Animation. In Paris, Riad Sattouf found his independence, developing more self-assurance in his graphic skills, and dealing with his past through psychotherapy.

Early career
As a cartoonist, Sattouf had his first break when participating in a comics contest. Even though he ended fourth, Sattouf sent his portfolio to one of the jury members, comic artist Olivier Vatine. Vatine was impressed, and suggested Sattouf to publisher Guy Delcourt, who offered him his first professional job. Between 2000 and 2003, while still using a realistic drawing style, Sattouf drew three volumes of 'Petit Verglas', a fantasy graphic novel series written by Éric Corbeyran. Other early professional assignments were book covers for the collections J'Ai Lu and Librio, and for French editions of the youth book series 'The Famous Five'. In the meantime, he continued to work on his own sci-fi comic projects, which were all turned down by publishers. While signing at a comics festival, he got in touch with the comic creator Émile Bravo, one of his favorite artists. Bravo gave him useful tips on storytelling, and introduced him to a group of artists who were about to start their own atelier: Joann Sfar, Christophe Blain and Mathieu Sapin. Joining them, the three artists gave Sattouf a new perspective on his personal comics. Already established names in the French indie comics scene, Sfar and Blain encouraged Sattouf to write stories about things he knew. Instead of sci-fi, Sattouf turned to making comics about what would become his trademark, real-life stories.

'Les Pauvres Aventures de Jérémie' #2 - 'Le Pays de la Soif' (2004).

True-to-life comics
Inspired by his new creative environment, Sattouf assumed a comical drawing style, and created 'Les Jolis Pieds de Florence', a tragicomical story about a loser who designs video games, his strange friends and his ill-fated attempts at finding love in modern-day France. Published in 2003 in the Poisson Pilote collection of Éditions Dargaud, the book received positive reviews, and two more volumes of 'Les Pauvres Aventures de Jérémie' ("The Misadventures of Jeremy") followed in 2004 and 2005. In between, Sattouf created two autobiographical picture books for Joann Sfar's imprint Bréal Jeunesse. 'Manuel du Puceau' ("Virgin Manual", 2003) gave a humorous look on the agonies of adolescence, and in 'Ma Circoncision' (2004), Sattouf told about his circumcision at age eight. In the Summer of 2004, Sattouf went to the USA to report about the locust plague in Texas for Libération magazine. But instead of going to Texas, he stayed in New York City, where he chronicled the lonelinesss and sexual misery of his young contemporaries. In 72 pages, he reported about the French community in New York, commando girls, free enterprise, the post-9/11 sex appeal of New York firefighters and the good organization of a date. After their publication in Libération, these comics were collected in the book 'No Sex in New York' (Dargaud, 2004).

'No Sex in New York' (2004).

La Vie Secrète des Jeunes
Because of the foul language and the negative portrayal of his father in his two Bréal Jeunesse books, a couple of conservative Catholic organizations filed a complaint against Sattouf for obscenity, and he was questioned by the police. This prompted Charlie-Hebdo journalist Stéphane Bou to request Sattouf for a graphic report about the experience. After that, he was asked to join the team of this satirical magazine, even though his work was not political. Instead, Sattouf lauched his weekly page 'La Vie Secrète des Jeunes' ("The Secret Life of Youngsters", 2004-2014), in which he captured his direct observations of youngsters on the streets. The results were tragi-comical, faithfully representing the youth's language, suburban accents and behavior. Sattouf provided his weekly page over a period of ten years, with the final episode appearing in the summer of 2014. Publisher L'Association released three book collections between 2007 and 2012. In the same tradition, Riad Sattouf spent a couple of days at a Parisian school for well-off children, and compared his observations to his own traumatizing high school experiences. Changing names and faces, he turned his research into the graphic novel 'Retour au Collège', in which he gave an honest portrayal of the comings and goings of teenagers from upscale neighborhoods.

La Vie Secrète des Jeunes by Riad Satouff
'La Vie Secrète des Jeunes' (2016).

Fiction comics
In addition to his documentary-style comics, Sattouf also remained active in the field of fiction. For Éditions Milan, he made two volumes of the children's series 'Pipit Farlouse' (2005-2006), about a schoolboy bird in a funny animal country. For his studio colleague Mathieu Sapin, Sattouf wrote 'Laura et Patrick - Les Jeunes de la Jungle' (Lito, 2006), an offbeat story about an amnesiac scientist and two children born from his test tubes.

Riad Sattouf's best-known fiction work is the comical 'Pascal Brutal' feature (2005-2018), which appeared in the humor comic magazine Fluide Glacial. The setting is a dystopian France, where a wave of ultra-liberalism has absurdly modified the French territory into several autonomous regions, and where access to the center of Paris has become forbidden to the poor. Titular character Pascal Brutal is the pinnacle of virility: dominant, macho and hypersexual. In his adventures, this virility is either illustrated or undermined. In the same observational style of his other comics, Sattouf based the character of Pascal Brutal on the type of beefy, self-confident males he encountered in his daily life. Éditions Audie released four book collections. In the last one, Sattouf dropped the character's original context and constantly placed him in completely different situations, making his a stand-up comedian, dramatic actor, an fortunous heir in the world of food distribution or a football star.

Pascal Brutal by Riad Sattouf
'Pascal Brutal'.

L'Arabe du Futur
While many of Riad Sattouf's previous comics were based on his own life experiences, he always had the ambition to create someting about his life in Syria, his father and the kidnapping of his baby brother. With over ten years of experience in making comics, Sattouf had found his style and form. Between 2014 and 2022, he released six volumes of 'L'Arabe du Futur' with publisher Allary Éditions, in which he honestly chronicled how he experienced his upbringing while living in Libya, Syria and France. Each volume captures longer or shorter periods of time: 1978-1984 (volume 1), 1984-1985 (volume 2), 1985-1987 (volume 3), 1987-1992 (volume 4), 1992-1994 (volume 5) and 1994-2011 (volume 6). The title was derived from his father's initial ideal of raising his son as a modern "Arab of the future". But as the years pass, father Sattouf becomes more and more traditional in his beliefs.

L'Arabe du Futur by Riad Sattouf
'L'Arabe du Futur' volume 1. 

Riad Sattouf tells his story against the political turmoil of colonel Muammar Khaddafi's Libya and Hafez-Al Assad's Syria, but doesn't give historical context or explanations. The story is presented from how the cartoonist experienced it at the time, through the naïve look of a child. Political changes are presented anecdotally, like the abolishment of private property in Libya. Since all unoccupied housing was now free for the taking, the Sattouf family lost their first residence when a policeman's family claimed it during their absence. In his chronicle, Sattouf refrains from using hindsight or personal reflections. He is merely an observer. Instead of sentimentally analyzing his troubled relationship with his father, he portrays him as a tragic and conflicted character, who gradually transforms from a young idealist into an authoritarian hypocrite. The author's observational skills are exemplified by his meticulous recollections of smell, tastes and sounds. Spot colors are used symbolically to represent countries or specific situations.

An international bestseller, Sattouf's graphic memoir has been translated into sixteen languages and met with widespread critical acclaim, including from the New York Times and the Academy Award-winning director Michel Hazanavicius. In France, the books also met with criticism, particularly for the stereotypical depictions of Arabs. Orientalist Laurent Bonnefoy wrote a critical essay, in which he blasted Sattouf for portraying Arab men as filthy, violent, stupid, uncivilized, fanatical and anti-Semitic people, attributing the books' success to the upcoming popularity of far-right politics in France. In an interview in The New Yorker, Sattouf countered most of the criticism of French commentators with relativism and positive reactions from people from the Arab world, including a Syrian refugee, Algerian intellectuals and the Palestinian diplomat Elias Sanbar. He also expressed his right to speak openly and honestly about his own past as an "Arab of the future".

'Les Cahiers d'Esther'.

Les Cahiers d'Esther
In 2014, Raid Sattouf left Charlie-Hebdo and moved over to the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Obs with his new feature 'Les Cahiers d'Esther' ("Esther's notebooks"). The comic chronicles the true stories told to him by the nine-year old Esther A. Ongoing, the feature follows the girl as she grows older. Since 2016, Allary Éditions has released book collections.

Graphic contributions
Besides his own books, work by Riad Sattouf has appeared in anthologies and collective productions too. Conributions by Sattouf appeared in 'Rire Contre Le Racisme ("Laughing Against Racism", Jungle 2006) and 'Vive la Politique!' ("Long Live Politics", Dargaud, 2006). Also in 2006, he was represented in the first edition of L'Éprouvette, a theoretical review about comics published by L'Assocation. In 2017, he graphically contributed to 'Les Cœurs Simples' of Éditions Casterman, a book about autism, collecting work by various writers and comic creators. In November 2020, the non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders published 'Riad Sattouf - 100 Dessins Pour La Liberté de la Presse', a special album devoted to the artist and freedom of the press.

Besides comics, Riad Sattouf has also brought his fly-on-the-wall style storytelling to the movie industry. Already in 2003, he helped his friend Joann Sfar with adaptating his comic series 'Petit Vampire' into an animated TV series. Besides co-writing the script, he also contributed as a voice actor. In 2009, Sattouf wrote and directed his first big film, 'Les Beaux Gosses' ('The French Kissers'). Dealing with the love life and coming of age of adolescence, the film was bestowed with critical praise and several awards. Sattouf continued his career in filmmaking as director and writer of the web series 'Mes Colocs' (2010), and with a 2010 TV adaptation of his comic feature 'La Vie Secrète des Jeunes' for Canal+. In January 2014, Sattouf's comedy film 'Jacky au Royaume des Filles' ("Jacky in Women's Kingdom") was released, about a fictional country where male and female roles are reversed. Riad Sattouf served as writer, director and supporting actor. In 2018, he was producer and scriptwriter for an animated series based on his comic series 'Les Cahiers d'Esther', produced by Folimage and broadcasted on Canal+.

The main star in both 'Les Beaux Gosses' and 'Jacky au Royaume des Filles' was the young French actor Vincent Lacoste. Aged 14 when filming of 'Les Beaux Gosses' began, the boy was propelled into the world of cinema, and has become one of the most talented actors of his generation. His sudden rise to fame was chronicled by Riad Sattouf in his new graphic novel series 'Le Jeune Acteur', released in 2021 by the author's own imprint Les Livres du Futur.

'Le Jeune Acteur' (2021).

With his series 'The Arab of the Future', Riad Sattouf has received acclaim far outside the French borders, while also reaching audiences outside of the comics scene. Already in 2003, Sattouf received the Prix René Goscinny at the Angoulême International Comics Festival for the first volume of 'Les Pauvres Aventures de Jérémie'. The second installment in the series won the 2004 Prix de la BD du Point, awarded by Le Point magazine. In 2007, Satouff was awarded the Jacques Lob Prize for his second 'Pascal Brutal' book at the BOUM comics festival in Blois, while 'La Vie Secrète des Jeunes' was awarded with the 2008 Globe de Cristal by the French Press Association. Especially the first volume of 'L'Arabe du Futur' received many awards, for instance the 2014 Grand Prix RTL for Comics, the Prix BD Stas/Ville de Saint-Étienne (2014) and the Fauve d'Or at the 2015 Angoulême comics festival. Internationally, the book won the Literary Prize for graphic novels by the Los Angeles Times (2016) and the Norwegian Sproing Award for "Best Foreign Comic" (2016). The third volume was awarded the 2018 Urhunden Prize in Sweden. In Germany, 'Les Cahiers d'Esther' won the 2018 Max und Moritz Prize. For his entire body of work, Riad Sattouf received the 2023 Grand Prize of the city of Angoulême, awarded during the comics festival in that city.

Between November 2018 and March 2019, a major retrospective exhibition of Riad Sattouf's work was held at the Pompidou Center in Paris, entitled 'L'Écriture Dessinée' ("Illustrated Writing"). An accompanying exhibit catalogue was published by Allary Éditions.

Riad Sattouf at his exposition in the Centre Pompidou in 2018.


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