Riad Sattouf: emancipating oneself through the comic strip

With 3 million copies sold worldwide, the autobiographical series The Arab of the Future is one of the greatest comic books of the past five years. Volume 5 just arrived on the shelves, La Presse took the opportunity to discuss with its author, Riad Sattouf. Report.

The fifth volume of L’Arabe du futur opened in 1992, in Rennes, France. Riad Sattouf lost everything of his abundant childhood blond hair and entered his adolescence head-on. He is 14 years old and he is not terrible… “I was a fairly lambda teenager, launches the cartoonist. Not very bright, not bad. Quite invisible, to be honest. I attracted attention with my drawings. It is moreover with the latter that he tries to seduce Anaïck, who is nothing less than the woman of his life …

In short, an adolescence all that is most banal except for this: the young Riad is torn between two worlds, that of his Breton mother and that of his Syrian father, the latter having left the family suddenly afterwards. to have committed a serious act of which we will not disclose anything here.

“To save myself, I had to find my own identity. On the one hand, there was my father, more and more religious, who told me that women had the devil in them. On the other hand, I had my Breton grandfather, naturist and sex-obsessed, who constantly tried to draw my attention to girls! My emancipation went through the arts. In my two families, there was nobody creative or artist… ”

This adolescent’s quest for identity, this need to assert his true nature, despite the drama that affects his family, is at the heart of this penultimate volume, an album with a powerful breath that oscillates between shadow and light, between this will. to free oneself from childhood and ancestral guilt.

The first volume of L’Arabe du futur was released in 2014, but Riad Sattouf had already made a name for himself in the industry with series like Pascal Brutal and La vie secrète des jeunes. Why did you wait so long before writing down her personal story and that of her family? “I was not psychologically ready. I didn’t want to be this cartoonist with an Arabic name that tells of his origins. I first wanted to be recognized as a comic book author without having to talk about my identity. ”

The start of the civil war in Syria and a very light schedule (due in particular to the failure of his film Jacky in the Kingdom of Girls ) convinced him that it was time to tackle this most intimate project. . “I wanted to testify subjectively to what I saw and experienced. For me, it was clear from the start that I would tell everything, especially our family drama which was at the heart of the project. ”

Extract from The Arab of the Future , Volume 5, by Riad Sattouf

The cartoonist admits it without hesitation: one of his great inspirations in comics remains Hergé. “I have a lot of affection for Tintin, because it is with his albums that I learned to decode French. My Breton grandmother sent them to me by post in the village where we lived in Syria! ”

I have always admired the simplicity of Hergé’s narration, his fluidity. When I start an album, I keep coming back to it all the time: I want my album to be as easy to read, to be accessible for those who don’t read graphic novels. Just like my Breton grandmother!

Riad Sattouf

However, Hergé was not in the drawn autobiography and it is rather at the publishing house L’Association that the author found his main sources of inspiration for The Arab of the Future. He notably quotes Jean-Christophe Menu ( Libretto de Phamille ) and Montrealer Julie Doucet. “I suddenly went from Tintin to independent comics! It was remarkable for me to see that personal stories can give comics… ”

Extract from The Arab of the Future , Volume 5, by Riad Sattouf

Throughout the series The Arab of the Future , the figure of the father hovers over the story. At first a sympathetic and benevolent hero, over the pages he becomes darker and darker, more and more disturbing.

“My father came from a peasant and popular background; he is someone who, thanks to education, has been able to achieve something extraordinary. He studied at the Sorbonne and became a doctor in history. It’s amazing when you know where it comes from! He had a desire to emancipate himself and be modern, but at the same time he kept his bigoted and superstitious side. However, this emancipation towards oneself, this possibility of leaving or not of one’s social class is a subject that I wanted to explore in my series. It is a universal subject. ”

The cartoonist continues: “I want to write albums that resemble what I like to read, that is to say complex stories, which are not Manichean, with white on one side and black on the side. other. Life is much more complex than that! ”

Cartoonist first

Extract from The Arab of the Future , Volume 5, by Riad Sattouf

If he has long been torn between his two origins, Riad Sattouf says today he is appeased: before being Syrian or French, he is a cartoonist! “I started doing comics when I was 20 and I’m 42 today. For most of my life I have been a comic book author. It’s nice to realize that, because books and comics are what I love the most in the world. ”

It is also with his books that the author, who wrote a column for Charlie Hebdo for nine years, intends to fight for freedom of expression.

“As a child, I lived in a village in Syria where no one read. The only books I saw were the ones my grandmother sent me. However, books are essential to see the world differently… ”

For me, France represents this freedom to create, to express oneself. I am still fascinated to see that we can insult the government or demonstrate; this is not possible everywhere. What we have in France is precious.

Riad Sattouf

“I fight by making books so that the French framework, which allows to create freely, continues. There is an extraordinary love of culture in France! ”

Yes, but what about the racism that punctuates recent news in France? “It exists, but I have never experienced it with myself. No one has ever stopped me from progressing… ”

And after ?

Extract from The Arab of the Future , Volume 5, by Riad Sattouf

Riad Sattouf is already working on the final volume of the series, which should be released in two years. Once the six albums are finished, he will try to have them translated into Arabic. Because if The Arab of the Future is currently translated into 22 languages, his father’s language is missing from the list… “The publishing market in Arabic is very small. I was approached by a few editors who only wanted to commit to translating the first volume. I didn’t want to take that risk. I want my cousins ​​in Syria to be able to read the whole story and not just part of it. I have the same approach for the Hebrew translation. It’s all or nothing. ”

And after ? We’ll see, he said. “I have wanted to do fantasy or science fiction for a long time, but my subconscious often offers me something else. And I prefer to listen to it! ”

It must be said that he had flair, this unconscious, in dictating to Riad Sattouf to put his own life on paper …

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