" 'So who is the 'Arab of the future'? Not Sattouf, it seems. 'The idea of nationality is outdated, worm-eaten,' [Sattouf] says. 'My nationality is cartoonist!' " (Eads 2015).
Riad Sattouf tweeted this photo of he (child in front) and his family in Libya in 1982. @RiadSattouf
This January 2015 Charlie Hebdo cover (featured above) included cartoon Muhammad holding a sign to support the free speech movement, Je Suis Charlie.
"The Arab of the Future" has, in effect, made him the Arab of the present in France"
The Arab of the Future, written entirely from the perspective of young Riad Sattouf, gives a playfully innocent portrayal of countries that many associate with political tyranny and injustice. The lens of adolescent naivete allows for an unabashed depiction of both bureaucratic and social shortcomings in France, Syria, and Libya. Amidst his adventures abroad, Young Raid crafts a moral compass of his own, yet complications arise because, as Sattouf describes, our perspectives of the world can be limited by our parents (Cooke).
Sattouf's influences included occasionally racist comments from his father, constant political propaganda blaring on the radio, and social constructs enforced during childhood play that perpetuate aggressive tendencies for boys. According to Sattouf, "A child doesn’t know morality, racism, misogyny.. When you’re small, your parents are divinities. You think they’re wonderful, and that’s all – until time passes, and you realize what they really are” (Cooke). In his home, his father's word was a truth that no one dared to question. Culturally, Sattouf had a mix and match set of influences because he and his family moved to three different countries throughout his childhood. As a result, he could not identify with any one nation.
Career and Work Life
Riad Sattouf is a French cartoonist, born in Paris May 5, 1978, to a French mother and Syrian father who met while attending the same university in Paris. Sattouf’s father uprooted their family spontaneously on more than one occasion: one instance, they relocated to Libya so that he could teach at a university and the other, to Syria before returning to France again.
Comics were the anchor that Sattouf needed throughout the changing tides of his childhood. Positive responses by family encouraged Sattouf to continue his drawing practices throughout adulthood. He attended Gobelins L'École de L'Image, or the Gobelins School of the Image, to study animation. Olivier Vatine, a renowned cartoonist, shared his appreciation of Sattouf’s work with others in the industry, like Guy Delcourt, who later published Sattouf’s cartoons. Sattouf has published several books of comix including, Manuel du puceau (2003), Ma circoncision (2004), No Sex in New York (2004), Retour au collège (2005), La vie secrète des jeunes (2007), L'Arabe du futur, vol. 1: Une jeunesse au Moyen-Orient (1978–1984) (2014), and L'Arabe du futur, vol. 2: Une jeunesse au Moyen-Orient (1984–1985) (2015). Additionally, Sattouf has written, directed, and acted in several films, including Les Beaux Gosses (The French Kissers) (2009), Mes colocs (2010), and Jacky au royaume des filles (Jacky in Women's Kingdom) (2014).
From 2004 to 2014, Sattouf wrote the page, “ La vie secrète des jeune,” monthly for the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. In this comic series, he interprets overheard conversations from the streets of Paris, typically from the mouths of teenagers, into comic anecdotes. While working at Charlie Hebdo , Sattouf never felt comfortable drawing anything religious or "openly mocking." He feared what unfortunately became true in 2015, when extremists attacked the office building of the magazine with a firebomb that killed 17 people; one of which was a close friend of Sattouf and fellow comic, Jean (“Cabu”) Cabut.
According to the perpetrators, the intent of the attack was to defend the Prophet Muhammad and die as martyrs for their faith (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Years before the attack, the magazine released satirical depictions of the Prophet and this was not forgotten by al-Qaeda. Events like this one exemplify the ways in which cartoonists often serve as watchdogs of their culture and, consequently, they must approach political topics with caution as they interpret them. Following the massacre in January, Sattouf participated in marches and protests for the cause. According to an interview with Adam Shatz of The New Yorker, Sattouf does not identify as Syrian or French, but marched in solidarity with the movement, "Je Suis Charlie" ("I Am Charlie"), because it supports the free speech of cartoonists, or artists more specifically.
In late 2014, Sattouf left Charlie Hebdo to write for Le Nouvel Obs, a weekly magazine, with a new strip called "Les cahiers d'Esther (Esther's notebooks)", based on true stories told to him by Esther A., a girl who was 9 years old when the strip began.
Although Sattouf’s "The Arab of the Future" series has received far more recognition than his other works, Sattouf hesitated throughout the writing process because he feared marginalization. During the interview with Cooke, Sattouf reveals that he “didn’t want to be considered THE Arab Cartoonist” (Cooke). To avoid the potential poster-child title, Sattouf encourages readers to stop basing identities off of ethnicity alone. The impermanence of his father’s job interests meant that Sattouf did not have a home country, leaving him displaced from any and all community until he found comics. Yet even within the graphic storytelling discourse, politics exist. In fact, the satire within "The Arab of the Future" series transforms the comics into a medium for historical interpretation: it is Sattouf’s understanding of political unrest and bureaucracy through the lens of childlike innocence. Although he claims to be unconcerned by such matters, it is unavoidable: he grew up experiencing the violence created by politics and continues to experience it in recent years.
Below is a video of an interview with Raid Sattouf about "The Arab of the Future."
Muammar Gaddafi was the leader of Libya from 1969 until his death in 2011. Gaddafi was driven by an ideological mixture of nationalism, Islamic socialism, pan-Arabism, and pan-Africanism which put him at odds with western countries throughout his reign. In 1975 Qaddafi released the first volume of his book titled the Green Book. It is a collection of thoughts on imperialism, the failures of capitalism in the west, and communism in the Soviet and Asiatic blocs. His book would form the foundation of his political party the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Under this direction private property was abolished, worker-owned and operated plants replaced those that were privately owned, and food distribution was managed by the state. In it, he wrote, “The material needs of people that are basic and personal start with food, housing, clothing and transport and must be regarded as private and sacred and their satisfaction should not depend on hire.”
Hafez al-Assad was President of Syria from 1971 to 2000. In 1971 he seized power in a bloodless coup after a decade of political turmoil. Under his leadership, the country would turn into a one-party state. His party, the Baath Party, was a secular, socialist-leaning party that allied itself with the Soviet Union. al-Assad was a pan-Arabist who wanted to unite the Arab world under a single flag. However, due to the varying political priorities between Arab nations, his dream was never fulfilled(MacFarquhar). al-Assad legitimized his rule through a cult of personality and a militaristic foreign policy that singled out Israel and the United States as existential threats to Arab civilization. Under his supervision, a collection of intelligence agencies were set up to monitor Syrians as the country became one of the most isolated and authoritarian states in the world. He is remembered as a murderous tyrant and his legacy is one of violence, torture, political repression, and the brutal quelling of dissent by whatever means necessary.