115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Representation of Futuristic Virility in Riad Sattouf’s Pascal Brutal

Louis Bousquet, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Riad Sattouf uses his larger than life’s hero, Pascal Brutal, to capture the zeitgeist of our modern societies. His paradoxical take on masculinity allows him to draw a penetrating portrait of the destructives ideologies at play in our world and to offer singular alternatives to its unbridled violence


Representation of « futuristic virility » in Riad Sattouf’s Pascal Brutal

Riad Sattouf is a major contemporary French cartoonist and film director; the New Yorker calls him “a French-Syrian comic-book artist who has recently emerged as France’s best-known graphic novelist[1]”. Sattouf has been internationally recognized for his three volume memoir titled “the Arab of the future”.

Sattouf’s characters are mostly known for being shy, frustrated, and socially inept geeks. His heroes are awkward and bumbling young men, overwhelmed in a ruthless competitive world and pathologically incapable to assert themselves.

But there is one notable and joyful exception in this gallery of homunculi: Pascal Brutal. In the large gallery of Sattouf’s losers he appears like a striking exception, an improbable and oversized fantasy. The hero is a sex crazed ludicrous macho[2] living in futuristic France. Brutal is not only physically imposing, but also mentally unwavering, unlike Sattouf other characters he never doubts himself and exudes an inescapable virility that hypnotizes men and women alike.

Sattouf finds in the concept of inflated masculinity an endless source of inspiration and humor. It allows him to illustrate a vast array of psychological behaviors, singular characters bred by modern societies. This is one of Sattouf’s main talents, his capacity to create meaningful personalities that not only entertain but also enlighten his reader on the zeitgeist of his time.

Each bombastic adventure of Pascal Brutal addresses contemporary beliefs and other deep seated habits and habitus[3]. Sattouf while being a satirist is also a keen sociologist that helps his reader to better see and understand the idiosyncrasies of his time. Furthermore the use of a futuristic society allows him to magnify every situation and vignette which not only leads to comical effects but can also be understood as a warning against the dreadful consequences of unbridled ideologies.

In Pascal Brutal’s adventures, France is in the throes of global neoliberalism with deleterious effects on society. However Brutal’s boorish fierceness is perfectly adapted to navigate a landscape of extreme violence, religious bigotry, identitarian movements, pervasive materialism and overall civilization decay.  

In this talk I will first introduce Sattouf alongside and his character Pascal Brutal; I will highlight the author’s effective and playful drawing style and then contextualize his dystopian universe with our contemporary world. I will use different examples and images to point out and decipher the artist’s subtle take on modernity. I will thus strive to uncover the complexity of Sattouf’s post-modern satire, underlying the French “esprit du temps”, and share his singular way of seeing the world. I will connect various themes developed in the artist’s opus that leads to his paradoxical take on masculinity and I will finally point out some surprising feministic alternatives proposed by the author to balance this apocalyptic portrait.

[1] The New Yorker, “Drawing blood”, October 19, 2015.

[2] “I’m fascinated by the desire that women have for stronger men” Ibid. 

[3] Following Pierre Bourdieu's accepation.