Riad Sattouf arrives a little late for the interview he grants to 20 minutes for the release of the new Cahiers d’Esther album. Oh not much, just a few minutes. But the reason for the delay is worth the detour: “I was on TikTok, I just created an account, explains the successful designer. I was already addicted to Instagram but now I feel like I’m going to spend a lot of time there. »
Getting started on the most popular platform among under-16s? Nothing could be more normal for Riad Sattouf, admittedly (a little) older than the average user but a privileged observer of adolescence since his debut as a designer. Even before the success of Notebooks of Esther (the real life of a real young girl he has been following since she was 9 years old) or The Arab of the future (story of his own childhood and adolescence between Libya, Syria and Brittany), Riad Sattouf stood out with back to collegea drawn documentary embedded in a Parisian college, then with The secret life of young peoplealready a notebook of sketches taken on the spot, in the street, featuring teenagers crossed at random.
“I am an informant in the middle of teenagers”
“I have always been passionate about adolescence. But the further I get away from it, as I get older, the more I need to understand the differences between the new generation and mine. What changed ? What can young people experience that is fundamentally timeless? This is how the desire to tell, at the rate of one board per week, the life of Esther, a young girl met by chance by mutual friends, when she was 9 years old, was born. “I knew her parents, and she seemed to me the ideal candidate for this project. She is very talkative, which is rare in youngsters, and very balanced. Today, Esther is 16 years old and the seventh volume of her adventures has just been released.
His life at school, then in college, then in high school. Her friends. The impact of current events on his life. social phenomena. Gender discrimination. Esther tells, Riad transcribes. “I am an informant in the middle of teenagers, not a journalist. I really want it to be a dive into the reality of young people. What interests me is to understand what builds the adult to come in the course of a young person. How are moral values and opinions formed? I’m not judging her, I’m taking her point of view. For example, she can sometimes be cruel or unfair, but I don’t intervene to lecture her. It’s not a diary, she doesn’t reveal herself, she just tells me what she’s going through. »
The good sales of Notebooks of Esther led Riad Sattouf to adapt them into an animated series. In particular to respond to an unexpected aspect of this success: the impact on young readers. “I had not at all anticipated that teenagers and children were going to read Les Cahiers d’Esther. Initially, I want to address adults who are a little lost in the face of the mysterious continent of adolescence… But I have noticed that many children read these comics, especially in signings. »
During the MOT pour Mots festival meetings in Paris, Riad Sattouf gave a conference. In the audience, the usual gray manes of this kind of festival organized by Telerama, The world and France Inter… But also a lot of young faces. Léon, 14, came with his mother. He got into comics after discovering the Notebooks of Esther in The New Obs who hangs out in his father’s living room: “I wanted to listen to the author a bit. But in the end he doesn’t listen too much and mostly scrutinizes the audience: “I hope to recognize the real Esther. I’m sure she’s there. »
Myrtille, 15, would also love to meet the character from her favorite comic strip. “It’s great to think that she actually exists. She has a lot in common with my friends. And what’s great is to see her grow up, like us. »
A phenomenon on TikTok
The phenomenon of young readers identifying with Esther was considerably accentuated with the broadcast of the animated version on Canal+. Until it became a viral phenomenon on TikTok. “There are thousands of videos and millions of views! I can not believe it. People take clips from the cartoon and react. The episode on school bullying really touched them. It’s really crazy! »
Riad Sattouf has been a fulfilled author since he received private messages on Instagram from young Internet users who made the link between him and the Notebooks of Esther. “In signings, the most moving thing is when people tell me that they started reading thanks to my comics. Because I know that my life would have been horrible without the books… And there, via Instagram, I have young people who find me and say to me: “Are you the one who made Esther? But it’s basically a book or what ?”. Some people ask me how to get the albums. They have never bought or borrowed a book and they will get started thanks to Esther. It’s upsetting. »
“Accounts claiming to be the real Esther are fake…”
Since his young readers have taken to books thanks to TikTok, it is only natural that Riad Sattouf gets into TikTok. “I love the ease of exchange that it creates. I can answer all their questions, show how I work… They ask me if Esther really exists. Yes. If her name is Esther. No. If she has an Insta account. Yes, but with a nickname. So the accounts that claim to be the real Esther are fake…”
Above all, the privileged witness of adolescence that the author wants to remain here gains tremendous ground for exploration as the end of the Notebooks of Esther. “From the start, I set myself the limit of Esther’s 18 years. At the time, it seemed very far away to me, but when you grow up, time passes more and more quickly… I’m going to stick to it, I still have two volumes with Esther and it will be over. »
If he does not yet know what he will do next, since his other series The Arab of the future will also be completed, Riad Sattouf could find inspiration in the contemplation of TikTok. “The Internet and social networks allow children today to have real-time knowledge of all the experiences of human life, of all the realities on all continents, of all social conditions… Everything seems accessible. It’s both brilliant and disenchanting. I do not measure the impact that it has on their way of apprehending the future…. »