obituary

Cartoonist Sempe, famous for ‘New Yorker’ covers, dies at 89

Reuters
Cartoonist Sempe, famous for ‘New Yorker’ covers, dies at 89
French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe has drawn more than 100 drawings for covers of 'The New Yorker' magazine

PARIS, France – French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe, who won international acclaim with a series of more than 100 drawings for the covers of The New Yorker magazine, has died at the age of 89.

His cartoons often showed small figures set in large urban landscapes, drawn in delicate lines and offering gentle social commentary on modern life.

“Tender irony, the delicatesse of intelligence, the jazz: we will not be able to forget Sempe. We will sorely miss his view of the world and his pencil,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.

One of France’s most famous visual artists, Sempe drew scenes of daily life in elaborate detail, usually from an overhead or faraway perspective and in pastel colors.

Born August 17, 1932 in a village near Bordeaux, Sempe did not complete high school, drifted from job to job and briefly joined the army before moving to Paris in the 1950s and starting to earn a living with his drawings.

FILE PHOTO: A poster of the exhibition Le Petit Nicolas (Little Nicolas) is set up in front Paris City Hall March 5, 2009. Created 50 years ago by writer Rene Goscinny, also the author of Asterix, and Jean-Jacques Sempe, an illustrator who has drawn covers for the New Yorker magazine, Le Petit Nicolas (Little Nicolas) is one of France’s best loved characters. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

He had his first success in the late 1950s with the Le Petit Nicolas series of children’s books about a schoolboy, with Asterix writer Rene Goscinny.

His international breakthrough came in the late 1970s, when he started drawing covers for The New Yorker, sketching city life as seen by an outsider looking in, his characters often lost in big crowds or set against wide panoramas.

Most of his drawings had little or no dialogue, but short captions often subtly hint at the characters’ worries or hopes.

“There is a lot of silent emotion in the drawings of Sempe,” Le Monde cartoonist Plantu said on France Inter radio.

Sempe’s favourite subjects were children, trees, cats, musicians, and life in Paris and New York. His cartoons rarely used text to make wry comment on big-city life.

A November 2015 New Yorker cover shows a wealthy-looking older couple going for an autumn stroll on a New York sidewalk as two uniformed doormen shovel dead leaves in front of them to create the illusion of a walk in the forest.

People riding bicycles were one of Sempe’s favourite subjects.

“It’s always been one of my dreams — to have a group of friends who go for bike rides in the country every Sunday morning. In real life, it never happened. I kept trying to organize it but everyone was always too busy to slow down for it,” he told The New Yorker in a 2019 interview. – Rappler.com

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