France pays tribute to New Yorker’s favorite cartoonist Sempe | Arts and entertainment

Family, friends and fans have paid tribute to French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe, whose simple, humorous drawings graced the covers of The New Yorker magazine and brought him international recognition.

A funeral Mass for Sempe – affectionately known as JJ in the United States – was held on Friday at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in Paris. Friends and relatives have paid tribute to the artist, who died last week aged 89, and his legacy. A private burial was held at the famous Montparnasse City Cemetery.

Outside the church, a poster of Sempe’s first New Yorker cover stood next to a black-and-white portrait of him adorned with flowers. The August 14, 1978 cover depicts the facade of a New York building with a bespectacled bald bird in a suit perched on a high window and lit by pale yellow sunlight.

The drawing embodies the artist’s gentle ironic universe, sublimated by bright watercolors and a cool and seemingly casual style. In his native France, he found fame with illustrations for the classic children’s book series “Le Petit Nicolas” (“Little Nicholas”) and continued to specialize in drawings of life’s simple pleasures.

“It takes me a long time, weeks or even months, to get it right,” Sempe told The Associated Press in a 2011 interview. “You start thinking about something that little by little starts to take shape in your mind.”

Sempe captured the lean, fashionable haute bourgeoisie of Paris and the mustachioed, beret-wearing townspeople, all sporting a distinctive badge, big noses and loaded with bicycles, baguettes, books and tractors. But he also found inspiration in The New Yorker’s hometown, the magazine noted in a tribute posted on Instagram.

“I love the colors in New York,” he said. “They are dynamic: bright yellow, green, red and blue. Paris, where I live, is beautiful, but it’s always gray. I love Paris too, but it’s not the same.”

He drew more than 100 covers for The New Yorker after meeting the magazine’s art director in Paris in 1978. Despite its unmistakable Frenchness, Sempe’s work touched a universal nerve, depicting human follies and neuroses that cut across culture.

“He marked several generations. You can’t find a New Yorker print reader in the US who doesn’t know who Sempe is,” said Françoise Mouly, the publication’s current art director, in an interview with the French newspaper Osvobozhdenie.

Molly praised his “universal way of addressing the perspective of individuals in everyday life, ordinary situations” in drawings that spoke to people from Paris to New York.

A 71-year-old French artist known as Gabs said Sempe inspired him to become a cartoonist.

“Sempe embodied Frenchness, the ways he depicted Paris, small French villages and scenes of everyday life” and “a form of innocence and joy,” Gabs said at the funeral.

French writer Benoît Duterte gave a moving speech, remembering his beloved friend who loved to ride his bike and drink coffee in Left Bank cafes while smoking a cigarette, even though he was ill in his last years.

“With a dash of humor, he was a great storyteller of evolving French society,” he said.

Born on August 17, 1932 in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Sempe briefly followed in the footsteps of his father – who worked as a traveling salesman – as a bicycle deliveryman for a wine merchant, before joining the army and being sent to Paris for basic training .

There he lobbied newspaper editors to convince them to publish his drawings, he said in his autobiography. A series of drawings, entitled “Le Petit Nicolas” and depicting a mischievous but good-natured schoolboy, appeared in a Belgian newspaper. It would later grow into the series of books that would prove Sempe’s most enduring success.

Anne Gossini — ex-wife of René Gossini, the author of “Le Petit Nicolas,” who died in 1977 — addressed Sempe himself at the church service, saying: “You created le Petit Nicolas. You made all childhoods smile. You’re meeting (Gossini) again today, I’m sure of it, and I can hear you laughing until you cry.”

In 1962, Sempe published his first collection of drawings, Rien n’est simple. Some of his more than 40 books have been published in English in the US. He is survived by two children, Nicola and Catherine.


Former AP reporter Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.

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