France pays homage to beloved New Yorker cartoonist Sempé

Aug 19, 2022, 3:29 PM | Updated: Aug 20, 2022, 3:32 am
Workers adjust a big frontpage of a New Yorker issue before Jean-Jacques Sempe's funeral ceremony a...

Workers adjust a big frontpage of a New Yorker issue before Jean-Jacques Sempe's funeral ceremony at the Saint-Germain-des-Pres church in Paris, Friday, Aug.19, 2022. Cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe, whose simple line drawings captured French life and won international acclaim on the covers of New Yorker magazine, has died on Aug.11, 2022. He was 89. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Family, friends and fans have paid tribute to French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, whose simple line drawings tinted with humor graced the covers of The New Yorker magazine and granted him international acclaim.

A funeral Mass for Sempé — affectionately known as J.J. in the United States — took place Friday at the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Friends and relatives honored the artist, who died last week at age 89, and his legacy. A private funeral was held at the city’s renowned Montparnasse cemetery.

Outside the church, a poster of Sempé’s first New Yorker cover stood next to a black-and-white portrait of him festooned with flowers. The Aug. 14, 1978 cover depicted the façade of a New York building, with a bald-headed bird with glasses in a suit perched on a high-up window and enlightened by pale yellow rays of sunshine.

The drawing epitomizes the artist’s gentle ironic universe, sublimated by vivid watercolors and a breezy and seemingly effortless style. In his native France, he found fame with illustrations for the classic “Le Petit Nicolas” (“Little Nicholas”) children’s book series, and went on to specialize in drawings about life’s simple pleasures.

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

Sempé captured the thin, fashionable haute bourgeoisie of Paris and mustachioed, beret-wearing townsfolk, all bearing hallmark hulking noses and replete with bicycles, baguettes, books and tractors. But he also found inspiration in The New Yorker’s hometown, the magazine noted in an homage published on Instagram.

“I love the colors in New York,” he said. “They’re dynamic: bright yellows, greens, reds, and blues. 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 unequivocal Frenchness, Sempé’s work touched a universal nerve, portraying culture-crossing human follies and neuroses.

“He marked several generations. You can’t find in the U.S. a reader of the print version of the New Yorker who doesn’t know who Sempé is,” Francoise Mouly, the publication’s current art director, said in an interview with French newspaper Libération.

Mouly praised his “universal way to address the point of view of individuals in daily life, common situations” in drawings that spoke to people from Paris to New York.

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

“Sempé embodies Frenchness, the ways he depicted Paris, France’s little villages and scenes of daily life,” and “a form of innocence and joy,” Gabs said at the funeral.

French novelist Benoit Dutertre gave a poignant speech recalling his beloved friend who enjoyed biking and having a coffee in Left Bank cafés while smoking a cigarette, despite being sick during his last years.

“With a sip of humor, he was a great storyteller of France’s evolving society,” he said.

Born Aug. 17, 1932, in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Sempé briefly followed the steps of his father — who worked as a traveling salesman — as a bicycle delivery boy for a wine merchant, then joined the army and was sent to Paris for basic training.

There, he canvassed newspaper editors to persuade them to publish his drawings, he said in his autobiography. One series of drawings, entitled “Le Petit Nicolas” and featuring a mischievous but goodhearted schoolboy, appeared in a Belgian paper. It would later grow into the book series that proved Sempé’s most enduring success.

Anne Goscinny — former wife of Rene Goscinny, the author of “Le Petit Nicolas” who died in 1977 — addressed Sempé himself at the church service, saying: “You created le Petit Nicolas. You made all childhoods smile. Today you meet again with (Goscinny), I’m sure of it, and I hear you laugh until you weep.”

In 1962, Sempé published his first collection of drawings, “Rien n’est simple” (“Nothing Is Simple”). Some of his more than 40 books have been published in English in the U.S. He is survived by two children, Nicolas and Catherine.


Former AP reporter Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

French Greens party boss steps down after abuse accusations

PARIS (AP) — The head of France’s Greens party stepped down from his post Monday after his former partner reportedly accused him of psychological abuse, amid mounting pressure within his party and broader efforts to hold French politicians accountable for misconduct toward women. Julien Bayou said in a statement that he was resigning from his […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Liz Weston: How to cultivate a happier retirement

Researchers have identified several factors besides money that contribute to a happier retirement, including good health, strong relationships and a sense of purpose. But setbacks are inevitable, in life and in retirement. Not everyone enjoys good health — and no one enjoys it forever. Loved ones die or move away. The pursuits you thought would […]
1 day ago
FILE -Senior Egyptian cleric Sheik Youssef al-Qardawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayer...
Associated Press

Egyptian cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who was seen as the spiritual leader of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, died Monday at the age of 96, according to his official website. He died in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar, where he had been living in exile following the military’s overthrow of a […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

US, allies push for UN rights body debate on Xinjiang abuses

GENEVA (AP) — The United States and several Western allies presented a proposal on Monday for the U.N.’s main human rights body to hold a special debate over reported rights abuses and violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region. A core group of countries including Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, […]
1 day ago
FILE - A Norwegian national flag flutters over flowers and rainbow flags that are placed at the sce...
Associated Press

2 more arrests in deadly attack during Norway Pride festival

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Two more suspects have been arrested in connection with a deadly shooting during the Norwegian capital’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival, police said Monday. The total number of suspects is now at four. A 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran was arrested shortly after the June shootings in Oslo’s nightlife district that […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Building collapses outside Kenyan capital, deaths reported

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A multi-story building collapsed outside Kenya’s capital Monday, and rescuers are picking through the debris in search of several people reported missing. Kenya’s national broadcaster reported that at least three people died in the accident in Kirigiti. It is not immediately clear what caused the building collapse. Such events are not […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
France pays homage to beloved New Yorker cartoonist Sempé