Jean-Jacques Sempé, illustrator of over 100 New Yorker covers, dies aged 89

Throughout his many phases, Sempé was an illustrator and an observer at his core. “The most interesting thing is just to watch the people in the street,” the illustrator shared in the same Times interview. “Nothing is more fun.”
Sempé was born on 17 August, 1932 in Bordeaux. “When I was a kid, heckling was my only distraction,” the illustrator is quoted on the Le Petit Nicolas site. After being expelled from the Modern College of Bordeaux for being undisciplined, he went on to a life of varied careers and paths. He was a handyman for a wine broker, a summer camp monitor and a solider. The army, Sempé explained in a 2006 interview with The New York Times, “was the only place that would give me a job and a bed”.
Many of Sempé’s illustrated covers feature idiosyncrasies that are now beloved as signatures of the artist. Beyond his light linework and colour washes, Sempé often drew scenes from above and from as far away as he could get from the centre of the action while still revealing a story. Cats, portly men and bicycles appeared regularly. In a 2019 interview with The New Yorker, Sempé spoke about his attachment to cycling: “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.”
Since the announcement of the artist’s death, illustrators and fans have taken to Twitter to share tributes, among them French president Emmanuel Macron. Patrick Chappatte, fellow cartoonist known for his work in Der Spiegel and The New York Times International wrote: “Sempé was beyond illustration. His world is eternal and universal. It is drawed poetry.”

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