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France pays tribute to beloved New York cartoonist Sempé

By JADE LE DELEY, Associated Press

Family, friends and fans paid tribute to French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, whose simple, humorous line drawings graced the cover of The New Yorker magazine and won him international acclaim.

A funeral mass for Sempé — affectionately known as JJ in the United States — was held Friday at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in Paris. Friends and loved ones paid tribute to the artist, who died last week at the age of 89, and his legacy. A private funeral was held at the city’s famous Montparnasse Cemetery.

Outside the church, a poster of Sempé’s New Yorker front cover sat next to a black-and-white portrait of him festooned with flowers. The August 14, 1978, cover depicted the facade of a New York building, with a bald-headed bird with glasses in a suit perched on a high window and lit by pale yellow sunbeams.

The drawing embodies the artist’s soft ironic universe, enhanced by vivid watercolors and an airy and seemingly effortless style. In his native France, he became known for illustrations in the classic series of children’s books “Le Petit Nicolas” (“Little Nicolas”), and specialized in drawings about the simple pleasures of life.

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“It takes me a long time, weeks or even months to get it right,” Sempé told The Associated Press in a 2011 interview. spirit.”

Sempé captured Paris’ slim, fashionable upper middle class and mustachioed, beret-wearing townspeople, all sporting towering noses and replete with bicycles, baguettes, books, and tractors. But he also found inspiration in the New Yorker’s hometown, the magazine notes in a tribute posted on Instagram.

“I love the colors of New York,” he said. “They are vibrant: bright yellows, greens, reds and blues. Paris, where I live, is beautiful but it’s always grey. I like 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 his unequivocal Frenchness, Sempé’s work struck a universal nerve, depicting human follies and neuroses that cut across cultures.

“He marked several generations. You can’t find a reader of the print version of The New Yorker in the United States who doesn’t know who Sempé is,” Françoise Mouly, the publication’s current artistic director, said in an interview with French newspaper Liberation.

Mouly praised his “universal way of approaching 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 says Sempé inspired him to become a cartoonist.

“Sempé embodies Frenchness, the way he portrayed Paris, the small villages of France and scenes of everyday 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 cycling and having coffee in Left Bank cafes while smoking a cigarette, despite being ill in his later years .

“With a sip of humour, he was a great storyteller of the evolution of French society,” he said.

Born on August 17, 1932 in Bordeaux, in the south-west of the country, Sempé briefly followed in the footsteps of his father – who worked as a traveling salesman – as a bicycle delivery boy for a wine merchant, then embarked on the army and was sent to Paris for basic training.

There he approached newspaper publishers to persuade them to publish his cartoons, he says in his autobiography. A series of drawings, entitled “Le Petit Nicolas” and featuring a mischievous but kind schoolboy, appeared in a Belgian newspaper. It would later become the series of books that proved Sempé’s most enduring success.

Anne Goscinny – former wife of René Goscinny, the author of ‘Petit Nicolas’ who died in 1977 – addressed Sempé himself during the church service saying: “You created Petit Nicolas. You made everyone smile. childhoods Today you find (Goscinny), I’m sure, and I hear you laughing until you cry.

In 1962, Sempé published his first collection of drawings, “Rien n’est simple”. Some of his over 40 books have been published in English in the United States. He is survived by two children, Nicolas and Catherine.

Former AP reporter Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.

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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes