Au Revoir Monsieur Sempé


Jean-Jacques Sempé the beloved French cartoonist, simply known by all as Sempé passed away at 89 years old on August 11, 2022. Sempé is well known for his poster-like illustrations, usually pencil-drawn in great details from a distant perspective or high viewpoint depicting everyday life as well as detailed scenes of countrysides or cities.

Born in Passaic, near Bordeaux on August 17, 1932  to a single mother with an alcoholic violent stepfather. He dropped out of school at an early age and enlisted underage in the French army in 1950, because he said it was “the only place that would give me a job and a bed,” when he got caught doodling while keeping watch during guard duty, he was discharged.

He then moved to Paris and managed to sell his drawings to various newspapers and began working for Paris Match for many years creating full page cartoons. It was during this time that he began working with René Goscinny the cartooning legend of Asterix fame and created the character of Nicholas in 1959.

He is mostly well known for the series of children’s books which he created with René Goscinny, Le Petit Nicolas which became international bestseller with over 15 millions copies sold in 45 countries, film adaptation and cartoon. “The Nicolas stories were a way to revisit the misery I endured while growing up while making sure everything came out just fine,” Sempé said in 2018. 

 In America, he is well known and celebrated for the hundreds of covers he created for The New Yorker magazine for decades. It was in 1978 when he was hired by the New Yorker that he found sustainable success. “I was almost 50 and for the first time in my life, I existed! I had finally found my family,” he said.

2018 New Yorker cover, “Biking in the Rain” by Jean-Jacques Sempé
111th cover for the magazine

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