Jean-Jacques Sempé, usually known as Sempé (born 17 August 1932 in Bordeaux), is a French cartoonist. Some of his cartoons are quite striking, but retain a sentimental and often a somewhat gentle edge to them, even if the topic is a difficult one to approach. He once drew a series called Le petit Nicolas, starting it in the 1950s, but he is best known for his posterlike illustrations, usually drawn from a distant or high viewpoint depicting detailed countrysides or cities
Sempé was expelled from school as a young man, and then failed to pass exams for the post office, a bank and the railroad. He then found work selling tooth powder as a door-to-door salesman and also worked delivering wine by bicycle in the Gironde. After lying about his age, he joined the army in 1950, since it was “the only place that would give me a job and a bed,” he subsequently explained, and would occasionally get into trouble for drawing while he was supposed to be keeping watch during guard duty.
After being discharged from the army, he moved to Paris and began working with René Goscinny. Sempé has spent most of his life in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés district.
His career started in France within the context of the Franco-Belgian comics industry. His “mute” watercolors or single image sketches, where the characters speak in pictures or not at all (but somehow manage to convey a rich story) slowly gained international attention. He won his first award in 1952 which is given to encourage young amateur artists to turn professional.
His work has appeared as the cover of The New Yorker magazine many times. Sempé’s full page cartoons appeared in Paris Match for many years. In the 1950s, Sempé became renowned for his creation of a character named Nicolas in his cartoons for Le Moustique, a comic book proposed by René Goscinny to Sempé. Le Petit Nicolas appeared from 1954 in Le Moustique and Sempé drew upon childhood influences and memories to illustrate the comic. In 1960, the comic Le Petit Nicolas was published in Pilote. It was unusual at the time modern children’s literature given that it is centered around the experience of the child, rather than an adult interpretation of the world.
In general though, Sempé rarely draws from life, and draws something every day, putting sketches aside when he gets bored with them.