Artistic director of “The New Yorker”, Françoise Mouly fondly remembers Jean-Jacques Sempé who signed 113 covers of the famous magazine.
Paris Match. How did you meet Sempé?Francoise Mouly. I called him almost thirty years ago after Tina Brown, when she arrived at the head of the “New Yorker”, appointed me artistic director of the magazine and took charge of choosing the covers. Tina wanted “less predictable” covers and I started lots of new contributing artists. Sempé was already one of them but he broke away from the magazine after the departure of the legendary William Shawn, whom he adored. I had always admired him. He was an idol of my childhood. So I called him all moved, then met her at his home in Paris. He was delighted to deal with a French woman in the magazine because he hardly spoke any English. He was very interested in the graphic renewal that we gave to the magazine and was delighted to participate in it. In the end, he made 113 covers of the “New Yorker”. We will pay tribute to him in our August 29 issue.
Read also: The funeral of Jean-Jacques Sempé will take place on Friday August 19
What did New York represent to him?
He adored this city which he cycled through with his friend Ed Koren, in the 70s and 80s, at a time when cycle paths were far from existing. In his drawings, a theme often comes up: that of the individual facing the big city. Even though everything was huge and strange, he felt at home in New York. He was able to understand that the Big Apple is in fact a succession of communities and villages and he represented in drawing his “comfort” in the face of the immensity of New York. In everyday life, he always found the poetic. One of the designs that best captures his life and art at The New Yorker is this cover of a cyclist speeding across the Brooklyn Bridge. The cyclist is of course him, but it is also you or me, sliding on this magic bridge which represents the city so well.
Read also: Anne Goscinny: “Sempé was neither a poet nor a comedian but a philosopher”
He always remained humble
What is your best memory with him?
Impossible to say, there were so many. Sempé was someone who didn’t use computers or cell phones, so we talked during his visits to New York or mine to Paris. It was the pleasure of conversation, often at home or in a restaurant. He also liked to come on my mother’s barge anchored in Neuilly, exactly the kind of unusual places he adored. My mother and him got along well – she literally took him on a boat ride, to go for walks on the Seine.
What often came up in our conversations was his amazement at having managed to find his place in New York and to have become one of the cartoonists of this magazine… Of course, he was still a Frenchman, very much from home . He had drawn a cover on the Tour de France, for example, but he drew above all as an artist for the New Yorker. He always remained modest and relished the irony that the dunce kicked out of school and the army was now known and loved around the world. He often said to me: “Me, I am an autodidact! “. He didn’t expect to have the range he had.