Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Above: the back cover to CARTOONS THE FRENCH WAY with a wordless Sempé gag.

Yesterday, I blogged about CARTOONS THE FRENCH WAY and showcased some single panel cartoons by J.M. Bosc.

Today: scans from one of the cartoon masters, Jean-Jacques Sempé, from that same 1955 paperback book.

Sempé was in his early 20s when he drew these cartoons.

Best known today for his New Yorker covers, his depictions of Paris life are seminal. The New York Times, in its interview with him last year, called his work quintessentially French:

"His precise, elegant drawings are often set in a Paris that even Parisians dream of: a city of mansard roofs, high windows and wrought-iron balconies, where all the cars still look like Deux-Chevaux or 1950s Citroëns. Dwarfed by their surroundings, his figures - smallish men, balding, a little portly, with big noses and tidy little mustaches, their double-chinned, nicely coiffed wives in polka-dot frocks - are French Everymen, dignified and put upon at the same time. They nevertheless speak to the international human plight: the Thurberian power struggle between men and women, the daily need to keep up appearances, the unending cycle of tiny victories and middle-size defeats."

The composition, the rain, the look on the peoples' faces: all so well done, so seemingly effortless.

I like the look on her face.

Yeah, nude models really do get bored. And cold.

In the above gatefold, you can see his attention to a real sense of place.

"I showed her! I didn't touch a dish for two months!"

Above: clicking to enlarge will show you how good the composition is on this. At first glance, the squiggly, curly-cue line was, I thought, part of the store window -- but within a second, I discovered the gag.

A typical gag: a city scene with complex, busy ink work with a clear layout of who to watch to understand the gag.

Phaidon Press published a number of Sempé's works last year. Phaidon maintains a blog, The Nicholas Club, named for the title character in a series of children's books by Goscinny and Sempé.

Tom Spurgeon, he of the grand Comics Reporter site, posted a sumptuous preview of Phaidon's Sempé cartoon books here.

Again, the reason that so many cartoons are wordless is because you don't have to know French to "get" them. Selling cartoons is Europe is easier when no words are used. And that's pretty hard to do!

Above a lovely, dry gag line. At first, I didn't see him amongst the dancing natives!

More links:

Christopher Wheeler shares photos of Sempé memorabilia (which is where I took the above image).

Read Yourself Raw profile.

Mike Lynch Cartoons blog (Yes, you're soaking in it now!) has more on French cartoon books here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I wanna see "Cartoons the Lynch Way!"