Sunday, August 16, 2020

Graphic Grandeur (Cultural Exchange Edition)

 Cartoonist and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé was born on this day in 1932. In his native France he's best known for illustrating a series of children's books written by René Goscinny (best known for the comic strip Astérix) collectively called Le Petit Nicolas (in English Little Nicholas.) Here in the United States Sempé is far better known for the many covers he's done for The New Yorker. Take a look (in some cases, a very close look):



Knowing that Sempé is from France makes me think all the above scenes must take place in France. However, The New Yorker is an American magazine, and there's no reason these scenes can't take place in America. The United States obviously has airports and swimming pools and downtowns with lots of traffic. The United States even has classical musicians, a favorite theme of  Sempé's. In fact, there are whole orchestras with such musicians. I live in Cleveland, and I'm told we have a very good orchestra, have had a very good orchestra for quite a while, that it was once led by a man named Szell who in his day was as well-known as Dennis Kucinich. Currently, it's led by Franz Welser-Möst (like most Rust Belt cities, we have a lot of ethnic groups.) Cleveland rocks listens politely and then claps. But getting back to Sempé, whatever their country of origin, most of his characters seem engulfed by their surroundings. They don't seem to know or care that they're engulfed. On the other hand, we know they're engulfed, because we're afforded a bird's-eye view, and we have to care enough to squint to find them. But the squinting's usually worth it. Maybe that's what makes Sempé's work so universal, and particularly appealing for Americans. If there's one thing we have in this country, it's engulfing surroundings.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some squinting to do.

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