He created "little Nick": draftsman and caricaturist Sempé is dead

Jean-Jacques Sempé has been illustrating stories for more than 60 years.

He created "little Nick": draftsman and caricaturist Sempé is dead

Jean-Jacques Sempé has been illustrating stories for more than 60 years. His best-known is "Little Nick", which he designed together with "Asterix" author René Goscinny. The series about childhood in France in the 1950s becomes a global success. Now Sempé is dead - shortly before his 90th birthday.

French artist Jean-Jacques Sempé is dead. Sempé died "peacefully" on Thursday evening at the age of 89 in his holiday resort, "surrounded by his wife and close friends," said Sempé's biographer and friend Marc Lecarpentier.

Sempé became internationally known in particular for his illustrations in the "Little Nick" series, about a childhood in France in the 1950s. The character of the little boy was invented by Sempé and "Asterix" author René Goscinny. The first story appeared on March 29, 1959 in the regional newspaper "Sud-Ouest Dimanche". Within six years, more than 200 episodes were published about Nick, his always hungry friend Otto, the bespectacled nerd Adalbert and Franz who was ready to be beaten. They later appeared as books and were translated into 30 languages.

Sempé was one of the most important illustrators and caricaturists in France. A career that anyone else would be awfully proud of. Not so Sempé, who was considered shy and modest. He has been trying to create humorous drawings for 60 years. Unfortunately, he hasn't reached the goal yet, said the artist, who would have turned 90 next week, in an interview. That is why the Frenchman, with whose works several generations have grown up, tirelessly continued to tell and illustrate.

It was not until the end of 2020 that he published a new illustrated book, "Garder le cap" (Keep course). In it he presented himself as an incomparable observer of our time. He chose the title because everyone should have a goal - regardless of whether they are bakers or researchers, he continued in an interview with the regional newspaper "L'Alsace". His was clear: he wanted to make people laugh and smile with stories about our big and small mistakes.

Sempé's style was unmistakable. Cheerful or melancholic, in color or black and white, with or without a caption: His illustrations make everyday life visible with a great deal of poetry. Under his gentle, mocking gaze, middle-class couples, high-ranking managers and little people unmask their existential questions rooted in the banality of everyday life. Small people in oversized street canyons are among his favorite motifs. So they often seem lost.

In dealing with his protagonists, Sempé was always lenient. He drew them with a lovingly ironic line. Showing them in ridiculous situations is not fun for him, as he once said. He was therefore also described as a "merciful observer of human comedies".

Sempé was born in Pessac near Bordeaux in 1932. His childhood was rather oppressive. Constant money problems and a mother who fought with his stepfather, who was a grocer and often came home drunk. School days were just as bleak. He was expelled from school for being naughty. At the age of 18 he went to Paris, where he made a living as a wine deliveryman by bicycle or as an office boy before turning to drawing to earn a living in 1950 - initially as a caricaturist for various media such as "Paris Match" and the American magazine "The New Yorker".

In 1954 he met René Goscinny. The encounter with the comic book author and co-inventor of the indomitable Gaul Asterix, who died in 1977, was decisive. Together they created "Little Nick", with whom Sempé made himself immortal.