The nineteenth of September, 2011: a tired, sensitive gentleman who had been persuaded against his will to take part in a game of charades

Among my many lovely birthday presents was a thing of beauty: the cartoon collection Mixed Messages by Jean-Jacques Sempé.

Sempé can be seen as a transAtlantic twin of James Thurber. He has a similar gentle subtlety, and a similar penchant for small, mild men (always defined in my mind by Thurber’s description of his own father as “a tired, sensitive gentleman who had been persuaded against his will to take part in a game of charades”).

Sempé, however, is far more wordy than Thurber (perhaps more wordy than any single-panel cartoonist I can think of), and far more – for want of a better word – French.

He is also, unlike Thurber, a gifted illustrator. His characters are tucked into corners as Sempé fills the page with skyscapes, or achitecture, or crowds of Parisians depicted in unfathomable detail.

His New Yorker covers have made him more famous than your average French cartoonist; so have his collaborations with Asterixer René Goscinny on Le Petit Nicolas

I agonised over which picture to put up here. What swung it in favour of this one is the Thurberian little man at the easel.

Zoom in as close as you can.

There’s a lot more Sempé to be found here

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