First Appointment with Pıtırcık
How did I meet Sempé?
When I was little, we used to take a family trip to Marmaris, and each time we would visit the book exhibition established in the high school’s garden in the center. Then we would sit in a tea garden and read the books that we bought there. In one of these book nights, I met an interesting series of books. The hero of the book was Pıtırcık (or Petite Nicholas as the original French title indicates) and his life in the 1950s in France. The series impressed me a lot. There were many things that made the book interesting: fine humor that a nine-year-old girl could easily understand. Incredible stories from their naughty peers. Vivet Kanetti and Eray Canberk’s whimsical translations of the character names… And above all, the awesome drawings in the book! That’s how I met Sempé.
Jean Jaques Sempé
Jean Jaques Sempé was born on 17 August 1932 in Bordeaux, France. After school, he was unable to pass the exams to become a postman, a banker, and a railroad employee. He tried to make his living by selling toothpaste as a door-to-door salesman, or by distributing wine on his bike (très Français!). Then he joined the army by half-lying about himself. ”It was the only place that could give me a job and a place to stay,” later he explained. He got into trouble because he would draw during guard duty.
After his adventures in the armed forces, he went to Paris and started to work with the writer René Goscinny. His drawings are very different from ordinary cartoons. His drawings are labeled as “silent” because they usually focus on a single moment. At this moment, it seems like nothing is actually happening, but at the same time, there is a lot going on. With this unique style, he became a popular artist. In 1952, he won a prize that encouraged young amateur artists to become professional.
Sempé’s drawings often appear in magazines such as the New Yorker and Paris Match. In 1954, together with Goscinny, they started to work on Le Petit Nicholas. Their source of inspiration were nostalgic childhood memories. In 1960, Le Petit Nicholas was first published in a magazine called Pilote. This series, which focuses on the child’s experience rather than the interpretation of adults, is distinguished from others in the same period. The stories that do not give advice, do not teach and are based on the child’s emotions and imagination. Because of that, they are interesting for readers of all ages.
That’s the life of Sempé.
The Le Petit Nicholas series, which was colored by Sempé’s drawings and written by Goscinny, was later turned into a film in 2009. It was great to be able to watch one of my favorite childhood heroes on a big screen.
Inspired by the City
I didn’t want to go through without mentioning Sempé’s contributions to the world’s children’s literature. But this was not the purpose of this article. In addition to giving life to the characters of Goscinny, Sempé conveys wonderful urban impressions with his lines. We see New York and Paris in his drawings. He keeps the pulse of these cities so beautifully with its fine lines, and he conveys his impressions so mischievously to the audience! He has a different style that makes you smile. He draws things that everybody sees but fails to express. This is a much more powerful expression than words. It makes you look around smiling. It conveys the spirit of the city and time. He encourages me to take my head off the phone and look around. Maybe he’ll encourage you, too.
Come, let’s look at the cities of Sempé! Paris of Sempé
Sempé’s New York
The book that has Sempé’s drawings about city life was published by Desen Publishing at the beginning of 2018. It may serve as a great opportunity to step into the world of the illustrator. You can gift this book to yourself before the end of the year.
This article is available in Turkish. Click here to take a look!