J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

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J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

The cover for the magazine’s Fall Books Issue was done by Jean-Jacques Sempé, who has contributed more covers than any other contemporary artist—well over a hundred. He recently talked to us about childhood, one of the more recurrent themes in his work.

Your drawings often riff on this theme. What draws you to it?

I find youth attractive for its innocence and naïveté. Not my youth—I have only horrible memories of when I was young—but the hope that comes with being young. I miss the eagerness for discovery, the belief that things could get better.

J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

from Le Petit Nicolas – © IMAV éditions / Goscinny – Sempé

J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

from Le Petit Nicolas – © IMAV éditions / Goscinny – Sempé

You created many features for kids, including Le Petit Nicolas. Is there a special appeal in working for children?

Le Petit Nicolas was a series of books I did with René Goscinny, the French comics legend, who also was the scriptwriter of Astérix. I grew up in Bordeaux, in a piss-poor family, and hated school—I dropped out to enroll in the Army just so I could eat and have a place to sleep. René had gone to the Lycée Français in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was a good student—very much unlike me.

The Nicolas stories were a way to revisit the misery I endured while growing up while making sure everything came out just fine. Kids are always getting into fights but no one is hurt afterward.

Did you have favorite books when you were growing up?

I once read, in the advice column of a women’s magazine, that you should read as much as you can to improve your spelling. There was nothing to read at home, so I read the back of packages, manuals, billboards—anything I could find. I loved everything Alexandre Dumas wrote, especially “The Three Musketeers.” (I was d’Artagnan!) And I got to be a very good speller, which made me inordinately proud.

For more of Sempé’s covers, see below:

J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

“Higher Still”

J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

“Together”

J. J. Sempé’s “Reading Group” |

“Dance Around a Piano”

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