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Sempé Fi (On Covers): Voilà, la Mer!

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6-22-09 Jean Jacques Sempe Jumping In New Yorker.jpg

Pollux writes:

He’s jumped in. His socks, cap, shoes, glasses, shirt, pants, backpack, and bicycle lie strewn on the beach behind him. And now what? He’s shivering in the cold water, the sun is concealed by rain-heavy clouds, and the beach is empty and forlorn.

Such is the vision presented in Jean-Jacques Sempé’s cover, called “Jumping In,” for the June 22, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. Sempé’s human figures are always minuscule, but the little boy on this cover is smaller still, composed as he is of the thinnest strikes of the pen in the face of engulfing watercolor spills of green, white, and purple that comprise clouds, sea, and sky.

And now what? It’s not the best day for going to the beach. Perhaps he would have been better off staying home and reading Tintin comic books or going to the movies to see some utterly mindless thriller starring a subway car, a subway train dispatcher played by Denzel Washington, and John Travolta in Swordfish-mode again.

But summer is about trying new things, even if it involves some discomfort in the form of a freezing Atlantic. Sempé’s cover for the April 8, 2002 issue of The New Yorker offered a similar vision of a person wading into a wide ocean, but the figure on this 2002 cover is older and much more content to simply wade in. He’s not going any farther. This was a five-minute expedition, only involving the removal of shoes and socks.

But Sempé’s younger figure on this 2009 cover is much more daring, although a little uncertain. Such is youth, a mixture of daring and uncertainty.

The sea beckons. How far will you go?

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