Sempé is a French artist who draws beautifully simple and elegant cartoons. His stuff is very reminiscent of several artists who contribute cartoons to The New Yorker.
His stuff is amazingly well observed, thought out and drawn. His work always centers around the funny ways that people think and much of the humor comes from the weaknesses and foibles that people have.
Take a look at this one. This cartoon really knocks me out, on so many levels. Click to see it big enough to appreciate.
The composition is so great. The big area on the left of his driveway and garden is totally balanced by the small area on the right that is smaller but has as much weight as the big side on the left, because the right-side area has more tone and contrast and also more activity because the figures have dynamic poses while the left side is very static because there isn't anything alive or moving over there.
It's such a great idea to divide the two ideas in the picture with the big house. It separates the two ideas so that you can compare and contrast the two ideas: a rich man who has everything in the world he could ever want, and yet he takes the most pride in the most humble of his accomplishments: he managed to grow a head of lettuce.
Notice how useful that wheelbarrow behind him is: if you cover it up, it affects the picture. First, it allows him to have some black against his white clothes so that the contrast draws your eye to him; he is the most important element in those figures and they all have a lot of contrast (with their black clothes and white faces) so he needs to have some contrast to compete with them for the viewer's attention. Also it seems to me that the dark area of the wheelbarrow helps keep your eye from sliding off the right-hand side of the page. The little tiny flower behind his head seems to help keep your eye bouncing back and forth between his face and those of his friends. The friend of his that's kneeling is great because of the variation he adds to the poses of the group. Imagine how static the group would be without him there. He and the two figures in the left foreground help create - along with the lettuce and the proud homeowner - a great little circle that makes your eye rotate around that lettuce in a closed circuit, which is great because that gives the lettuce so much more importance and prominence. Take a second to look at how great the poses of his friends are: such great variety in them, and also how they work together compositionally to lean in towards the lettuce and then to lean away as they move to the right so that the homeowner can be alone and silhouetted.
I love the homeowner's pose: so clearly proud of his lettuce and yet so simply drawn. Usually when people draw "proud" they puff the chest out in the drawing. Yet without that cliché it still works beautifully and much more effectively. His pose definitely looks like an older, overweight rich guy.
The other side of the estate is so beautifully handled as well. It's so easy to just glance at the left and think "oh, I get it; he's wealthy" and then get the idea and turn the page. That's what's so amazing about a great artist: when they are so good that they can put over an idea so simply and clearly - and precisely - that you don't really think about just how great a job they did of handling it. Everything that says he's a rich man is so perfectly handled. From the types of cars he drew - either they have fins or they are small convertible sports cars, both great "shorthand" to say "expensive" - to the way the plants are handled contribute to the idea that he has a lot of wealth. Instead of just being hedges, the hedges have been turned into topiaries, which only the wealthy would bother to maintain like that. And the little arrow shapes of the topiaries are just complicated enough to look fancy without being so distracting as to draw unnecessary attention to them, for they are not important as individual ideas but for what they contribute to the whole.
I also love how the diving board above the pool is so frilly and fancy. And the great approach of making the area have so many "levels" - that helps with the idea that the area goes back into space, but since it keeps "stepping up" in space you can see all of it and see it very well as it recedes. But it also gives you the chance to draw all those different levels of fancy stairs and those fancy walls with the little pillars.
Lastly, the house is handled so well. It's drawn perfectly to say "expensive house". You glance at it and thing "okay, wealthy house" but it's just so precisely done. Take a second to look at the way the front entrance is handled so well. The stairs and the way the little banisters leading up to the door and so simple and yet so perfect to say that they're elegant. Also the edges of the house with the squares - I don't even know what those are or what they're called but I know I've seen them before in pictures of fancy European estates. What simple and obvious yet brilliant observation! And the details above the windows and the balconies really add a lot, as well as dividing up the windows into so many little panes. This gives a great sense of scale to the house and makes it look big but it also makes the windows look elegant and fancy.
Lastly, the texture on the roof seems really busy at first glance - why put so much detail up there? - but you'll notice that, again, it adds to making the scale of the house seem big, and it's also gives a much-needed balance to that part of the picture. If that roof was blank it would make the top half of the picture look empty and flat. It wouldn't balance well with the "busy" areas of the garden and the estate on the lower left and right.
If you enjoyed looking at this cartoon of Sempé's, there are several of his books available on Amazon.com. I definitely urge everyone to check out his stuff - you won't be disappointed. I will scan some more of his stuff sometime if people are interested. This cartoon is from a collection called "Everything is Complicated".