The deft, wry cartoons of Alpine skiing that begin on page 38 are the work of a 35-year-old Frenchman named Jean-Jacques Sempé. Readers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, the only American magazine to have commissioned his works, will remember with delight his drawings (SI, Aug. 22, 1966) of the Tour de France, that fabulous World Series-Super Bowl-Boston Marathon of professional bicycle racing. Art Director Dick Gangel says, "Sempé is a gifted artist who uses his art to express mischievous, satirical ideas about mankind and the funny scrapes mankind gets itself into."
In France, Sempé (pronounced Sahm-pay) is enormously popular. His range of subjects includes sophisticated slapstick, social commentary, political satire and far-out interstellar comedy. He is an original, but he lives in the world of Saul Steinberg, Jules Feiffer, Charles Addams and Marc Simont.
Although he had occasionally used sport as a subject, the cartoon essay he did for us on the Tour de France was his first major exploration into the field, and this week's look at skiing is his second. He learned about the Tour by watching and about skiing by doing.
"I started skiing too late," he says regretfully. "I was 30. I dreamed all the time of skiing when I was a kid, but, of course, I never had the money." When at last he did put on skis it was appropriately at Chamrousse. on the Olympic downhill course. "I didn't even know you were supposed to wear gloves. I went out and skied for hours, and when I came in my hands were nearly frozen."
Last winter at Meg√®ve, Sempé says, "I agreed to draw on the helmets of Marielle Goitschel and Annie Famose, providing they would give me some skiing lessons. They did. and I thought I would die. I'm not that bad a skier, but they are so good. Marielle was patient. She would wait for me at every turn and pick me up. Then, finally, I skied the Emile Allais Cup downhill piste with Jean-Pierre Augert. Normally the run is made in three minutes or so. I took half an hour."
As a boy in Bordeaux, where he was born, Sempé played soccer. "I wasn't very good. I was a better swimmer. I learned to swim by the book, literally. I studied the crawl styles carefully in my little book and watched the other swimmers, and I developed a very elegant style, though I never succeeded in going very fast. I still have an elegant style, and still swim very slowly. As a teen-ager I enjoyed running the middle distances, the 1,000 and 1,500 meters. Again, I wasn't very fast, but I was stylish.
"One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I never took up sports seriously. About the only sport I've really played well is Ping-Pong."
SEMPÉ DREAMING ABOUT SEMPE