André Franquin is undoubtedly the grandmaster of the so-called "School of Marcinelle", the group of artists that worked for the magazine Spirou during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. A true legend in the world of comics, Franquin earned countless fans for his work in the field, as the artist of the goofy 'Gaston Lagaffe', as the author of some of the best episodes in the 'Spirou et Fantasio' series, and as the creator of one of the world's strangest comic animals, the Marsupilami.
Born in Etterbeek, the young Franquin studied at the Saint-Luc Institute in Saint-Gilles for one year. Shortly after leaving school, he took a part-time job in the C.B.A. animation studios, where he met his fellow artists Morris, Paape, and Peyo. After the closing of this studio, Morris introduced him to Jijé, then the main artist of Spirou magazine. Jijé paved the way for him and Morris to work for the magazine's publisher, Éditions Dupuis. During this period, Franquin also made illustrations for the scouting magazine Plein Jeu.
Franquin, together with Morris and Will, went to work in Jijé's home in Waterloo, where the four artists formed the "Gang of 4", with Jijé as tutor and inspirator. Franquin started out doing several illustrations for the Dupuis magazines Le Moustique and Bonnes Soirées, but was eventually handed over the writing and art duties on Spirou's title strip, 'Spirou et Fantasio', in 1947. He took over in the middle of the episode 'Les Maisons Préfabriquées', and moved on to create new stories like 'Le Tank', 'Les Héritiers' and 'Radar Le Robot'.
In 1948 and 1949 he accompanied Jijé and Morris on a trip through the USA and Mexico, during which he kept sending his 'Spirou' pages to Europe. Franquin soon found his own style in his 'Spirou' stories, and shaped the series for the decades to come. He began making longer stories, starting with 'Il y a un Sorcier à Champignac' in 1950-51, and introduced a great variety of new side-characters to the strip. He created the little town of Champignac and its inhabitants, Fantasio's evil cousin Zantafio and, most notably, a long-tailed animal called 'Marsupilami'.
The enlargement of the Spirou universe and the very humorous and well-structured stories made Franquin, in the minds of many people, the ultimate 'Spirou et Fantasio' artist. Every artist who has drawn the series afterwards has always been compared with Franquin.
In 1955, after a dispute with his publisher Dupuis, Franquin headed to competitor Lombard, and signed a five-year contract to work for Tintin magazine. This began Franquin's first venture into the gag strip, 'Modeste et Pompon'. However, the disagreement with Dupuis was soon resolved, so Franquin had to work for both magazines at the same time. Fortunately, he got the assistance of scriptwriters René Goscinny and Michel Greg for most of his 'Modeste et Pompon' gags. When Franquin's contract with Lombard ended in 1959, the strip was continued by various artists in the following decades, including Dino Attanasio, Mittéï, and Walli & Bom.
The experience of a gag strip led to the creation of his extremely popular anti-hero 'Gaston Lagaffe' in 1957. At first featured in illustrations in Spirou's editorial sections, Franquin, assisted by Jidéhem, soon featured the character in gags of 2 rows. As the laziest employee at the fictive editorial offices of Spirou, Gaston was introduced silently into the world of the magazine's title strip; Fantasio was Gaston's fixed opponent and the character had occasional guest appearances in 'Spirou et Fantasio' episodes. For Spirou's mini-book section, Franquin additionally created 'Petit-Noël', one of his lesser known characters.
Franquin was his own worst critic, he was never really satisfied with his work. Franquin mostly enjoyed creating the exploits of 'Gaston Lagaffe', and eventually felt more and more alienated from the 'Spirou' series. Because of his own dissatisfaction as well as the increasing workload during the latter years of his run on 'Spirou', he often called in the help of fellow artists, such as Michel Greg for the scripts, and Jidéhem for the backgrounds. Franquin frequently suffered from depressions, which at one point led to a long interruption of the Spirou story 'QRN sur Bretzelburg' in 1961. The darker side of Franquin's personality would later become further revealed in the black humor series 'Idées Noires'.
In 1968, Franquin eventually handed over the 'Spirou' series to the young Breton artist Jean-Claude Fournier in order to spend all of his time to 'Gaston'. The gags now appeared on full pages, and Prunelle replaced Fantasio as Gaston's opponent. Franquin also began to experiment with graphical jokes, such as funny autographs and strange monsters in the backgrounds. These monsters were also published in magazines like Schtroumpf and Circus, and starred on a series of postcards. His autographs were collected in the book 'Signé Franquin', published by Dupuis in 1992.
Franquin drew the 'Marsupilami' in Fournier's first 'Spirou' story, but then kept the character for his own purposes. The long-tailed animal, often accompanied by 'Petit Noël', appeared in a couple of gag pages in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and was then kept on hold for many years. The character finally reappeared in 1987, in a new series of albums published by Marsu-Productions. By that time, Franquin kept overall control over the strip, but the graphical part was handled by Batem, and the stories were scripted by Greg and later Yann. Later on, the character also starred in a series of animated cartoons by Walt Disney.
In 1977, Franquin co-launched the satirical supplement Le Trombone Illustré with Yvan Delporte. There, he created beautiful headers and his first 'Idées Noires'. Upon the cancellation of the supplement, these dark gags appeared in Fluide Glacial. Franquin and Delporte co-scripted the 'Arnest Ringard' series for Frédéric Jannin, as well as a couple of stories of the magical 'Isabelle' series for Will. Franquin's activities declined during the 1980s. Besides an occasional new 'Gaston' gag, he was involved in the animation series 'La Chronique des Tifous' together with Delporte, Xavier Fauche and Jean Léturgie. André Franquin, considered as one of the founding fathers of the franco-belgian comics tradition, passed away in Saint-Laurent du Var in January 1997.