'Gaston Lagaffe'.

Belgian comic artist André Franquin is widely considered one of the major artists of European comics. A leading contributor to Spirou magazine, he was the third lead writer/artist of the title comic, 'Spirou et Fantasio'. Between 1946 and 1969, Franquin enriched the series with longer and more intricate narratives. He introduced many colorful secondary characters, such as the inhabitants of the town of Champignac: the scientist-inventor Count, the monologue-loving Mayor, the recurring villains Zorglub and Zantafio, the independent female journalist Seccotine and the world's strangest animal, the Marsupilami. Most of his creations remained part of the 'Spirou' universe after Franquin's run, with the exception of the long-tailed Marsupilami, who since 1987 has starred in his own spin-off series, drawn by Batem. Besides being a skilled artist, Franquin was a comedy genius. He crafted some of the most iconic gag comics ever made. For Tintin magazine, he created the family comic 'Modeste et Pompon' (1955-1959), noted for the slick interior designs and feel-good atmosphere of post-war prosperity. This first experience with the gag comic format paved the way for his signature comic, 'Gaston Lagaffe' ('Gomer Goof', 1957-1991), published in Spirou and starring the most incompetent office clerk ever. An icon of Franco-Belgian comics, Gaston continues to entertain readers decades after Franquin's final gag was created. In the dawn of his career, Franquin reinvented himself by creating adult-oriented comics - appearing in the Spirou supplement Le Trombone Illustré and Gotlib's humor magazine Fluide Glacial. His most notorious series in this genre was 'Idées Noires' ('Black Thoughts', 1977-1983), a nihilistic satire, full of life's misery and worries, drawn in gorgeous inky silhouettes. Franquin spearheaded the so-called "School of Marcinelle", the round and joyful graphic style associated with Spirou magazine and originally introduced by Jijé. With his vivid and bouncy graphic style, he gave his iconic creations a sense of joy and artistic suppleness, rarely surpassed by his countless followers. Even his signatures became visual jokes and his throwaway scribbles of goofy monsters became collector's items. André Franquin ranks as one of the most influential Belgian comic artists of all time, comparable in impact and fame to Hergé.

Maurvaise tete by Franquin
'Le Nid des Marsupilamis' (Spirou, 1956).

Early life and education
André Franquin was born in 1924 in Etterbeek, Belgium, coincidentally the same Brussels suburb Clear Line cartoonist Hergé was born just sixteen years earlier. Like Hergé, Franquin remembered his childhood as particularly boring. In school, children were expected to be silent and obedient. Franquin's father was a serious bank clerk, who insisted his son should become an agronomic engineer. His mother, however, encouraged young André to develop his graphic skills. In interviews, Franquin said that his repressive upbringing sparked his urge to be funny. Franquin found escapism in literature, the movie theater and comics. By 1935, he was a junior reporter and illustrator for the Sunday children's supplement of the Brussels newspaper La Nation Belge. In 1942, he enrolled at the Institut Saint-Luc art school in Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis. Much to his disappointment, his teachers proved to be just as repressive. World War II radically changed the direction of Franquin's life. Constant bombings forced Institut Saint-Luc to close its doors, and Franquin moved back in with his parents while he searched for a job.

Compagnie Belge d'Actualités
By September 1944, Franquin found a part-time job at the Compagnie Belge d'Actualités (C.B.A.), the animation studio headed by Paul Nagant which had recently relocated from Liège to the nation's capital, Brussels. There, Franquin worked alongside the artists Jacques Eggermont, Eddy Paape, Georges Salmon, Maurice de Bevere (Morris) and Pierre Culliford (Peyo), most of whom became lifelong friends and influential comic creators in their own right. Franquin was appointed animator, learning the trade as he went along, while working with the team on 'Il Était une Fois', a film based on the popular songs 'Il Était... un Petit Navire' and 'Le Chat d' la Mèr' Michel'. Still, this venture into animation was short-lived. Shortly after Franquin joined the studio, Belgium was liberated from the German occupation. The subsequent post-war chaos and the return of competing Hollywood films in movie theaters led C.B.A. to close its doors in the following year. During this period, and until 1947, Franquin also made cartoons for the Catholic scouting magazine Plein-Jeu. As he had never been a Boy Scout himself, Franquin took inspiration for uniforms and emblems from the leading French Boy Scout illustrator, Pierre Joubert.

cover of Le Moustique, by Franquincover of Le Moustique, by Franquin
Cover gags for Le Moustique magazine (left side, 1946, right side 1947)

The foundations of André Franquin's cartooning style were laid in the 1930s comic magazines that circulated in Belgium. Translated American comic strips by Floyd Gottfredson, George McManus, E.C. Segar, Georges Beuville, Alex Raymond, Martin Branner, Milton Caniff and Chic Young left a lasting impression on young André. Franquin also enjoyed local comics like Hergé's 'Tintin' and Alain Saint-Ogan's 'Zig et Puce', but their influence on his later work remained limited. Instead, Franquin developed a more dynamic drawing style, inspired in his early career by his mentor Jijé, the animated shorts by Tex Avery and Mad Magazine cartoonists Harvey Kurtzman and Mort Drucker. Other notable graphic influences were the Japanese artist Hokusai, the British cartoonist Ronald Searle and the paintings of the Flemish Primitives and Peter Paul Rubens. Later in life, Franquin expressed admiration for comic artists Charles M. Schulz, Albert Uderzo, Gotlib and Ptiluc.

Under Jijé's wings
By 1945, Franquin's former studio mate Maurice de Bevere (Morris) was cartooning for Le Moustique, the radio guide magazine of Éditions Dupuis. Morris introduced Franquin to Joseph Gillain, AKA Jijé. During the war years, Gillain had almost single-handedly filled the pages of another Dupuis publication, the children's comic magazine Spirou. Preparing a return to weekly circulation after the Nazi-imposed publication ban, the publisher searched for a new generation of comic creators to fill its pages. Jijé took Franquin, Morris and another youngster, Will, under his wing, and taught them the basic traits of the comic profession. Working from Jijé's Waterloo house atelier, the artists were quickly nicknamed the "Gang of Four". Among Franquin's early tasks were making cover and interior cartoons for the Dupuis magazines Le Moustique and Bonnes Soirées. Initially, André Franquin signed his work with a modest "AF".

Radar Le Robot by André Franquin
Spirou - 'Radar le Robot' (1947).

Spirou et Fantasio
It didn't take long before Jijé handed Franquin one of his ongoing comic series, 'Spirou et Fantasio'. Being Spirou's title comic, this naturally was an important task. The red-headed piccolo was introduced in the magazine's first issue in 1938, drawn by the Frenchman Rob-Vel. Jijé continued the feature during the war years, adding the wacky reporter Fantasio to the cast. The first 'Spirou' artwork by Franquin to see print was in the episode 'Les Maisons Préfabriquées' ("The Prefabricated Houses"), which he took over midway from Jijé in the Spirou weekly issue of 20 June 1946. Without receiving any indication of the plot, Franquin improvised the rest of Jijé's story, starting in the middle of a scene where Spirou and Fantasio try to grab a piece of paper on the beach. The first full ‘Spirou’ story by Franquin was 'Spirou et le Tank', a post-war tale in which Fantasio causes havoc with a leftover U.S. Army tank. It appeared in the Spirou Almanach 1947 anthology (published in 1946), in which Jijé's new team was introduced. Besides featuring Franquin's first 'Spirou' story, the book also marked the debut of Morris' cowboy hero 'Lucky Luke'. Franquin then moved on with the adventure serials 'L'Héritage' ("The Inheritance'', 1946-1947) and 'Radar le Robot' (1947). These early Franquin stories are still heavily influenced by Jijé, both in drawing style and settings. Many stories carefully depict Brussels working-class neighborhoods, like the Marolles. This is most notable in the episode 'Sur le Ring' (1948), featuring neighborhood kids like the brave P'tit Maurice (modeled after Morris) and the street bum Poildur. The artist's background in animation is also reflected in his early comic art. Several scenes feature little to no dialogue and are told in visual narratives. During the 1948-1949 period, Franquin accompanied Jijé and Morris on their trip through the United States and Mexico, all the while sending his weekly 'Spirou' pages to Belgium. By the time he returned home, Franquin found his own voice and shaped the series for the decades to come, making longer stories with more thorough plots instead of week by week improvisations. During his tenure, Franquin fleshed out the personalities of existing cast members. The playful Spirou of the early years became the heroic voice of reason, and the goofy Fantasio was turned into a loud-mouthed twit. The two heroes shared a home in a modern, post-war suburb, while their adventures brought them all over the world.

Spirou et Fantasio: Champignac
Franquin's breakout serial was 'Il y a un Sorcier à Champignac' ("There is a Sorcerer in Champignac", 1950-51), about mysterious happenings in the countryside town of Champignac-en-Cambrousse. The story marked the debut of many important secondary characters, most notably the local Count - Pacîme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas de Champignac in full, but usually shortened to "the Count of Champignac". In his castle, the old nobleman is active as a part-time scientist, inventor and mushroom expert, often causing mayhem with his well-intended experiments. He became the series' brilliant but absent-minded professor, who accompanied Spirou and Fantasio on many of their  adventures. The mushrooms from the castle garden form the basis of the count's groundbreaking inventions, like the X1 elixir that gives superhuman strength and speed, or Métomol, a pink gas that makes metal soft. These inventions are not without risk, as is seen in the short story 'La Peur au Bout du Fil' ("Fear on the End of the Line", 1959): the count accidentally overdoses on his X3 potion, which should have boosted his intellect and memory, but was turned into an evil madman. The otherwise peaceful Champignac village remained the setting of many 'Spirou et Fantasio' episodes, both by Franquin and his successors. The distinctive town inhabitants form a colorful addition to the 'Spirou' universe. Besides the Count, well-known figures are the self-important mayor Gustave Labarbe, the local chemist and drunk Dupilon and the dutiful town clerk Duplumier.

Franquin's personal favorite Champignac inhabitant was Petit-Noël, a dreamy-eyed little boy with a trademark red bonnet. Merely an "extra" in two 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories, Noël first appeared in two short solo stories, published in Spirou's Christmas issues of 1957 and 1958. In 1959, he starred in a longer adventure for Spirou's fold-in mini-books section: 'Noël et l'Elaoin'. In 1966, Franquin illustrated two children's picture books with the character, written by Will for the Collection du Carroussel.

Z Comme Zorglub by André Franquin
Introduction of Zorglub, in 'Z Comme Zorglub' (1959).

Spirou et Fantasio: secondary human and animal characters
Another important ally introduced by Franquin is the young female reporter Seccotine, who debuted in the episode 'La Corne de Rhinocéros' (1953). In a time when attractive female characters were absent in children's comics, Franquin's creation was a notable exception. An outspoken and self-willed woman, Seccotine has a strong personality. Far from a mere damsel in distress or platonic love interest, she plunges into adventures as an independent journalist. While usually nice and enthusiastic, she gets easily agitated when feeling offended or crossed. The first recurring Franquin-created villain was Zantafio, Fantasio's pompous evil cousin, who made his debut in 'Spirou et les Héritiers' ("Spirou and the Heirs", 1951) and returned in many later adventures. The most legendary antagonist however is Zorglub, a megalomaniac scientist and former university friend of the count, whose wicked inventions shook the narrative of the diptych 'Z comme Zorglub' ("Z is for Zorglub", 1959) and 'L'Ombre de Z' ("The Shadow of Z", 1960). Zorglub's highly technological weaponry include the flying "Zorglumobiles", the paralyzing Zorglub ray and an army of hypnotized foot soldiers who chant in reverse Zorglub speech ("zorglangue"). Their war cry "Eviv Bulgroz!" ("Vive Zorglub!", meaning "Hail Zorglub!") has become a well-known phrase among European comic fans. A student fraternity once contacted Franquin, claiming they could speak Zorglub speech fluently!

Le voyageur du Mésozoïque
Champignac terrorized by a dinosaur in 'Le Voyageur du Mésozoïque' (1957).

Just as appealing as his human characters were Franquin's animals. Spirou already had a pet squirrel, Spip, introduced in the early 1940s by Rob-Vel. Franquin gave Spip more personality, but besides having Spip give cynical commentary and bite the occasional villain, Franquin felt limited by the rodent's possibilities. Franquin had much more fun with larger and more grotesque animals, like the revived good-natured dinosaur in 'Le Voyageur du Mésozoïque' ("The Traveller from the Mesozoic", 1957), the gorillas in 'Le Gorille a Bonne Mine' ("The Gorilla Looks Good", 1956) and the mischievous circus monkeys from 'Bravo les Brothers!' (1965). However, Franquin's most iconic animal was completely fictional. The leopard-spotted monkey-like Marsupilami with its extremely long tail, short-tempered nature and familiar "Houba! Houba!" call first appeared in 'Spirou et les Héritiers' (1951), when Spirou and Fantasio captured it in the Palombian jungle. Graphically inspired by E.C. Segar's Eugene the Jeep from the 'Thimble Theater' strip, the Marsupilami offered Franquin endless opportunities for gags and storylines. In the next story, 'Les Voleurs du Marsupilami' ("The Robbers of the Marsupilami", 1952), the rare animal was abducted from the zoo. After Spirou and Fantasio rescued the Marsupilami from the traveling circus of the evil Zabaglione (all the villains in Franquin's stories seem to have names starting with a Z), they adopted him as their pet. The Marsupilami appeared in all further adventures from the Franquin era. Subsequent episodes introduced new remarkable qualities of the animal, such as an amphibian ability to swim underwater and a parrot-like capability of reproducing sounds and speech. The standout episode was the non-adventure 'Le Nid des Marsupilamis' ("The Marsupilamis' Nest", 1957), which mostly consisted of a lecture by Seccotine about the Marsupilamis in their natural habitat, the Palombian jungle. Even though the two title characters had a passive role throughout the entire story, the episode is one of the most poetic in Franquin's oeuvre for its loving portrayal of Marsupilami family life. Of all his additions to the 'Spirou' universe, the Marsupilami remained Franquin's most treasured creation.

Maurvaise tete by Franquin
'La Mauvaise Tête' (1954).

The Style of Spirou
The enlargement of the Spirou universe and his humorous and well-structured stories made Franquin, in the minds of many, the ultimate 'Spirou et Fantasio' artist. Since his stories mark the 1950s launch of the ongoing 'Spirou et Fantasio' album collection, his impact has overshadowed that of his two predecessors, Rob-Vel and Jijé. Every subsequent 'Spirou' artist was always compared to Franquin. His stories show unsurpassed talent for exciting storytelling, comic timing and appealing characters. In a time when most Franco-Belgian comic book protagonists were one-dimensional heroes acting in good-versus-evil plots, Franquin's characters reflected the artist's world view and morals. The friendship between the easy-going Spirou and the impulsive Fantasio formed an important aspect of the plots, most notably in the episode 'La Mauvaise Tête' ("The False Head", 1954), when Spirou has to clear his friend from a larceny frame-up. Instead of being pure evil, the villains in Franquin's stories show redeeming qualities. Several 'Spirou' stories were inspired by the artist's personal interests and character traits. Franquin's strong anti-militaristic sentiments are obvious in episodes like 'Le Dictateur et le Champignon' (1953-1954) and 'QRN sur Bretzelburg' (1961-1963). His love for animals is expressed in the Marsupilami-centered episodes, but also in 'Le Gorille à Bonne Mine' (1956), 'Le Voyageur du Mésozoïque' (1957) and 'Bravo les Brothers!' (1965). Sports play an important role in 'Spirou sur le Ring' (boxing, 1948), 'Les Voleurs du Marsupilami' (soccer, 1952) and 'La Mauvaise Tête' (cycling, 1954), while cars form the major plot elements in 'La Corne de Rhinocéros' (1953) and 'La Quick Super' (1955). His drawing style was also groundbreaking, gradually shifting from a clean stylization to flowing vivid linework. Although Franquin's comics were cartoonish, he was extremely accurate in technical depictions of objects and machinery. Even his fictional technology remains believable, like the robot in 'Radar le Robot', the single-person submarine in 'Le Repaire de la Murène' ("The Moray's Lair", 1954-1955) and the high-tech weaponry from the Zorglub cycle. The two fictional and slickly designed blue Turbot convertibles that the heroes use during their adventures have become so iconic that lifesize reproductions have been made by fans.

Bravo Brothers by Franquin
An example of Franquin's storytelling and timing, in 'Bravo Les Brothers' (1965). Franquin leaves out the shot where the arrow actually hits the apple.

The burden of Spirou
Even though he drew the series for 23 years and his stories became classics, 'Spirou et Fantasio' was a burden to Franquin. He wasn't fully at ease with the main characters, since they weren't his own creations. Never satisfied with his work and his own worst critic, the perfectionist often needed the help and support from his friends to complete his stories. Unlike most cartoonists who use assistants - especially at the time - Franquin always credited his co-workers. The plot for Franquin's first major serial, 'Il y a un Sorcier à Champignac' (1950), was suggested by Jijé's brother Henri Gillain, who used the pen name Jean Darc. Franquin's friend Georges Salmon, AKA Jo Almo, came up with the idea of 'Les Voleurs du Marsupilami' (1952). Maurice Rosy wrote the initial script for 'Le Dictateur et le Champignon' (1953-1954) and 'Les Pirates du Silence' (1955-1956), and the help of Peyo and Gos was called in to "rescue" the story 'Panade à Champignac' (1967). Franquin's most frequent script aide was Michel Greg, whose involvement started with 'Le Prisonnier du Bouddha' (1958) and lasted throughout the Zorglub cycle and 'QRN sur Bretzelburg' (1963). Franquin freely handled the provided scripts and plot ideas, often altering them in accordance with his own views. For the background art, Will helped out with the architectural design of the futuristic Incognito-City in  'Les Pirates du Silence' (1955). Starting with 'La Foire aux Gangsters' (1958), Jidéhem became Franquin's regular background assistant, who contributed to the series throughout the rest of Franquin's run.

In 1961, halfway through the story 'QRN sur Bretzelburg', Franquin suffered a mental breakdown, followed by a viral hepatitis infection. Depressed, the cartoonist couldn't continue for months, leaving his ongoing adventure interrupted. Although he eventually came back and finished the story, it became clear to him that continuing other people’s creation wasn't what he wanted. Franquin found far more satisfaction in his gag comic 'Gaston Lagaffe' (1957), which by then had become another one of Spirou magazine's staples. Franquin's final 'Spirou' stories 'Bravo les Brothers' (1965) and 'Panade à Champignac' (1967) appeared with longer intervals in between, and were largely crossover stories with Gaston Lagaffe. In 1968, Franquin passed 'Spirou et Fantasio' to Jean-Claude Fournier, a French artist from the Brittany region who prior to taking over the lead series entertained the readers of Spirou with his own poetic creation, 'Bizu'. For future plans, Franquin kept the rights of his most beloved creation, the Marsupilami, to himself. As a result,while Franquin's other additions to the series could be used by his successors, the long-tailed animal disappeared from the further 'Spirou et Fantasio' adventures. To smooth the transition, Franquin personally drew the Marsupilami in Fournier's debut episode, 'Le Faiseur d'Or' ("The Goldmaker", 1969). During the late 1960s and the 1970s, Franquin made some sporadic gags with the Marsupilami, teaming him up with Petit-Noël.

Marsupilami by Franquin
Gag from 1971 starring the Marsupilami and Petit Noël.

Modeste et Pompon
Since his 1946 debut, André Franquin was one of the most loyal contributors of Éditions Dupuis, and a personal favorite of the fatherly head of the company, Charles Dupuis. As artist of Spirou magazine's mascot and many additional editorial drawings, he had quickly turned into the publisher's standard bearer. However, in February 1955, there was a temporary rupture. Following a disagreement over royalties for one of his albums, Franquin resolutely ended his association with Éditions Dupuis and headed for the direct competition, Tintin magazine and its publishing house Lombard. In his anger, he immediately signed a five-year contract. An impulsive move, it turned out, since within two weeks his dispute with Dupuis was settled. As a result, from 1955 on, André Franquin had to fulfill two weekly assignments: creating 'Spirou et Fantasio' for Spirou magazine, and a new gag series for Tintin.

Debuting in the Tintin issue of 19 October 1955, 'Modeste et Pompon' was André Franquin's first venture into gag comics. It was a format that Franquin discovered suited him far better than long, complex serials. The series follows the trials and tribulations of a young man, Modeste, and his cute girlfriend, Pompon. His tendency to overestimate his abilities often got the short-tempered Modeste in trouble, despite the friendly warnings of the ever-patient Pompon. Modeste's main source for irritation is Félix, an obnoxious door-to-door salesman who uses his "friend" as a test subject for his questionable products. Modeste is also regularly forced by the obtrusive Félix to babysit his nephews, three little terrors. To keep up with his new workload, Franquin often relied on additional scriptwriters to come up with the gags. Michel Greg was the most productive, with René Goscinny as a close second. To avoid overlap in subject matter, both writers introduced their own next-door neighbor to the series. Greg created the grumpy and complaining Mr. Ducrin, and Goscinny wrote the gags with the pushy Mr. Dubruit, who would overstay his welcome.

Modeste et Pompon, by Franquin
'Modeste et Pompon'.

Besides being the first showcase of Franquin's talent for gag comics, 'Modeste et Pompon' was also notable for its modernity. Out were the messy working-class neighborhoods of Franquin's early work, in came the arty interior designs and fashion trends of the post-war suburban housing districts. Largely based on the look of Franquin's own house, Modeste's home became a time capsule of 1950s abstract and modern design, fashion and architecture. The drawings became more angular and geometric, with a strong emphasis on modernism, optimism for the future and prosperity. Later coined as the "Atomic style", this new slick design was also omni-present in the work of Jijé and Will, and visible in the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. During the 1980s, the Atomic style was revived by artists like Joost Swarte, Yves Chaland, Ever Meulen and Serge Clerc.

In 1959, after creating 601 gags, Franquin was finally able to annul his contract with Le Lombard, one year before the official end. By then, 'Modeste et Pompon' had become such an important feature in Tintin's pages that publisher Raymond Leblanc wanted it to continue. Before his departure, Franquin trained the Italian artist Dino Attanasio to continue the series without too much deviation in drawing style. Attanasio made new gags until 1968, after which he in turn was succeeded by Mittéï (1968-1975), Griffo (1975), Bertrand Dupont (1976-1979) and Walli & Bom (1980-1988). The 'Modeste et Pompon' book series has been translated into Dutch ('Ton en Tineke'), German ('Mausi und Paul'), Danish ('Sjarly'), Norwegian ('Tobben'), Swedish ('Mickes äventyr'), Finnish ('Heiska ja Heta'), Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian ('Dobrica i Kica').

Gaston, by Andre Franquin
Gaston Lagaffe appearing in the 'Spirou et Fantasio' story 'La Foire aux Gangsters' (1958).

Gaston Lagaffe
Franquin's first experiences with gag strips led to the creation of his iconic Gaston Lagaffe character. Drawn with the looks of an American beatnik, the character initially created havoc in the magazine's editorial sections. In Spirou #985 of 28 February 1957, Gaston simply just appeared in the pages without any title or explanation. After a few weeks of puzzling readers, Spirou and Fantasio finally noticed the lanky weirdo with his trademark green pullover sweater and casually dangling cigarette in his mouth. When Spirou finally asked him who he was, Gaston only mumbled that he was sent there to work, but he didn't know by whom or why. This unusual introduction was a striking example of the fun atmosphere and tongue-in-cheek humor that characterized Spirou magazine during the reign of editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte. After a few weeks, Franquin began featuring Gaston in half-page gags, mostly drawn by his assistant Jidéhem. From its start as an office humor strip to the hilarious and over-the-top happenings in later years, 'Gaston Lagaffe' popularized the anti-hero in European comics. With new gags appearing until the early 1990s, the goof has continued to entertain generations of comic book readers.

Right from the start, Gaston proved himself the laziest employee of Spirou's editorial offices, with Fantasio being his original manager and fixed opponent. Fantasio's role in the comic was a logical choice. Already in the 1940s, Spirou editor Jean Doisy used the Fantasio name for his articles, even before Jijé featured the character in his 'Spirou' comics. In Franquin's 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories, Fantasio was still an ambitious reporter, but in the 'Gaston' gags, he mostly served as an office manager on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Spirou himself was seen in the early gags as well, making 'Gaston' the magazine's editorial strip. Simultaneously, Gaston had occasional cameos and guest appearances in the 'Spirou et Fantasio' comic too. After 1968, when he dropped the 'Spirou et Fantasio' feature, Franquin fully concentrated on 'Gaston Lagaffe'. Taking over the art duties from his loyal co-worker Jidéhem, the half-page strips made way for full-page gags. Fantasio disappeared from the feature and was replaced with a new grouchy boss, the pipe-smoking hot-head Léon Prunelle. Easily enraged, Prunelle's trademark curse "ROGNTUDJU!" (with varying amounts of R's and U's) became a popular catchphrase. The in-house artist Yves Lebrac, on the other hand, is often amused by Gaston's antics, but changes his tune when facing an important deadline.

Gaston by Franquin
Gaston's infamous gaffophone (1967).

Although the strip ran for over 30 years, Gaston's superiors never managed to get him to work. While he had only one job - sorting the mail! But instead of just doing that, Gaston spends most of his time sleeping behind his desk. But at least when asleep he is harmless. Whenever he is awake, Gaston uses his energy on culinary experiments, amateur chemistry and crafting mad inventions, of which the extraordinary Gaffophone is the most notorious. Whenever the atrocious instrument is touched, windows crack and walls come down. Most of Gaston's other experiments also end in unexpected accidents, explosions or bodily harm. The young employee brings objects and creatures to the office that any sane person would leave at home, ranging from motorcycles, chainsaws and bowling balls to his hyperactive cat and aggressive pet seagull. Despite his innocent nature, Gaston is a daily danger for his co-workers. The most unfortunate victim of Gaston's antics is the grumpy businessman Mr. De Mesmaeker, with whom Fantasio and Prunelle keep trying to make a business deal. Time and time again, Gaston unwillingly manages to offend him or destroy the contracts before they can be signed. Gaston - comfortably wearing his shrunken green sweater and mule slippers - always keeps his cool. Unaware of the mayhem he causes, Gaston always feels the others overreact, resulting in him muttering his catchphrase "M'enfin?!" ("Well I say!" or "Blimey!").

Out of the office, Gaston also has difficulties dealing with authority. When he drives around his rickety Fiat 509 car, the local police officer Longtarin is on the watch to fine Gaston for parking his car in the wrong spot or polluting the air. In the late 1970s episodes, Gaston and Longtarin's feud resulted in a full-blown "parking meter war", in which Gaston constantly tries to sabotage the local parking meters before Longtarin can fine him. It was a result of Franquin's own hatred of the devices, which he felt took too much space on the narrow streets and were a shameless way of extracting money from people. Spirou magazine supported the action by issuing special stickers which people could stick to the meters saying "You have paid to drive, now pay to stop..."

Gaston by Franquin
M. De Mesmaeker meets Gaston's cat.

The only people who appreciate Gaston and often join in on his antics are his friends Bertrand Labévue, Manu and Jules-de-chez-Smith-en-face (Jules-from-Smith's-across-the-street). Fully blind to Gaston's faults is Mademoiselle Jeanne, the office's bespectacled secretary who is hopelessly in love with him. After all the trouble he caused, it is a miracle that Gaston was fired only once. In 1960, Gaston went too far when he brought a cow to the office. Following his dismissal, tons of letters from pleading readers saved him and he got his job back. This clever attempt at reader participation proved how popular the character had become, only three years after his introduction. In the following years, the doings of Gaston were integrated more prominently in Spirou's editorials. In the section 'En Direct de la Rédaction' ("Directly from the Editorial staff", 1965-1972), written accounts of Gaston's exploits were given by chief editor Yvan Delporte, with illustrations by Franquin. At times, the chronicles didn't even deviate that much from the real world, as Delporte once brought an actual lion cub called Pinky to the office. In 1963, readers were invited to send in crazy ideas for a masked ball costume. The ensuing cartoon series, 'Le Bal à Gaston', showed Gaston in the most outrageous outfits, while he mutters "But what if there is dancing?"

Police officer Longtarin on guard in 'Gaston' gag #857.

'Gaston' is both a time capsule of Brussels from the 1950s through the 1980s, and a document of Spirou magazine's editorial ambiance. The backgrounds are clearly recognizable as the Dupuis headquarters and the outside streets as Brussels. Real-life co-workers and comic artists are only mentioned by name, with a notable exception of Raoul Cauvin, who is shown in his photolab in one of the gags. The publisher has more frequent guest appearances, although the face of "Monsieur Dupuis" is never shown. All the other characters are fictional, although sometimes inspired by real-life people. Gaston got his name from Gaston Mostraert, a friend of chief editor Yvan Delporte. The character's playful personality however best resembled the eccentric Delporte himself. The father of fellow artist Jidéhem lent his name and looks to the long-suffering business man, Mr. De Mesmaeker. Unbeknownst to him, the accountant responsible for Franquin's 1955 royalties disagreement stood model for the comic's strict accountant Joseph Boulier. The 'Gaston' pages are additionally filled with nods and references to other comics and their artists - many long forgotten today. In short, 'Gaston' is full of inside jokes, outdated references and an unapologetic Belgian setting. Yet, amazingly enough, the series continues to make generations of readers laugh, far outside the Belgian borders. 'Gaston' has been translated in many languages, among them Dutch ('Guust Flater'), German (originally as 'Jo-Jo', later simply as 'Gaston'), Spanish ('Tomás el Gafe'), Portuguese ('Gastão Dabronca'), Italian, Greek, Polish, Danish ('Vakse Viggo'), Norwegian ('Viggo'), Swedish, Icelandic ('Viggó viðutan'), Finnish ('Niilo Pielinen'), Serbian (Gaša šeprtlja), Croatian and Turkish ('Chapchal Gazi'). Its universal comedy is found in Gaston's laziness, clumsiness and overall stupidity, which ends in hilarious over-the-top disaster. For many years, the albums weren't available in English, until the 2017 launch of the 'Gomer Goof' series by Cinebook.

Gaston in advertising
Gaston was also one of the first popular comic characters to appear in tailor-made advertising gags, starting in the 1950s with a series of gags for the “table beer” Orange Pied-Boeuf. Gaston later appeared in 1970s advertising comic pages for Kodak - which also introduced his little nephew - and in a series of gags for Philips batteries in the 1980s. In later years, Franquin also used Gaston to promote socially conscious and politically engaged causes. Franquin's concerns for military dictatorships and pollution were already themes in his 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories. His later 'Gaston' gags were characterized by political activism and pacifist sentiments, as Gaston took part in anti-armaments and environmental demonstrations, dreaming of fighting whale hunters and attacking hunters and the military. Particularly in the 1980s, Gaston often appeared on posters and postcards to promote humanitarian and ecological topics for organizations like Unicef and Amnesty International.

Unicef postcard by Franquin
Postcard starring Gaston for Unicef. Translation: "Why not help them in a different way?" 

Gaston album collections
Just as chaotic as its subject, was the history of the 'Gaston' album collection series. In 1960, Éditions Dupuis released a limited print-run booklet of 8,30 x 19,60 cm (3.26 x 7.7 inch) which is now sought-after by many collectors and worth thousands of euros. The regular album series took off in 1963 with 'Gala de Gaffes' - bearing volume number 2. After volumes 3 ('Gaffes à Gogo', 1964) and 4 ('Gaffes en Gros', 1965) suddenly came volume 1 ('Gare au Gaffes', 1966) - in an attempt to create a new starting point for the ongoing series, since the 1960 booklet was out of print. It was followed by the official number 5, 'Les gaffes d'un Gars Gonflé' (1967). These first five "official" albums were all released in the landscape format, according to the feature's half-page gag format. By the time Franquin switched from half-page to full-page gags, the books got the regular Franco-Belgian portrait-shaped format, starting with volume 6 ('Des Gaffes et des Dégâts', 1968) and continuing regularly through volume 14 ('La Saga des Gaffes', 1982). By 1970, the landscape-format books (1 through 5) went out of print and were gradually replaced by regular format books, receiving a serial number starting with a letter R and a contracted title based on the original booklets. Since the large-format books allowed twice as much content as the landscape-format ones, there was only enough material to fill the albums R1 ('Gala de Gaffes à Gogo', 1970), R2 ('Le Bureau des Gaffes en Gros', 1972) and R3 ('Gare aux Gaffes du Gars Gonflé', 1973). Album R4 ('En Direct de la Gaffe', 1974) contained remaining gags and a selection of the Gaston-themed editorials by Yvan Delporte, but from then on, the official series continued with volume 6. For years, there was no official (normal format) album 5, leaving fans and collectors puzzled. The omission became known as the "Ghost Album", prompting bootleggers to jump in and release unofficial editions. In 1983, the new 'Spirou & Fantasio' artists Tome and Janry even devoted one of their short stories to the mystery of the missing 'Gaston' album 5 ('Vilain Faussaire'). Strangely enough, in 1985, Dupuis released an album 0 ('Gaffe et Gadgets'), with material from the earliest Gaston appearances in Spirou's editorial sections and the initial gags from the 1960 mini-booklet. In the following year, the official album R5 finally saw the light under the title 'Le Lourd Passé de Lagaffe' (1986), containing previously skipped material, including the Orange-Piedboeuf advertising gags.

For decades, the 'Gaston Lagaffe' gags were in steady production, but in 1982 Franquin fell into a depression and his series went into hiatus. Four years later, he revived 'Gaston' again, but new gags appeared only sporadically, sometimes only once or twice a year. The final new 'Gaston' gag appeared in 1991, followed in 1992 by Franquin's last Gaston-themed Spirou cover. In 1996, these new comic pages, along with earlier cover gags and the 'Le Bal à Gaston' cartoons, filled the fifteenth album of the 'Gaston' series, 'Gaffe à Lagaffe!'. Released under Franquin's own Marsu Productions imprint, it concluded the official series. But that didn't end the confusion. In the following year, 'Gaston' celebrated its 40th anniversary, and for the occasion, Éditions Dupuis and Marsu Productions completely turned over the book series by rebooting the entire collection with new cover designs and presenting all the gags in chronological order. Since the original albums varied in length from 44 to 62 pages, they were now able to fill eighteen volumes with the material from the original sixteen (0 through 15). Scraping the bottom of the barrel, a 19th volume was added with even more left-over material. With covers consisting of a stand-alone 'Gaston' figure and a half comic page, the 1997 album collection lacked the appeal of the original series, with its vivid Franquin cover illustrations. In 2009, to undo their wrong, Dupuis began reprinting the nineteen-volume book series with Franquin's original cover drawings. In 2018, yet another reboot of the 'Gaston' album collection followed, this time in 21 volumes with even more previously unpublished material. All pages were digitally restored and recolored by Frédéric Jannin. So (for now) came an end to the mind-boggling run of the 'Gaston' book series, which the publisher could luckily always lament about and blame on their lazy goofing co-worker!

Gaston media adaptations
Given its success in comics, it is remarkable that the 'Gaston' series never received many adaptations in other media. In 1983, the Belgian singer/songwriter Henri Seroka brought out the double A-side 45 RPM 'Les Chansons De Gaston', containing the songs 'Petite Souris Qui M'Sourit and 'Ça Casse Tout Le Rock à Gaston', both with lyrics relating to the character. In 1981 'Gaston' was loosely adapted by Paul Boujenah into a live-action film, 'Fais Gaffa à la Gaffe' (1981), but the director was only allowed by Franquin to use his gags, not his characters. Three decades later, a full-blown adaptation attempt was made by Pierre-François Martin-Laval with the feature film 'Gaston Lagaffe' (2018), starring Théo Fernandez as Gaston. Both films were commercial and critical flops, as it was almost impossible to translate the explosive slapstick of the comic to a live-action format. In 2009, the Alexis Lavillat's studio Normaal Animation adapted the comic gags into 78 TV cartoon shorts by adding movement and sound effects to the original Franquin drawings and dialogues. The series debuted on France 3 on 19 December 2009.

Header by Franquin
Header illustration for Spirou/Robbedoes introducing Jijé's new 'Jerry Spring' story (1955).

Illustration work for Spirou
As the magazine's lead artist, Franquin was also the most requested illustrator for Spirou's editorial sections. Since taking over 'Spirou' in 1946, Franquin made the cover illustrations for the quarterly omnibus collections of the Spirou weekly magazines and from 1952 until 1961, he also made weekly header illustrations for Spirou's front page. At the time, three quarters and later one-half of a Spirou cover was filled with a comic strip, and the other space was reserved for the logo and an introductory illustration about that issue's content. Until Jean Roba took over in 1961, Franquin provided these weekly drawings, which regularly referenced or spoofed other artists' creations. By mid-1967, Franquin returned to Spirou's front cover with small spot illustrations, at first starring Spirou. In late 1971, the cover design was restyled, and Franquin's weekly drawing moved to the bottom-left corner. From then on, Franquin had the liberty to do whatever he wanted with his little announcements, since the Spirou mascot character already appeared in a fixed top header spot. Between 1971 and mid-1977, the cartoonist experimented with different forms and characters. Some spot drawings featured Gaston, others one-shot characters or even anthropomorphic question and exclamation marks. The section also marked the first appearances of Franquin's famous gruesome monster creations. Also notable was Franquin's graphical creation of 'Starter', the mascot of Spirou magazine's automotive section. Since 1950, editor Jacques Wauters wrote about the latest car models in his own section under the nickname "Starter". By 1956, Franquin turned Wauters' alias into a cartoony mechanic in blue overalls. Franquin illustrated the weekly chronicles until Jidéhem took over from issue #999 in 1957.

Starter by Franquin

Assistants at the Avenue du Brésil studio
The 1950s and 1960s were the most productive period of Franquin's career. At one point, he simultaneously produced 'Spirou et Fantasio', 'Modeste et Pompon', the early 'Gaston Lagaffe' gags and tons of editorial illustrations. In 1957, Franquin opened his private (and secret) atelier at 15, Avenue du Brésil in the Ixelles suburb of Brussels. There, he surrounded himself with a young team of talented assistants, reproducing the inspiring and creative environment of his early years in Jijé's Waterloo house studio. The phone number of Franquin's studio was  kept a secret, so that the team could work without being disturbed. Between 1957 and 1968, the most prominent of Franquin's co-workers was Jean De Mesmaeker, AKA Jidéhem. This technically skilled artist provided the backgrounds for several 'Spirou' stories, did the main artwork of the 'Gaston' gags and succeeded Franquin as the illustrator of the 'Starter' section. The future 'Boule & Bill' artist Jean Roba joined the team in 1958. He drew the secondary characters and backgrounds in 'Spirou et les Hommes-bulles' (1958), 'Tembo Tabou' (1959) and 'Les Petits Formats' (1960) - three 'Spirou et Fantasio' episodes made exclusively for the French newspaper Le Parisien Libéré. Also working at the Avenue du Brésil was Jean Verbruggen, who helped Franquin with the coloring of his comics. Another artist that frequented Franquin's atelier in the late 1950s was Marcel Denis. Franquin, Denis and Jidéhem collaborated on a short 'Spirou' story for the first and only issue of Spirou Poche, a 1957 pocket-sized supplement to the weekly Spirou magazine. As a team effort, the group made 'L'Île au Boumptéryx' ("The Isle of the Boompterix", 1959), a 12-page story about birds laying exploding eggs. Franquin and Denis provided the script, while Roba drew the characters and Jidéhem the backgrounds. The project was published under the collective signature Ley Kip (phonetic for "L'Équipe", meaning "the team"). By 1963, the Egyptian-Belgian artist Kiko also worked in Franquin's studio. During this period, Kiko developed his signature comic character, the little Persian boy 'Foufi' with his flying carpet. Before appearing in Spirou, Fouri ran in an Arabic edition of the Superman comic published in Beirut, Lebanon, during the first half of 1964. Several gags of Kiko's weekly Lebanese production were suggested by Franquin.

Spirou cover by FranquinSpirou cover by Franquin
Cover illustrations for Robbedoes, issue #1472 (30 June 1966) and issue #1698 (29 October 1970).

Collaborations with Yvan Delporte
Another important brainstormer with André Franquin was Yvan Delporte, his editor-in-chief until 1968 who played an instrumental role in the development of 'Gaston Lagaffe'. After Delporte's discharge, he and Franquin continued to collaborate throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1975 and 1985, their wide imagination came to blossom once again in their scripts for the magical 'Isabelle' series, drawn for Spirou magazine by Will. Isabelle is a young red-headed girl from a small French coastal town, and constantly confronted with the magic surrounding her. Her aunt Ursule however is completely oblivious to all the supernatural happenings, and is predominantly occupied with baking cakes and making sure her niece is dressed warmly enough. From 1969 on, the series' poetic first episodes were written by Delporte in collaboration with Raymond Macherot. A true plunge into fantasy came in 1975, when Franquin joined the writers' team. 'Les Maléfices de l'Oncle Hermès' (1975) marked the introduction of Isabelle's great-great-uncle of the seventh generation Hermès, a magician with goat legs. He becomes a regular cast member after Isabelle frees him from a magical lamp, where he was put by the evil witch Kalendula. He then marries the beautiful Calendula - a descendant of the evil witch - and the pair become the instigators of many future adventures. Macherot left the team after 'L'Astragale de Cassiopée' (1976), and Franquin after 'L'Envoûtement' (1985), leaving Will and Delporte to make the remaining albums as a duo until the series' end in 1994. Another comic series written by Franquin and Delporte was 'Les Démêles d'Arnest Ringard et Augraphie', a humorous series of short stories about the ongoing battle between a man and a mole. Drawn by Frédéric Jannin, the first set of stories ran in 1978-1980; the feature was briefly revived between 1993 and 1995. This series also appeared in Dutch under the title 'Geharrewar tussen Pieter Pook en Molleke'.

Header for Le Trombone, by Franquin
Header for Le Trombone Illustré, Spirou issue #2034 (7 April 1977).

Le Trombone Illustré
Despite his success, Franquin always remained modest, even deeply uncertain, about his talent. Even his tendency to turn his signature into a visual gag came from a horrible misconception that his gags "weren't funny enough." Like many humorists, Franquin suffered from severe depression, plagued with a constant dissatisfaction with his own work. Yvan Delporte knew that Franquin was very interested in the new wave of successful "adults only" comics, which appeared on the market in the 1960s. To give him a new challenge, he had Franquin join him in the creation of a similar "adults only" comic paper, called Le Trombone Illustré (“The Illustrated Trombone”). Staying loyal to Dupuis, they proposed it as a tabloid-sized supplement to Spirou magazine. First appearing on 17 March 1977 and proclaiming complete independence, Le Trombone featured pitch black comedy and subversive satire. Indeed, much of the biting and at times blasphemous content deviated heavily from the good-natured and child-friendly humor of the regular Spirou weekly, printed by the Catholic publishing house Dupuis. Each week, Franquin created Le Trombone Illustré's beautiful header illustrations, presenting a crowd of characters. Some are familiar, like the Marsupilami, others are new, like the bishop who constantly finds new uses for his crosier. The same bunch of characters reappeared on each cover, but in different situations, maintaining a certain continuity. For instance, a recurring character on these headers was a heavy smoker, who gradually got ill. As his health deteriorated throughout several successive covers, the man died and was carried to his grave.

As could be expected with such cynicism, Le Trombone Illustré lasted only a couple of months. On 20 October 1977, publisher Dupuis terminated the supplement after only thirty issues. But by then, Franquin and Delporte had written history once again. The paper presented out-of-the-box comics by Spirou stalwarts like Jean Roba, René Hausman and Sirius, and also introduced Spirou's readership to a host of artists from the alternative or adult comics scene, such as Didier Comès, Claire Brétécher, F'murr, Grzegorz Rosinski and Jacques Tardi. Fréderic Jannin and Thierry Culliford's gag strip 'Germain et Nous' continued as a weekly feature in Spirou magazine until 1992. In 1980, Dupuis released a full hardcover collection of all Trombone issues. It was reprinted in 2009. A 2005 landscape-format book by Marsu Productions compiled all the magazine headers created by André Franquin.

Idees Noires, by Franquin
'Idées Noires'.

Idées Noires
The crown jewel of Le Trombone Illustré were Franquin's 'Idées Noires' ('Dark Thoughts', 1977-1983). After the supplement's cancellation, the feature found a new homebase in the pages of Fluide Glacial, the humor magazine of Franquin's friend Gotlib. In a radical break with Franquin's previous work, these gags feature pitch dark comedy in an innovative graphic style. The gags reflect their author's pessimistic and cynical worldview. Some installments are fantasy-oriented, with jokes about monsters, extraterrestrials or people stuck in dystopian settings, other show a disturbing inspiration from real-life fears and phobias. In line with the pessimistic spirit of the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of Franquin's 'Idées Noires' feature horrific accidents, executions, and suicides. Without mercy, Franquin shows people being eaten by animals and killed by epidemics, or mankind destroying itself with atomic bombs and world wars. Complementing the nihilistic tone are Franquin's black-and-white ink drawings. All characters are drawn in silhouette, and walk around in shadowy backgrounds. For Franquin, 'Idées Noires' was both a new artistic challenge and a perfect outlet for his personal anxieties, worries and frustrations.

Idees Noires by Franquin
'Idées Noires'. The minister is informed that "nuclear power plants will soon rise from the ground... like...".

Particularly notable are the gags in which Franquin expresses his left-wing opinions about controversial issues - some very topical. In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker sank, polluting the ocean and killing off much sea life. A year later, a nuclear disaster in the Three Mile Island power plant was narrowly prevented. In the early 1980s, the nuclear arms race between the USA and USSR intensified. In France, there was public debate about the abolishment of the death penalty, which finally took place in 1981. Many 'Idées Noires' gags are inspired by these news events. Franquin takes a clear stance against pollution, nuclear energy, the nuclear arms race and the death penalty. He ridicules the corporate and industrial worlds, where everything is downsized, while millions are invested in warfare. Animal abuse particularly draws his ire. Franquin lashes out against hunters, bull fighters, the meat industry, women wearing fur, race horses being killed and automobile drivers running over hedgehogs. One gag viciously mocks smokers. Numerous ones ridicule religion. Some are paranoid fears, about what lurks outside at night or what people really think about you behind your back. Other episodes are biting metaphors for the futility of human existence, seeing no hope for our future.

'Idées Noires' showed a side most audiences had never seen from this beloved children's comics author: cynical and outspoken political. It polarized readers, but still grew into a cult classic. Fans admire it as Franquin's most adult and personal work. Although some gags are dated, most are remarkably - and depressingly - timeless. Despite the nihilism, the artwork is fabulous, ranking among Franquin's finest achievements. The punchlines are either witty or so disturbing that they keep haunting the reader long after they've put the book aside. Although 'Idées Noires' temporarily gave Franquin some creative and emotional solace, he eventually quit the series. The concept became too formulaic and, unsurprisingly, too depressing. Compilation books were released by Éditions Audie in 1981 and 1984, and only a handful of new gags appeared in 1982 and 1983. After that, Franquin refrained from drawing comics for several years.

Idees Noires, by Franquin
'Idées Noires'.

By the 1980s, it had been over a decade since the last major appearance of Franquin's other important creation, the Marsupilami. Although owning the rights, he seldom used the character after quitting 'Spirou et Fantasio'. Between 1968 and 1981, the long-tailed animal appeared in only a couple of gag pages and short stories. Still, he remained a pop culture mainstay. The 1970s British progressive rock band Marsupilami named themselves after the character and in 1978, the German folk singer Dennie Christian released a Dutch-language song about the friendship between Gaston and the Marsupilami, 'Wij zijn twee vrienden'. Tagging along on the success of Dutch singer Vader Abraham with his song about Peyo's 'Smurfs', 'Het Smurfenlied' ('The Smurfs' Song', 1977), Christian's song indeed increased the characters' popularity among the general public. However, Franquin was not happy with the song; Gaston and the Marsupilami never teamed up in any of his comics, so they had nothing in common. But the new public attention planted the seed for a future project with the Marsupilami. That opportunity came in the mid-1980s. By then, Franquin's publishing house, Dupuis, was acquired by a Brussels banking group. The company transitioned from a family business with direct connections between patrons and authors to an impersonal corporate entity with a focus on sales figures and prospects. Because of the changing atmosphere, several Spirou staples from the "Golden Age" took their creations to other publishing ventures. Peyo placed the Smurfs and his other characters under a new family imprint, Cartoon Creation, while Jean Roba and his 'Boule et Bill' comic moved to Dargaud. Franquin too left Dupuis after forty years of loyal service.

Marsupilami by André Franquin
Marsupilami - 'La Cage' (1965).

In 1986, Franquin sold the rights to his characters to his friend Jean-François Moyersoen, who housed them under a new Monaco-based publishing house, Marsu Productions. Moyersoen's first project was a full-blown comic book series based on Franquin's Marsupilami, with Franquin involved as creative consultant and co-scriptwriter. Instead of featuring the Marsupilami in urban adventures like in the 'Spirou et Fantasio' era, the setting of the new adventures became the Palombian jungle. Franquin had already treaded this territory in his groundbreaking 1957 'Spirou' episode 'Le Nid des Marsupilamis' ("The Nest of the Marsupilamis"), and in two short stories he had drawn with Will: 'La Cage' (1965) and 'Capturer un Marsupilami' (1981). The new spin-off series focused on the Marsupilami family - a Marsupilami couple with three Marsupilami babies - and also brought back the scruffy hunter Bring M. Backalive and episodic characters from the 'Spirou' universe, such as the evil circus owner Zabaglione and animal trainer Noé.

The series took off in October 1987 with the debut album 'La Queue du Marsupilami' ("The Marsupilami's Tail"), and saw Franquin teaming up again with Michel Greg to write the stories. For the artwork, Franquin trained the young cartoonist Batem to get the feel of his characters. Franquin participated with the artwork of the first two albums, after which Batem continued on his own. From the third album, Yann took over from Greg as scriptwriter, while Franquin remained involved as a creative consultant and co-plotter. The final album with Franquin contributions was the ninth, 'Le Papillon des Cimes' (1994). Since then, the 'Marsupilami' comic book series has continued with Batem at the helm. After some years with alternating scriptwriters - including the Xavier Fauche-Éric Adam duo and Batem himself - Dugomier (2003-2006) and then Stéphane Colman (since 2006) have served as the series' regular scriptwriter.

Marsupilami media adaptations
The renewed activity with the Marsupilami also boosted other media projects. In 1993, the Marsupilami starred in an offbeat thirteen-episode cartoon series by the Walt Disney Studios, which completely deviated from Franquin's original creation. The setting changed from South America to Africa and new side characters like Maurice the Gorilla and Stewart the Elephant were added to the cast. On top of all that, the animal had dialogue in the series, instead of his familiar "Houba! Houba!" shouts. To promote the series, the Walt Disney Company also created original 'Marsupilami' comic stories for their Disney Adventures magazine, featuring Bobbi J.G. Weiss, Bill Riling and Don Ferguson and Tom Bancroft on writing duties and Mike Royer, Tom Bancroft, Lea Hernandez, Eliot Bour and Dave Hunt as the artists. Dissatisfied with Disney's liberal interpretation and failure to mention Franquin in the credits, Marsu Productions sued Disney and won their case. As a result, the series ended after only one season. A more faithful adaptation of Franquin's creation was produced in France by Cactus Animation. The first season debuted in 2000 and ran for 26 episodes on Canal J. New seasons followed under the titles 'Mon Ami Marsupilami' (2003), 'Houba! Houba! Hop!' (2009-2011) and 'Nos Voisins les Marsupilamis' (2012). In April 2012, the French CGI-animated/live-action film adaptation 'Sur la Piste du Marsupilami' ('Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami') was released, directed by Alain Chabat.

Marsu Productions
Besides the 'Marsupilami', Marsu Productions also took care of Franquin's other creations. In 1990, Marsu released a follow-up to Franquin's poetic 1959 story 'Noël et l'Elaoin', written by Serdu and drawn by Stibane with support from Franquin. In collaboration with Dupuis, the final two 'Gaston Lagaffe' albums with new material were released under the Marsu Productions imprint. Later years saw attempts to launch spin-off series like 'Marsu Kids' (by Wilbur and Didier Conrad, 2011-2013) and 'Gastoon' (by Simon Léturgie, Yann and Jean Léturgie, 2011-2014) - starring Gaston Lagaffe's nephew from the 1970s Kodak advertising gags - but with disappointing results. Over the years, several other artists joined Moyersoen's publishing house. Marsu Productions organized reboots of classic characters like Raymond Machérot's 'Chaminou' and François Walthéry's 'Le P'tit Bout d'Chique', and offered a new home to creations by François Walthéry, Marc Wasterlain, Philippe Bercovici, Yann and Désert. In March 2013, Marsu Productions was bought by Éditions Dupuis, returning many classic Franquin creations to their original homebase.

Concept art for 'Les Tifous'.

Les Tifous
One of Franquin's final projects was being a concept artist for the animated TV series 'La Chronique des Tifous' (1990). The episodes revolved around a group of fluffy forest creatures living in a fantasy world. With characters inspired by Franquin's monster drawings, the artist  spent a lot of time designing the creatures, backgrounds and overall atmosphere. The animation was produced by Odec Kid Cartoons, with scripts written by Yvan Delporte, Xavier Fauche and Jean Léturgie. Nic Broca was one of the production artists. A total of 25 five-minute episodes were made and broadcast on France 3, in co-production with Swiss public television. Unfortunately, 'Les Tifous' didn't catch on and quickly faded into obscurity. In 1990, a book with Franquin's concept sketches was published by Éditions Dessis. A Dutch release followed under the title 'De Banjers'.

Graphic and written contributions
Franquin also contributed to a couple of collective book projects, for instance 'Il Était Une Fois... Les Belges'/'Er Waren Eens Belgen' (1980), published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. The same year he was one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to ‘Pepperland’ (1980), a collective comic book tribute to the store Pepperland, to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In 1985, he made a contribution to the book 'Tegenaanval' (De Lijn, 1985), an anti-military book advocating the liberation of cartoonist Wim Stevenhagen, who was sentenced for refusing to fulfill his military service for reasons of principle. He also contributed to 'Entre Chats' (Delcourt, 1989), an anthology with comic stories about cats edited by Frank Pé. In 1990 Dany paid graphic tribute to François Walthéry in the collective homage book 'Natacha. Special 20 Ans' (Marsu Productions, 1990), which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Walthéry's series 'Natacha'. In 1996 Franquin also wrote the foreword to the first book in Fabien Rypert's 'Boogy' comic series. 

Final years and death
During the 1980s, Franquin created mostly one-shot gags and artwork for advertisements and posters. His regular 'Gaston' and 'Idées Noires' production however slowed down and came to an abrupt halt in 1982, when the artist fell into another major depression. It took several years before he recovered. While visiting the Angoulême Comic Festival to sign books, he was approached by many children. Some even recited entire 'Gaston' gags by heart. It gave Franquin a boost to get back to work, albeit at a much slower pace. This resulted in sporadic new 'Gaston' gags, the launch of the 'Marsupilami'-spin-off (1987) and his work on the TV series 'La Chronique des Tifous' (1990). Nevertheless, he drew his final 'Gaston' gag in 1991, and his contributions to the 'Marsupilami' albums ended in 1994. On 5 January 1997, two days after his 73rd birthday, André Franquin passed away from a heart attack in the French town Saint-Laurent-de-Var, not far from Nice.

'Gaston Lagaffe'. 

By many considered the top of European humor comics, Franquin counts to this day as the key representative of the "School of Marcinelle", the round and energetic drawing style that reflects the joy and playfulness of Spirou magazine. Other important followers were Peyo, Maurice Tillieux, Will and Jean Roba, but Franquin set the standard. It has left a lasting mark on European comics, just like its counterpart, Hergé's strict Clear Line-driven "School of Brussels". From his early years with clean "Atomic style" designs to the virtuoso bounciness of his later brush work, André Franquin's artwork still looks as fresh as ever. Franquin's ability to capture energy and life in his drawings is unsurpassed. His human and animal characters are so vital, they almost hop off the pages. His vehicles and other objects are equally dashing, although they maintain a technical accuracy. Before drawing a page, Franquin made preliminary sketches of the required objects, animals or characters. Sometimes, he used photographs as inspiration, sometimes he drew them from the top of his head. By exercising and studying, he found a way to give every element a proper caricatural and distinguished look. As a result, when Franquin drew a fuse box, it was accurate and cartoony at the same time. Another prime example was Gaston's cat, whose bushy hair, whiskers and hyperactive behavior revealed Franquin's thorough study of cats. He was able to get the "feel" of the real-life animal.

André Franquin's pages were refined into the tiniest details, paying as much attention to the main action as to funny background jokes, furniture design and works of art hanging on the walls. Still, all these additional details never distracted the reader from the story flow. With his keen sense of timing and balance, Franquin kept his comic readable, even when using black-and-white silhouettes. Famous subtle jokes by Franquin are his signatures at the bottom of his gag pages. From 1972 on, he began fooling around with them as a running gag. Every signature in the later 'Gaston' and 'Idées Noires' pages summarized the topic of the gag. If a gag, for instance, involved an explosion, the Franquin signature exploded. If the punchline included a bulldozer, Franquin's name was swept away by one. He found so many creative ways to turn his signature into a doodle, that the gimmick became a trademark and even got a life of its own. In 1992, Dupuis released a selection of his signature jokes under the title 'Signé Franquin'.

Gaston by Franquin
Gaston gag with signature. From: 'Le Géant de la Gaffe'. 

Even when he was not working, Franquin continued to draw. While thinking up gags, talking on the phone or waiting in a restaurant until his order arrived, he filled endless pieces of papers with his free-form drawings. His favorite subject were monsters, of which he drew a great many. Some were creepy, others funny, most very grotesque. René Goscinny once proposed to use these monsters in a new comic series for Pilote magazine, but Franquin declined the offer. Still, his creatures sometimes popped up in the 1970s spot illustrations he made for the covers of Spirou magazine. In 1979 and 1981, selections of Franquin's monster drawings appeared in the fanzine Schtroumpf! under the title 'Cauchemarrant' - a contraction of "cauchemar" (nightmare) and "marrant" (funny). Bédérama released a 1979 book collection. Later, these drawings also appeared in Circus magazine. Between October 1988 and August 1989, Franquin drew new monsters on a weekly basis for Spirou, appearing with descriptive captions by Yvan Delporte under the title 'Monstre par Semaine'. In 2002 and 2003, Marsu Productions compiled two books worth of material, under the 'Les Monstres de Franquin' banner. Besides monsters, Franquin also made abstract sketches. To Franquin, these were just throwaway doodles, but they too revealed his inventiveness and virtuosity. Kees Kousemaker admired them and therefore held a popular 1994 exhibition in his Gallery Lambiek in Amsterdam. Original drawings were sold and the profits went to UNICEF. Some sketches were blown up and sold in poster format. In 2003, Franquin's abstract artwork was also collected in book format under the title 'Les Doodles de Franquin' (Marsu Productions, 2003).

Franquin Lambiek expoFranquin Lambiek expo
From April until June in 1991, André Franquin exhibited a selection of his traditional comics work and abstract black-and-white sketches at Gallery Lambiek.

Homages and luxury editions
André Franquin is still one of the most beloved, admired and influential comic artists of all time. His albums remain bestsellers and are reprinted to this day. Many luxury collections have seen the light. From the complete works collection at Éditions Rombaldi in the 1980s to the patrimonium re-releases at Marsu Productions and Éditions Dupuis of the 2000s, the demand for Franquin's work seems insatiable. Since Franquin's death, Marsu Productions has brought out several luxury books celebrating the master's artwork, including special editions collecting his monster and animal art ('Les Monstres de Franquin' [2002-2003] and 'La Bestiaire de Franquin' [2004-2006]), funny autographs ('Les Signatures de Franquin', 2005), abstract doodles ('Les Doodles de Franquin', 2003) and Trombone Illustré header illustrations (2005). Since 2006, hardcore fans and comic professionals can marvel at the full-size reproductions of Franquin's original artwork in the large-format 'Version Originale' limited edition books. The collection contains several complete 'Spirou et Fantasio' episodes, Franquin's solo stories with Petit Noël and the Marsupilami stories, and the 'Gaston Lagaffe' and 'Idées Noires' series. Since the 2010s, Franquin's shorter 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories are recolored by Frédéric Jannin, annotated by José-Louis Bocquet and Serge Honorez, and remounted to their original magazine serialization format for a series of hardcover books at Éditions Dupuis. Since 2005, Dupuis released facsimile editions of the original 'Gaston Lagaffe' albums, as well as new reprint albums with thematic selections of gags. In 2013 and 2014, Dupuis also brought out the luxury 'Tout Gaston' collection, and a book collecting the special artwork Franquin made for fanzines, 'Spirou et les Fanzines' (2013).

Other publications celebrated the life and work of Franquin in different ways. The trip that Franquin, Jijé and Morris made to the USA in the 1940s inspired a fictionalized chronicle in comics format, 'Gringos Locos' (2012), by Yann and Olivier Schwartz. A planned second installment fell through, as the heirs objected to the authors' interpretation of certain events and motivations. At the occasion of Gaston's 60th anniversary in 2017, Dupuis released two homage albums with contributions by a variety of contemporary authors. The French-language 'La Galerie des Gaffes' contained tributes by Walloon and French authors, while 'Guust 60 Jaar: Gefeliciteerd!' featured work by Dutch and Flemish artists and writers. Gaston even inspired parody books. In 1983, the book 'Baston Labaffe no 5 : La Ballade des Baffes' (Goupil, 1983) came out, in which several famous Franco-Belgian cartoonists created their own personal parody of the series.

comic art by Franquin
Sketch for one of Franquin's fantasy animals.

Already during his lifetime, André Franquin was praised and awarded numerous times. In 1974, he received the Grand Prix at the Comics Festival of Angoulême (1974). In later years, he was celebrated in Sweden with an Adamson Award (1980) and in Germany with the Max und Moritz Preis (1994). In 1989, André Franquin was one of a select group of Belgian comic pioneers included in the permanent exhibition of the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. In 1991, he was knighted by King Boudewijn/ Baudouin as a Knight in the Order of Leopold. Posthumously, Franquin ended 16th in the 2005 Walloon election for "Greatest Belgian", while he remained at number 117 in the Flemish edition.

In 1996, Gaston received his own statue at the Boulevard Pachéco, not far from the Belgian Comic Strip Center, but unfortunately it was removed in June 2019 because it was severely damaged. In 1999, Gaston and Prunelle appeared on a mural in the Rue Saint-Martial as part of the Comic Book Route of Angoulême, France. In 2003, the Dutch city of Almere named a road after André Franquin and a garden after the Marsupilami as part of the "Comic Heroes District". On 28 February 2007, Gaston was the subject of another mural, this time in the Rue de l'Ecuyer/Schildknaapstraat as part of the Brussels Comic Book Route. As a special treat and nod to the series, all parking meters in Brussels were free of charge that day! Six years later, on 8 May 2013, the Marsupilami received his own Brussels mural too in the Avenue Houba De Strooper/Houba De Strooperlaan, a street named after a local city secretary. The choice for this street was not coincidental, as decades earlier, the name had inspired Franquin to give the Marsupilami his famous "Houba! Houba!" yell. The Marsupilami also has no less than two statues, one on the Jules Hiérnaux square in Charleroi, erected in 1988, and another one in the coastal town Middelkerke, placed in 2009 as part of the local Comics Route. On 17 September 2021 a statue of Gaston was inaugurated too on the Place Vert in Charleroi. In perhaps the highest honor, the 'Gaston' comics ended at number 98 in the "100 Books of the 20th Century" list of the leading French daily newspaper Le Monde. It was one of the few comic books included in the list. Both the Marsupilami (2000) and André Franquin himself (12 March 2017) have asteroids named after them.

Franquin and Peyo made this drawing for Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker in 1971. Since then, the artwork of the Smurfs has nearly faded out...

Legacy and influence
Franquin's influence on the European comics scene cannot be underestimated. The "School of Marcinelle" established a new standard for humor comics, with Franquin as undisputed forerunner. Throughout Europe, new generations of comic artists adopted Franquin's graphical approach of round-nosed characters, bouncy vehicles and infectuous fun. Others took inspiration from his way of visual storytelling, clean page lay-outs or choise of subject matter. The list of artists Franquin has influenced seems endless. In Belgium, he was named an inspiration by Marc Sleen, Pom, Jef Nys, Batem, Ever Meulen, François Walthéry, Bob Mau, Pierre Seron, Jidéhem, Daniel Kox (whose Agent 212 was originally based on Longtarin from 'Gaston Lagaffe'), Stéphane Colman, Berck, Jean-Pol, Eddy Ryssack, Jean Mahaux, Jean-Louis Lejeune, Willy Lambil, Merho, Kamagurka, Benoît Sokal, Jan Bosschaert, Ptiluc, Luc Cromheecke, Midam, André Taymans, René Hausman, Frank Pé, Frédéric Jannin, Tome & Janry, Erik Meynen, Conz, Pieter De Poortere, Kim Duchateau, Stibane, Yan Gevuld, Erik Vandemeulebroucke, Luc MorjaeuQuiritMarc Verhaegen and Charel Cambré. Coming from an entirely different background, Clear Line-master Hergé also expressed his admiration for Franquin's work.

In France, Franquin counts Bar2, Thierry CapezzoneAlain Dodier, Gérard Dorville, Garf, Marcel Gotlib, F'murr, Tibet, Jean Giraud, Serge Clerc, Yves Chaland, Jean-Claude Fournier, Stéphane Colman, Frank Margerin, Emile Bravo, Gregory Maklés, Jean-Claude MorchoisneJean MulatierCyril Knittel, Olivier Schwartz, Yves Ker Ambrun, Didier Conrad, Laurent Verron, Wilmaury, Jean Tabary, Fabrice Tarrin and Pierre Waltch among his followers. In the Netherlands, he is admired by Martin Lodewijk, Gerrit de JagerHenk Kuijpers, Peter Koch, Jan Kruis, Dick Matena, Mark Smeets, Hanco Kolk, Eric Heuvel, Eric Schreurs, Gleever, Gummbah, Daan Jippes, Robert van der Kroft, Michiel de Jong, Aimée de Jongh, Maarten Gerritsen, Wilfred OttenheijmGerben Valkema, Theo van den Boogaard, Simon van der MolenWillem VleeschouwerAnco Dijkman and Windig & De Jong. His influences also stretch out to Finland (Kari Korhonen), Germany (Flix), Poland (Slawomir Kielbus), Spain (Tony Fernández, Francisco Ibanez), Switzerland (Cosey, Philippe WurmZep), Turkey (Galip Tekin), Serbia (Dragan de Lazare) and the Ivory Coast (Ghakan).

To this day, Franquin's shadow is also felt in 'Spirou et Fantasio', which is still set in the universe he established. Even though the Marsupilami is no longer part of the series, the town of Champignac and its inhabitants are. Especially Tome & Janry approached the quality of the Franquin period, working in a comparable style, but with a new and original approach. Their successors José-Luis Munuera and Jean-David Morvan referred to several classic Franquin-era stories during their 2004-2008 tenure on the series, as did several artists who made an installment in the one-shot collection 'Une Aventure de Spirou et Fantasio par...'. Spin-off series were created around characters created by Franquin. Since 2017, Munuera writes and draws the sci-fi spin-off 'Zorglub' (2017), starring Franquin's major 'Spirou' villain and his daughter. 'Champignac' (2019- ) by David Etien and Béka explores the younger years of the count of Champignac during World War II. In their graphic novel 'La Bête' (2020), Frank Pé and Yann gave their realistic interpretation of the Marsupilami, presenting him as a wild beast escaping from captivity. The story denounced the abuse and trafficking of exotic animals, and featured cameos of several classic comic authors, including Maurice Tillieux, Jean Roba, Jijé and, of course, André Franquin.

Other artists took their inspiration even further. Closer to plagiarism was Gérard Dorville's gag strip 'Alfred, Auguste et Popaul' in Vaillant magazine (1957-1962), which shared much of its looks and outset with 'Gaston Lagaffe'. In Spain, Francisco Ibañez' 'El Botones Sacarino' (1963) ripped off entire 'Gaston' gags, and starred a character with Gaston's looks in Spirou's bellboy costume. The Turkish comic book based on Abdullah Turhan's hero 'Alptekin' (1968-1969) featured crudely redrawn 'Gaston' episodes as back-up feature. In his newspaper comic 'Nero', Belgian artist Marc Sleen imitated certain drawings of lions and elephants from the 'Spirou' story 'La Corne de Rhinoceros'. The main cast in Pom's comic series 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' (a straight man, a funny sidekick and a feisty young girl) were very similar to Spirou, Fantasio and Seccotine. Besides that, certain scenes in this series reused imagery and plot lines from classic 'Spirou' stories. Another Belgian cartoonist, Bob Mau, used the Marsupilami as inspiration for the crazy Slurfantino animal in his 'Kari Lente' series. Instead of a long tail, Mau's character had a long trunk. The Dutch cartoonist Robert van der Kroft was inspired by Franquin's gimmick of little gag-summarizing drawings at the bottom of his pages and used it in his own series: 'Sjors en Sjimmie' and 'Claire'.

Books about André Franquin
For people interested in Franquin's life and career, Numa Sadoul's interview book 'Et Franquin créa la gaffe: Entretien avec Numa Sadoul' (Dargaud, 1986) is highly recommended. Other insightful books are Kris De Saeger's Dutch-language 'Dossier Franquin' (Arboris, 1988) and Éric Verhoest's 'Le Monde du Franquin' (Marsu Productions, 2004). A complete overview of his life and work was compiled and written by José-Louis Bocquet and Eric Verhoest under the title 'Franquin - Chronologie d'une Oeuvre' (Marsu Productions, 2007). Roger Brunel published 'Ma Leçon de BD par Franquin' (Glénat, 2019), a collection of sketches, corrections and advice Franquin gave him in the 1970s, when Brunel had to draw a short story for Spirou magazine. Brunel treasured these commentaries for decades and eventually decided to make them public.

Self-portrait, made for the first 'Idées Noires' collection in 1981.


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