Gaston Lagaffe goes by different names in various languages, such as Guust Flater in Dutch, Tomás el Gafe in Spanish, Sergi Grapes in Catalan, Gastón Sequivoc en Argentina (in "Billiken" magazine), Gastono Lafuŝ in Esperanto, Viggo in Norwegian, Vakse Viggo in Danish, Viggó Viðutan in Icelandic, Niilo Pielinen in Finnish, Gaša Šeprtlja in Serbian, Şapşal Gazi in Turkish and simply Gaston in Swedish as well as in German and Greek. In German he was also called (very briefly during a syndication) Jo-Jo.
Since the 1980s Gaston also appears on a wide variety of merchandise.
André Franquin who was then in charge of Spirou et Fantasio, the primary series of Le journal de Spirou, first introduced the character Gaston in issue n°985, published February 28, 1957. The initial purpose was to fill up empty spaces in the magazine and offer a (comically artificial) glimpse of life behind-the-scenes at the paper. His arrival was carefully orchestrated with a teasing campaign over several months, based on ideas by Franquin, Yvan Delporte and Jidéhem, with mysterious blue footprints in the margins of the magazine.
For the Spirou issue N°1000 cover, Franquin drew 999 heads of Spirou, and one of Gaston, and the first Gaston full-page gag was featured in a bonus supplement.
In context of the fictive story evolving at the magazine offices, the man behind the footprints, Gaston, finally turned up for a memorable job interview, telling the bemused Spirou that he didn't remember with whom or for what he had been called. Fantasio, functioning as the magazine's opinionated face of signed editorials, subsequently announced in a formal communiqué that Gaston would be the first "Hero-without-a-job". Gaston's blunders continued during a stressful and frustrating period for Fantasio, pushing him to go on a 4 week strike and eventually a vacation, initiating the story Vacances sans histoires.
From Spirou issue n°1025, the single-panel gags were replaced with Gaston strips running at bottom of the editor's pages, signed by both Jidéhem and Franquin. These ran until 1959 when Gaston acquired a weekly half-page, which lasted until the mid-60s when the Gaston Lagaffe gags grew to full-page.
Gaston's first cameo in a Spirou et Fantasio adventure took place in Spirou issue n°1014, as he graced two frames of Le voyageur du Mésozoïque. He is first seen "on the streets of the capital", riding a bicycle while reading a newspaper, obliviously littering papers, and then appears two frames later, bruised and dazed, dragging his deformed bike.
His second cameo occurred in the early panels of the story Vacances sans histoires (later included in the album Le gorille a bonne mine), where Gaston, this time with a goose on the back of his bicycle, runs past a red light and very nearly gets hit by Spirou and Fantasio's speeding racecar Turbot I, and later in the story's final panels, gets hit by the new Turbot II and, more surprised than anything else, stretched out on the front, announces his new job at the Spirou offices.
Gaston was given a larger part in the following adventure, La foire aux gangsters (included in Le nid des Marsupilamis). Here, Gaston acts naïvely foolish and chooses some bad company, which leads him to spend time in a jail cell. In the story's final frame he is released from a police station, to scornful glances by the nearby public. Gaston would not be seen again until his appearances in Franquin's two final Spirou et Fantasio stories, published in Panade à Champignac. He is featured in the opening pages of the title story, and plays a central role in Bravo les Brothers.
Gaston was hired - somewhat mysteriously - as an office junior at the offices of the Journal de Spirou (the real-life publication in which the strip appeared), having wandered in in a state of confusion. The strip usually focuses on his efforts to avoid doing any work, and indulge instead in hobbies or naps while all around him panic over deadlines. Initially, Gaston was an irritating simpleton, but he developed a genial personality and sense of humour. Common sense however always eludes him, and he has an almost supernatural ability to create disasters ("gaffes") to which he reacts with his catchphrase: "M'enfin!" ("What the...?"). His job involves dealing with readers' mail; the ever-growing piles of unanswered letters ("courrier en retard") - and the attempts of Fantasio and Léon Prunelle to make him deal with it - are recurring themes of the comic.
Gaston's age is a mystery - Franquin himself confessed that he neither knew nor indeed wanted to know it. Although Gaston has a job, a car and his own place, he often acts like a young teenager. He is invariably dressed in a tight polo-necked green jumper and blue-jeans, and worn-out espadrilles. It is said that his appearance was originally based on that of Yvan Delporte, editor of the Journal de Spirou at that time. Also, in his first gags, Gaston was an avid cigarette smoker, but his habit was slowly phased out.
Gaston alternates between phases of extreme laziness, when it is near impossible to wake him up, and hyper-activity, when he creates various machines or plays with office furniture. Over the years, he has experimented with cookery, music, decorating, chemistry and many other hobbies, all with uniformly catastrophic results. His Peter Pan-like refusal to grow up and care about his work makes him very endearing, while ironically his antics account for half the stress experienced by his unfortunate co-workers.
Léon Prunelle, an editor at the Journal de Spirou. Prunelle is even more short-tempered than Fantasio, from whom he has inherited not only the mammoth task of making Gaston work, but also the job of signing contracts with important businessman Aimé De Mesmaeker (see below). Initially optimistic about this, Prunelle slowly realises that he cannot win. However he refuses to give up. Perpetually at the end of his tether, running around barking orders, Prunelle turns a nasty reddish purple when disaster strikes and utters his trademark outburst "Rogntudju!" (a mangled version of "Nom de Dieu", roughly the equivalent of "bloody hell", then unacceptable in a children's comic). Occasionally, he manages to turn the tables on Gaston and shows that he is not without a sense of humour. He has black hair, a short beard and wears glasses.
Yves Lebrac, (first presented with the name Yvon Lebrac), an in-house cartoonist, is comparatively laid-back. He is fond of puns and we see him woo (and eventually win) one of the attractive secretary girls over the course of the series. Although mostly on good terms with Gaston (unlike Prunelle), he occasionally loses his temper when deadlines loom and Gaston's interference becomes too much. When not a victim of "gaffes", he is a lenient comrade of Gaston, and the character with which Franquin himself most identified.
Joseph Boulier, a surly accountant for Éditions Dupuis, the publishers of the magazine. He states that he will not rest until he has tracked down every useless expense in the company, and in particular those of Gaston. However, his attempts to cause Gaston grief backfire in spectacular ways. He represents the more serious side of the comics publishing business.
Mademoiselle Jeanne ("M'oiselle Jeanne" to Gaston) is one of Gaston’s colleagues and his love interest. She is the only one in the office who sees any good in him. She was first depicted as comically unattractive — one gag sees Gaston needing a partner for the back end of his pantomime horse costume, and he chooses Jeanne because of her ponytail. Gradually however, she became cuter — if never really a beauty queen. Jeanne is a perfect match for Gaston, as she admires his talent, his courage, his inventiveness and is utterly oblivious to his lack of common sense (of which she herself has fairly little). However their courtship is perpetually stuck at the very first step. They address each other with the formal vous and as "Mister" and "Miss" and see each other mainly at the office — though they have had the occasional outing together. By the end of the series, Gaston's daydreams about Jeanne did become relatively more explicit. However, to the dismay of fans, Franquin only once drew them being much more intimate on a commercially unavailable greeting card. This platonic relationship, in a way, is in keeping with Gaston's refusal or inability to grow up. It is revealed in the album En direct de la gaffe that Jeanne is color blind: she can't tell green from red.
Spirou is also staffed by translator Bertje Van Schrijfboek, an unnamed red-haired male editor referred to outside the strip as Le Rouquin ("The Redhead"), cleaning lady Mélanie Molaire (who always fumes at the mess left by Gaston and which she has to clean up), concierge Jules Soutier, and a string of attractive secretaries named Sonia (who is constantly handing in her notice), Yvonne and Suzanne. Occasionally, real-life figures from the Journal de Spirou (such as editor Yvan Delporte or writer Raoul Cauvin) have cameos.
Bertrand Labévue is another of Gaston’s friends/sidekicks and also his cousin. As his name indicates, (bévue means "blunder"), he shares his cousin's tendency to goof up. Bertrand suffers from acute depression, mirroring Franquin's own problems with the illness, and Gaston and Jules do their best to cheer him up with food, country drives and other things (all of which backfire comically).
Manu is another friend, who regularly turns up in different jobs (à la Bert in Mary Poppins): chimney sweep, sewer worker, installer of street signage... He also partakes in Gaston's schemes to irritate Longtarin, the policeman.
De Mesmaeker is named after Johan De Mesmaeker (known as Jidéhem from the French pronunciation of his initials J.D.M.), Franquin’s collaborator on the series; he remarked that the character looked like his own father. The real-life Mr De Mesmaeker Sr — actually a salesman — soon found that, as Gaston's strip became increasingly popular, concluding a deal would result in the client asking, "Where are the contracts?".
Joseph Longtarin ("long nose") is a policeman working in the neighbourhood where the offices of Spirou are located. One of his particular responsibilities is for traffic and illegal parking. An exceptionally petty and vengeful man, he is the closest thing the series has to a villain (maybe an anti-villain, given that his job involves enforcing rules and regulations that Gaston openly breaks). He is one of Gaston's favorite "victims" as well as his nemesis. The two clash continually over Gaston's car and parking habits. Gaston retaliates for Longtarin's repeated attempts to ticket him by wreaking havoc on the neighbourhood's parking meters (not just a bugbear of Gaston, but of André Franquin too). He pulls off other pranks, such as putting a small effigy of Longtarin on the front of his car, in a parody of the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy.
Freddy-les-doigts-de-fée ("fairy-fingered Freddy") is a burglar. His occasional break-ins at Spirou are always foiled accidentally by Gaston, who tends to inadvertently leave dangerous objects, devices or pets around the office. Workers at Spirou see Freddy as a fellow victim of Gaston, and, instead of turning him in to the police, offer him comfort and freebies when they find him in the morning.
Gaston drives an old Fiat 509 decorated with racing patterns that he added himself. It first appears in gag #321. However its top speed still allows passengers to safely pick flowers on motorway verges. Much humour derives from the car's extreme state of decrepitude; for example, a friend of Gaston is able to "waterski" behind it on a slick of oil, while Gaston strenuously denies any such leaks. The car also produces huge quantities of (often toxic) smoke, even more so when Gaston converts it to run on coal. Customisations and ill-fitted upgrades include:
The car is inadvertently rocket-powered on two separate occasions.
Some of Gaston's colleagues are terrified at the very thought of sitting in the Fiat - Prunelle swears on several occasions that he will never set foot in it again. The car is also the source of many clashes with Longtarin, as Gaston endlessly devises schemes to avoid paying parking meters, even going as far as parking it up in a tree or faking roadworks.
An illustrated text published in the Journal de Spirou column En direct de la Rédaction (and later collected in Gaston nº 10), chronicled the Gaffophone's blossoming and development into a small ecosystem, which then self-destructed. Gaston later rebuilt his instrument.
Gaston has also appeared in advertising campaigns for batteries, a soft drink (Orange Piedboeuf), and in a campaign to promote bus use. The material was always drawn by Franquin himself rather than under licence, and has been reprinted in books. The latter campaign is interesting in that it shows Franquin's evolution from car enthusiast inventing the Turbo-traction and other fancy sports vehicles for Spirou in the 1950s, to disillusioned citizen concerned over traffic and pollution in later years. One topical strip had the seagull boycotting Gaston's car after seeing a bird stuck in an oil spill on television. "Life is becoming more and more complicated", its owner concludes gloomily in a very rare joke-free ending.
Included in the series were the "R1" through "R5" albums (R for Réédition, French for republication). The R5 album was not published until 1986; its non-existence until then had been a mystery. This was due to the republication of the real first five books: they were published on a smaller format and from this small ones they couldn't make five big ones. After several years it was decided to fill it up with early unpublished material and some advertising gags for PiedBœuf.
Beginning in 1987, Éditions J'ai lu began publishing a 17-volume series in paperback format. The titles and contents did not exactly match the large-format albums.
In 1996, upon Gaston's 40th anniversary, Dupuis and Marsu Productions published Edition Définitive, containing nearly all Gaston gags in chronological order. As some of the earliest material had been damaged, restoration work was done by Studio Léonardo, with the results approved by Franquin. This edition is being published in Spain by Planeta DeAgostini Comics starting in January 2007.
In 2007, upon Gaston's 50th anniversary, Marsu Productions published Gaston 50, a new album with unpublished work. The strange number 50 refers to Gaston's age but also to the chaotic numbering of the Classic series, which hadn't got a number five for a very long time.
Série classique, Classic series n° Title Year ISBN 0 Gaston 1960 2 Gala de gaffes 1963 3 Gaffes à gogo 1964 4 Gaffes en gros 1965 1 Gare aux gaffes 1966 5 Les gaffes d'un gars gonflé 1967 6 Des gaffes et des dégâts 1968 ISBN 2-8001-0088-5 7 Un gaffeur sachant gaffer 1969 ISBN 2-8001-0089-3 8 Lagaffe nous gâte 1970 ISBN 2-8001-0090-7 R1 Gala de gaffes à gogo 1970 ISBN 2-8001-0093-1 9 Le cas Lagaffe 1971 ISBN 2-8001-0091-5 10 Le géant de la gaffe 1972 ISBN 2-8001-0092-3 R2 Le bureau des gaffes en gros 1972 ISBN 2-8001-0094-X R3 Gare aux gaffes du gars gonflé 1973 ISBN 2-8001-0308-6 11 Gaffes, bévues et boulettes 1973 ISBN 2-8001-0330-2 R4 En direct de la gaffe 1974 ISBN 2-8001-0370-1 12 Le gang des gaffeurs 1974 ISBN 2-8001-0400-7 13 Lagaffe mérite des baffes 1979 ISBN 2-8001-0658-1 14 La saga des gaffes 1982 ISBN 2-8001-0955-6 0 Gaffes et gadgets 1985 ISBN 2-8001-1248-4 R5 Le lourd passé de Lagaffe 1986 ISBN 2-8001-1473-8 15 Gaffe à Lagaffe ! 1996 ISBN 2-908462-73-7
Série définitive, Definitive series ! Volume! ISBN Gaston n°1 ISBN 2-8001-2681-7 Gaston n°2 ISBN 2-8001-2682-5 Gaston n°3 ISBN 2-8001-2683-3 Gaston n°4 ISBN 2-8001-2684-1 Gaston n°5 ISBN 2-8001-2685-X Gaston n°6 ISBN 2-8001-2686-8 Gaston n°7 ISBN 2-8001-2687-6 Gaston n°8 ISBN 2-8001-2688-4 Gaston n°9 ISBN 2-8001-2689-2 Gaston n°10 ISBN 2-8001-2690-6 Gaston n°11 ISBN 2-8001-2691-4 Gaston n°12 ISBN 2-8001-2692-2 Gaston n°13 ISBN 2-8001-2693-0 Gaston n°14 ISBN 2-8001-2694-9 Gaston n°15 ISBN 2-8001-2695-7 Gaston n°16 ISBN 2-8001-2696-5 Gaston n°17 ISBN 2-8001-2697-3 Gaston n°18 ISBN 2-912536-10-3 Gaston n°19 ISBN 2-912536-31-6
Franquin, uncomfortable with the prospect of the adaptation of Gaston, had given permission for the elements and jokes from his work to be used, but not the actual characters. As a result, the characters' names were all changed, making the film appear more like an imitation than a proper adaptation.