This year is the 60th anniversary of Gaston Lagaffe, and his birthday was celebrated this week by the Comic Strip Festival in Brussels held over the weekend. In honour of the occasion Brussels’ most famous fountain, the Mannekin Pis, was dressed in Gaston’s hallmark costume. A special exhibition with almost a thousand panels was on display in the Horta Hall of BOZAR narrated by his late creator, André Fanquin.
Belgium has a unique heritage in the art of comic strips which can be viewed at the Musée de La Bande Dessinnée (Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art) at 20 rue des Sables in Brussels. Gaston is one of the most famous Belgian comic strip creations on display there, and a special edition of gaffes by Gaston has been created for the Festival with 128 pages at the price of €24.
Gaston Lagaffe was the creation of the Etterbeek born cartoon artist André Fanquin and his first cameo appearance was in the Belgian comic magazine Spirou on 19th September 1957, when Gaston rashly tried to cycle on the streets of Brussels, with predictable consequences! So, not much changed in 60 years for cycle safety in the capital then, and Gaston is as topical today as he was when his gags were first published.
Gaston is an anti-hero whose surname “Lagaffe” means “Blunderer”. With his trade mark dishevelled hair, a polo neck green jumper two sizes too small, blue jeans and frayed blue sneakers, Gaston is a lazy but loveable accident-prone buffoon. He remains very popular in francophone Europe, in Italy, in Spain and many other countries; he has also been translated into over a dozen languages, but strangely not yet into English.
Gaston works as an office junior responsible for the mailroom, who is a good natured but work-shy simpleton. His lack of common sense leads to frequent disasters ending in his catchphrase comment: “M’enfin?”
The popular appeal of his comic strips is in the slapstick comedy and the sympathetic satire of office life in general. Gaston is fond of animals and keeps several pets including a bad-tempered seagull, a neurotic cat and a mouse called “Cheese”. Fanquin clearly loved drawing these animals and they are frequently written into Gaston’s adventures. Gaston also has a hallmark ancient Fiat car, a run-down highly polluting old banger decorated in racing colours incapable of travelling at speed.
Outside of the comic strips, Gaston has been used in membership campaigns for Amnesty International and Greenpeace, but generally speaking his cartoons are apolitical. Nevertheless, as a bumbling clown, Gaston is almost the Belgian equivalent of UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, albeit younger and with dark hair instead of blond.
Somehow I could never imagine Gaston aspiring to be Belgium’s Foreign Minister, but just think what hilarity there would be if Gaston was in charge of the Belgium Foreign Ministry’s mailroom, or better still the mailroom of Commissioner Barnier handling all the EU correspondence about Brexit.
“Think what hilarity there would be if Gaston was in charge of the mailroom of Commissioner Barnier handling all the EU correspondence about Brexit”.