Gomer Goof v1 cover header by Franquin

Gomer the Goof v1: “Mind the Goof!”

I’ve never read a “Gaston LaGaffe” story before this book.  I had little idea what to expect, aside from the obvious: It’s a book about a young man who goofs up a lot and does silly things.  This also sounds like the hook for “Ducoboo,” a book that I didn’t like very much, and even “Titeuf,” a book which will likely never make it to America.  (It just had a first printing of its 15th volume set at 550,000 copies.  It’s kinda popular.)

At last, Cinebook is publishing the series translated into English for the character’s 60th anniversary this year.  The first book is out this month, with the second volume due next month.

Gaston / Gomer is a creative fellow.

I gave Gomer the Goof, as his name has been Americanized into, a chance for one simple reason: Franquin.  Many consider this to be Franquin’s finest work, and I do enjoy his art style.  I may not have read the series before, but I’ve seen lots of samples.  I looked forward to this book for quite awhile.

And, you know what? It’s pretty good.  It’s off to a slow start, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

 

Who Is Gomer the Goof?

Here’s what I can tell from the first book:  Gomer is a 20-something working menial jobs at a publishing company, possibly Dupuis Publishing.  (Dupuis is the French publisher of “Gaston LaGaffe,” so it all makes meta sense.)

He’s inventive.  He’s awkward.  He’s a little lazy about work, but works hard at goofing off. He gets into trouble.

He’s not a bad guy, but he is very lazy and prone to doing crazy things.

The hope, I suppose, is that you find his goofiness charming and his laid back attitude a welcome relief from an uptight world stripped of imagination and locked in a 9-to-5 grind.

It’s a sit-com as comic strip.

Fantasio looks weary behind a typewriter

(This is also how I look after finishing a review.)

Oh, and his boss is Fantasio.  You know him; he’s the blond guy from those Spirou and Fantasio books. Spirou makes a guest appearance in this book, also, which is fun to see.

Fantasio is Gomer’s boss, but give him a wide latitude to mess everything up without reprise.  He’s the fuming straight man to Gomer’s delinquent goof.  But they’re also friends.  This is no way to run a business…

 

How the Stories Are Told

Gaston / Gomer and his car

The majority of the stories are half page gags, which feel a bit like your standard Sunday comic strip, or maybe a single gag, like in “Back to Basics.”

These strips originally appeared in the Spirou magazine.  They filled some gaps in the issues, so half page and full page stories were as far as they’d go.

There’s very little continuity between the strips.  You get in, you get your joke, and you move on to the next one.  For that reason, it’s probably a book best read in spurts.  Sitting through to read it all at once will give you a kind of whiplash, as the story keeps changing every half page.

As with any assortment of gags like this, you’ll some more than others.  I like the visual gags and the slapstick the most, I think.  Even when you get one where the story feels a little stretched out to fit the format, a strong final panel will forgive a lot of sins.

 

Where Things Go Awry

Interspersed with all the comics are short half-page text pieces telling funny stories of Gomer’s misadventures.  They’d call these pieces “flash fiction” today.

It’s not that they’re bad or unfunny.  It’s just weird to jump from sequential narrative to ultra-short fiction like this.  I want more of Franquin’s art.  The short stories don’t tie in directly to the comics, so you’re safe in skipping them, if you’d like.  But they have enough merit to be worth reading.  It only take a minute or two each, so I can’t complain too much.  I can understand if someone felt like they didn’t get their money’s worth because they didn’t want to read all the text, though.

The whole thing reminds me of the old issue with comics in America.  In order to qualify for magazine status and to get the cheaper mailing rate from the USPS, they added those text pages.  Those are all mostly forgotten now.  People just want the comics.  There’s a reason for that.

Honestly, at a certain point, I did give up on them and just stuck with the cartooning.
 

The Art of Franquin

Gaston / Gomer feeds birds

Franquin’s art sells these stories hard. It’s in that Marcinelle School of art that he’s best known for, and it’s glorious on multiple levels.

Take a closer look at Gomer throughout the book.  His body language is crazy. He’s bent over, capable of wiggling through odd-shaped areas, and never boring to look at.  His knees stay bent, his feet flop around, and his large hands sell his every gesture. He’s unique, even in the context of his own book.  Other characters have similar proportions, but none contort in their every day life like Gomer does.  It’s fun to watch.

Franquin’s inks are also superb. He’s not afraid to use a thicker line around his characters, or to add depth and differentiation on one of their sides.  Look for the little shadow under his nose, the thick line on the back of Fantasio’s head, and the way both of their haircuts include stray whips of hair that have characteristic weight to them, from thin near the head to thick at the end.

The backgrounds were done with the assistance of Jidehem, who Franquin was training to work on the strip but who never did.  Lots of the strips take place in the office and have minimal backgrounds — wall borders, desks, a door — but the ones that happen outside can have lots of detail.  I like the ones that happen at street level, where you get a good sense of the architecture and cityscape of the time.  But there’s also a zoo in here and the beach and a track and field stadium.  Jidehem kept busy, and his style was a great match.
 

Recommended?

Yes, mostly. I’d like more cartooning and fewer text pieces. We’ll have to see what he future holds, but I’ll definitely continue to read them, no matter what the breakdown is.

The book will be available at Amazon on September 20th, and you can pre-order it by clicking this handy cover below. I imagine the digital edition will be out that same time, or a week sooner.  (Amazon often gets comics after the Direct Market/Comixology.)

 

Gomer Goof v1 cover by Franquin

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #65.)
 

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8 Comments

  • JC LEBOURDAIS September 13, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Gaston is so typically Belgian that I’m wondering how this would be received by anglos. It’s not as abrasive as what Brits write but at the same time not full of good behaviour enough to be PC.
    How’s the translation?

    Reply
    • Augie September 13, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      You’re right — it sits in that slightly awkward (to Americans) spot between sharp-tongued and ill-mannered. That’s probably why I have issues with this kind of book. On the other hand, I’m starting to read enough of them to “get” the style, so maybe it’s growing on me. The translation seems fine. I haven’t read the original French, so I can’t do a comparison, but the dialogue doesn’t have anything in it that pushes me out of the book. (And I like the lettering font, too, but I’m saving that discussion for the next volume. 😉

      Reply
  • Eric van Schaik September 16, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Last month, to celebrate the 60th aniversary, they started to publish all the gags in chronological order. The set will be 21 HC. It’s remastered, recoloured and with exclusive content and a printrun of 6.000 in dutch.
    After Goof he did Zwartkijken (black look in english). where you familiar with that?

    Reply
    • Augie September 16, 2017 at 8:58 pm

      I have heard of Zwartkiken. Read about it in a Franquin bio somewhere on-line, I’d guess. I’d love to see it translated, mostly out of curiosity than anything else. It doesn’t look like the kind of thing I’d normally want to read, but it’s Franquin — how could I say no?

      Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS September 16, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Idées Noires is the title in French (dark thoughts). At the time, Franquin was going through deep depression, which ultimately led to his death. But this is a masterpiece.

    Reply
  • Spirou & Fantasio v1: "Adventure Down Under" - Pipeline Comics September 27, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    […] know Fantasio is an office worker at Dupuis from his appearance in “Gomer the Goof,” so I guess he’s more management, but still runs around with his friend, Spirou, the […]

    Reply
  • Spirou & Fantasio v12: "Who Will Stop Cyanide?" - Pipeline Comics September 29, 2017 at 6:15 am

    […] the whole Marcinelle School style.  I like Franquin’s work when he draws like he did on Gomer the Goof. I’m always entertained by the drawings of the artists he influenced, which is an awfully […]

    Reply
  • veranaessensart November 10, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Franquin, UNIQUE!

    Reply

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