At last, with the third collection in Cinebook’s series, I get it. I start to understand Gaston La Gaffe, or “Gomer Goof” as we see him in the English language.
My initial hesitations towards Andre Franquin’s most beloved creation are now gone. I love this series.
In this review, I’ll tell you — and, more importantly, show you — why.
Writer: Andre Franquin
Artist: Andre Franquin
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Letterers: Design Amorandi
Published by: Cinebook/Dupuis
Number of Pages: 50
Original Publication: 2018
What’s Going On?
If you’re coming into this late, Gomer Goof (née Gaston La Gaffe) is a character that Belgium’s Andre Franquin created in 1957. He appeared first in “Spirou Journal” as gag pages – one gag per page.
Gomer is a blunderer. He works at the offices of the magazine alongside his pal, Fantasio, who you may know better from all the “Spirou and Fantasio” volumes.
But he doesn’t really work there. He has no interest in being there. He experiments in making small inventions that he thinks will change the office, the way work gets done, or the entire world. Favorite topics for creations includes solutions to pollution from car exhaust, new musical instruments, and everything you could associate with work — from getting around the office to pressing your pants.
The problem is, his grandiose ideas always backfire. They’re not terribly well thought out, in most cases. You’d have to be a complete idiot not to see that coming. But it’s Gomer’s personality that doesn’t let himm see those things, even when everyone around him does. He won’t be held back by obvious issues. He plows ahead.
He’s also the calm at the center of the storm. Sure, things go wildly wrong. Business deals are threatened. LIVES are threatened. But he stands there in the middle of the chaos, considering how to use all of this new information in his next escapade.
The humor comes from watching everyone around him going crazy. Gomer is the ultimate straight man in this way. Everyone else gets to fume, scream, jump up and down, and run for their lives.
What at first felt maddening to me — that Gomer was a complete idiot and completely unsympathetic — is something that I’m now turning the corner on. It doesn’t bother me that he’s a blooming idiot. That’s just the catalyst Franquin uses so that Franquin can draw Franquin things.
This whole series is the origin of the Spirou house style that dominated the magazine for decades. Many have attempted to ape it, few have come close to equalling it.
Franquin was a master of his craft, and this book is filled with all the little things that made his storytelling great.
The gags in this book range from simple wordplay to visual gags. Many of the pages end with someone red faced and fuming at Gomer’s latest antics — whether it’s the local police office, the advertiser coming to sign a contract in the offices, or Fantasio, himself.
Some of them, honestly, you can see coming a mile away. Some are anti-climactic. But most are genuinely funny, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of me laughing out loud. I did that on a couple of occasions, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.
It’s all in the storytelling. Even when a gag falls flat, Franquin presents it with gusto and energy across the page that few other cartoonists can manage.
And Franquin is a very visual thinker. He’s perfect for comic books. Even on the pages where the gags are mostly verbal, there’s some element to the story that has to be seen. There’s something on every page that makes you pay close attention to it beyond just admiring Franquin’s draftsmanship.
In fact, he often makes a big showy deal about those visual elements to help emphasize them. While the gags mostly stick to four tiers of panels, he interrupts that for the big visual gag quite often. On one page, Gomer is proud of the modification he’s made to his car to prevent exhaust from leaking out in the city. When the car crashes and all sorts of noxious dark clouds spew forth, Franquin sets the gag with a half page panel. You can’t miss all the smoke on the page when it takes up the bulk of that panel.
On plenty of other pages, the final gag is a wide single panel that fills up the bottom tier on its own.
Gomer Writes the Songs That Make the Whole World Shake
The best visual gags in the book involve either his car or his new musical instrument. It’s the thing you see on the cover there. In French, it’s called “the Gaffophone”, and in English it appears to be takign the name “the Brontosaurophone.”
It’s ludicrously overpowered. Like with The Inhumans’ Black Bolt, any sound it makes will take down buildings, shake the filings out of people’s teeth, and just generally create havoc.
It makes for a wonderfully visual gag maker. In this book, power lines make great waves from the sounds, ceilings fall on people on different floors, and brick chimneys crumble. The instrument shows up when and where it’s needed for the gag and pays off wonderfully every time.
When Even Cars are Characters
Gomer’s car is the stuff of BD legend, and for good reason: It’s another character in the series. Cars are treated like people: they have personality. They behave in ways that go beyond the strictly mechanical.
(Quick disclaimer before we go any further: Andre Franquin used Jidéhem for drawing a lot of backgrounds/cars during his Spirou run and, according to all the sources I could find, “early Gaston La Gaffe strips.” I think this book is later in the run than that, but it is also possible that he cars in this book were drawn by Jidéhem. If anyone knows for sure, please comment below.)
This panel from early in this volume is one of my favorites in the series so far:
Two cars had to stop short to avoid hitting Gomer’s car. They didn’t just screen to a halt. They dug in their noses and let their back ends fly up into the air. Cars don’t actually do that, unless they’re animated or drawn by Franquin/Jidéhem.
On top of that, I love the composition of this panel. The on-going back-and-forth between Gomer and Fantasio inside the car leads to a group of word balloon tails that point to the middle of the panel where they are. It’s almost like having speediness or perspective lines shooting out of a central location to draw your eye somewhere. The lettering, in a way, becomes a compositional element that, itself, becomes part of the cartoon.
This entire page — it’s page 4 in the book — is well done. It’s a constant back and forth between Fantasio trying to troubleshoot the cars problems and Gaston countering everything with, “Yes, that’s a known problem.” It gets more and more frenetic until their dialogue takes up the entire panel and, ultimately, they crash in a funny place.
Yes. Absolutely. Whatever you think of the stories in the book, the cartooning is done by a master. If you don’t necessarily align with the sense of humor in the book at first, keep at it. There’s a good chance Franquin will turn you into a fan, too.
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