Gaston Lagaffe is arguably one of the best-known and most well-liked characters of the Franco-Belgian comics school. The creation of André Franquin, who wanted to come up with an Anti-Hero after working for years on the series Spirou and Fantasio, Gaston Lagaffe is an office drone and errand boy employed by a fictional version of the Dupuis publishing company.But the point is that he never gets any work done, instead preferring to spend his work days cobbling together mad contraptions, playing music on Bizarre Instruments, conducting chemical experiments that usually end with the explosion of his makeshift lab or simply sleeping. He has a presumably platonic but reciprocated relationship with fellow Dupuis employee Mademoiselle "Mam'zelle" Jeanne.
Gaston Lagaffe provides examples of the following tropes:
Adoring the Pests: Gaston keeps an entire family of mice in the workplace's "important documents and contracts" filing cabinet (or rather, he didn't have the heart to remove them once he saw the newly-born litter nesting in the shredded papers). Of course, he's blind to their faults, given that he also keeps a goldfish, a seagull, a cat, turtles and other animals around, to his coworkers' chagrin.
Agitated Item Stomping: De Mesmaeker did it once to a phone, after unsuccessfully trying to call the Dupuis office for hours.
The Alleged Car: Gaston's car is an old jalopy Fiat 509 that barely holds together and can be outraced by pedestrians. It also emits more thick black smoke than a coal-fueled locomotive and on one occasion loses enough oil that someone can waterski while being pulled by it. On one occasion, Gaston's homemade fuel additive turned that smoke blue and occasional engine backfires left behind something that looked like the result of the explosion of a water balloon filled with blue paint.
Anti-Villain: Agent Longtarin, the closest thing Gaston has to an archenemy, is just a regular traffic cop charged with enforcing the law, which Gaston often breaks openly. However, there are times when he gets a bit vindicative, giving Gaston a ticket for his car on a no-parking zone, then another for the soapbox racer he was unloading, then a third one for the roller-skate that fell out of the racer, doing a Happy Dance as he writes the ticket. Once, he stopped Gaston in the street to ticket him for various faults on the car, and then added a parking ticket because the car was parked in the street. Considering that Gaston loves tormenting him with practical jokes revolving around parking meters that occasionally seem to drive him on borders of neurosis, he probably deserves a little payback.
Art Evolution: Gaston basically becomes increasingly Super-Deformed throughout the series, his nose gets bigger, and his eyes acquire whites (having previously just been little dots), and the art style becomes a bit more detailed.
Ascended Extra: Prunelle and Lebrac were originally only two unnamed fellow employees of Gaston.
Author Tract: Several of the strips expound Franquin's position on such issues as pollution and whaling. Gaston has also appeared in a promotional ad strip for Amnesty International in which Gaston has a nightmare of being a tortured political prisoner. It's as awful as you think. Given that Franquin is also the creator of the extremely depressing Idées Noires (Dark Thoughts), this isn't really surprising.
Balloon-Bursting Bird: Gaston's pet laughing gullhates balloons with a passion. At one point it crosses paths with a hot-air balloon, and the next panel has the now grounded occupant saying "I don't know, there was a kind of sadistic laughter and the next thing I knew, pffffft!"
Bizarre Instrument: The Gaffophone◊ and a number of other instruments of Gaston's own design. Lagaffe even has a band, whose only instruments are akin to the Gaffophone. The results of them playing can be imagined as a terrible disaster; in fact, after they tried to play Good Vibrations in the attic of Gaston's workplace, the floor fell apart and crushed the whole level under it after playing for 2 seconds. Quite often, when someone plays the Gaffophone (or merely touches the strings), something near will be obliterated (mostly glass panes, windows and anything made of glass, although it destroyed at least once the ceilings of a whole office floor and a truck).
Black and Gray Morality: It is a bit difficult to know who is the victim between Longtarin and Gaston because both seem to be a sadistic pleasure in ruining the life of his opponent.
Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce: Gaston once made a hot sauce that burned through the cup he kept it in, and sent the cartoonist Yves Lebrac screaming up the walls after a little taste. A later attempt resulted in the sauce bursting out of the jar it was kept in and crawling forth like protoplasm, dissolving the carpeting as it slithered on it.
Fantasio stopped appearing around the time Franquin gave up on writing Spirou. He did make a guest appearance in a later episode, but it took Gaston only five minutes to make him leave again, red with anger. (Gaston had painted his whole office green, including his desk, his typewriter and his pipe.)
Fantasio appeared once again later on, when Gaston came all the way to Champignac to show off the snow plow he had added to his car. Fantasio being completely wrapped up in warm clothing is difficult to identify.
There's been also a cartoonist who was friend with Gaston. He disappeared after a few appearances.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Gaston considers himself this, but those rare inventions that would benefit his company have a 100% backfire rate, as opposed to the 95% backfire rate of his other inventions. And the backfire is often quite literal, and in the office building, so... Later albums show he is very skilled at computer programming (think engineer level) despite being in his late teens and without any educationnal background. Of course, seeing him writing Fortran or BASIC would be quite unfunny, so...
In the original French, Gaston's catch phrase is "M'enfin?"; it's a contracted form of Mais enfin? (loosely, "What the heck?").
Prunelle's is "Rogntudju!", the highly deformed version of Sacré Nom de Dieu! ("Goddammit!").
De Mesmaeker's is "Les signerai jamais!" which means "I'll never sign them!" (i.e., the contracts).
In Le Journal De Spirou, he also had "C'est la dernière fois que je présente une première page!" ("It's the last time I appear on the first page") whenever said first page depicted him in an uncomfortable situation.
In German, Prunelle's is translated as "Hrrgttnchml!", which is the vowelless and tamer version of "Goddammit!", roughly speaking.
The swedish translation actually retains the original, presumably because it sounds funny, or possibly because no-one considered that it's supposed to mean anything.
In the Dutch translation, it's "Grretvrrrdrie!", which is a highly mangled form of "Godverdomme!", a Dutch curse equivalent to "Goddammit!" (It literally means "God damn me!".). "M'enfin?" became "Nou Moe?" (very untranslatable) and "Les signerai jamais!" became "Ik teken ze nooit" (the same meaning).
Cats Are Mean: Subverted. Gaston's cat, besides the obvious tendency to cause trouble inherent to anything that comes into contact with Gaston, has nothing as far as foulness of character goes, on the guy's "domesticated" seagull.
Characterization Marches On: In the oldest gags, Gaston is a total moron instead of being just clueless and lacking energy. Later, he is still lazy but can be energetics when he does things he enjoys, like cooking or inventing.
Comedic Sociopathy: Especially in older comics, Gaston is often horrified that, say, his bowling ball may have been damaged in a collision with a coworker's skull.
Comically Missing the Point: A notable episode has Gaston wanting to install a wood gas generator note An internal combustion engine that uses wood or coal as fuel on his car, "to save resources and pollute less" note This would actually make sense with a properly designed wood gas generator, which does pollute less than a gasoline engine; however, Gaston's one emits large quantities of dark, opaque smoke, and uses fossil coal. But when his first design doesn't work, he then invents a gasoline-powered wood gas generator, even claiming that "It's as if I had a huge carburetor!".
The Comically Serious: Most of Gaston's fellow employees are serious people who just want to do their jobs. At the far end of the scale, Mr. Boulier is the dapper, pernickety accountant who resents Gaston as a massive source of unplanned expenditures.
Completely Different Title: The main character gets a local name in some translations, so the title of the comic changes to reflect this fact. He is called Guust Flater in Dutch, Tomás el Gafe in Spanish, Sergi Grapes in Catalan, Viggo in Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic, Niilo Pielinen in Finnish, Gaa eprtlja in Serbian and Şapşal Gazi in Turkish.
Cordon Bleugh Chef: Gaston's custom recipes are so weird, just hearing him describe them is enough to induce nausea. Strangely enough, some people are actually curious to taste his cooking (such as strawberry cod, whose main problem is apparently the cooking odors). One recipe starts with browning six onions in a liter of orange juice and goes downhill from there.
Cosmetic Catastrophe: When Gaston invents a few beauty products and hands them over to Moiselle Jeanne, it turns out she's colorblind... The result? "Purple cheeks, teal lips and a nauseating pink around her eyes."
The Ditz: Gaston is loveably clueless, as are his buddies Jules-de-chez-Smith-en-face and Bertrand Labévue.
D.I.Y. Disaster: Whenever Gaston attempts to "fix" something in the office.
He made water spray from a heater, turned a fridge into a pressure cooker, made a motorcycle ride in reverse, switched around all the keys on a typewriter and once launched a boiler into orbit!note Breaking Point and MythBusters have shown that this may NOT be the most unlikely occurence as far as destructiveness goes.
He also once redid the plumbing for the heaters in order to use them as coffeemakers.
He once made a radio-controlled model plane from Russian transistor parts. The plane worked fine, it's just that he somehow also managed to make a Russian space station pull off the exact same stunts as the plane....
His attempt to maintain the fire extinguishers of the building resulted in setting them on fire. Every single one of them. He later managed to fill one with whipped cream.
Dreadful Musician: Gaston's music, when played on his homemade instruments, typically result in serious structural damage to buildings. Even playing a mere guitar does not fail to arouse unexpected consequences.
A particularly hilarious story had Gaston hook his guitar up to a radio emitter, to play a song for Jeanne at home. Unfortunately, the bridge-building company next door was using a computer to plan out a bridge that turned out like an LSD nightmare.
His homemade harp-like Gaffophone seems to be the source of the damage rather than Gaston's lack of skill, as Fantasio once did serious structural damage after shoving Gaston in and playing like a madman. Fantasio stated that Gaston's head lodged in gave the instrument "exceptional sonority".
Gaston gets several, most of them interrupted by the sudden intrusion of Real Life; and on one occasion, he gets a shared dream with Moiselle Jeanne.
Longtarin also gets his own Nightmare Sequence, in which parking meters are destroyed in various creative ways.
Dream Sue: After falling asleep with the radio on a sports program, Lagaffe dreams himself punching out a heavyweight boxer, scoring with an entire rugby team tackling him, setting a land speed record, etc.
Duct Tape for Everything: On one occasion, Gaston caused Prunelle to end up entangled in duct tape when he unwound an entire roll to see how long it was. On another occasion, a roll of heavy-duty tape stuck to his leg caused him to trail behind him assorted office implements, as well as Prunelle sitting on his wheeled chair. But Gaston's most catastrophic use of duct tape was when he tried to seal a leaking gaz pipe with it, causing his office to blow up.
Shaped Like Itself: Gaston's friend Jules-de-chez-Smith-en-face (Jules-who-works-at-Smith-across-the-street) is a guy named Jules, who "works" (just like Gaston "works") at Smith's on the other side of the street.
Exploding Closet: Justified, if Gaston bothers to clean up his office at all, he does so by putting a filing cabinet on the ground and shoveling all the junk in. When Prunelle opens the cabinet to inspect...
The Faceless: Mr. Dupuis, owner of the publishing company, may be heard on the phone or at best briefly glimpsed, but his face is never shown. But that is probably because he is an actual person...
Flanderization: Originally, Longtarin was just a normal cop who giving tickets when Gaston parked wrong. At the end, he loves giving tickets to Gaston. Though it could also be considered Character Development: Longtarin fines Gaston, Gaston retaliates with his practical jokes, and soon Longtarin is seeking revenge in return.
Follow That Car: Played with when Fantasio asks a cab driver to "follow that coat!"
The Fool: Gaston, in his earlier adventures in particular.
Full Name Ultimatum: Prunelle gives one to cartoonist Yves Lebrac after his attempt to destroy the Gaffophone with termite backfires, infecting the whole building with the termites after they ignore the instrument entirely and leaving it as the only intact piece of wood in the entire company.
Gag Nose: Gaston's is the most noticeable: he once fell asleep on his typewriter, and on waking up half a dozen of them had left marks on his nose.
Genius Ditz: Gaston is actually quite good at tinkering (and computer programming, according to one episode) but lacking in everything else, including common sense.
The Ghost: Gaston's Aunt Hortense is often alluded to but never seen in person.
Glass-Shattering Sound: A result of the Gaffophone. Gaston also once shattered the windows of a whole city block by playing at maximum volume a magnetic tape of a jet airplane breaking the sound barrier. In return, his Gaffophone also cracked all the glass on a passing fighter jet.
Heavy Sleeper: Gaston is asleep most of the time when he's not causing disasters.
Hollywood Acid: Most of Gaston's experiments that don't blow up end up in this trope. His moisturizing skin lotion behaved exactly like xenomorph blood, a single drop eating a hole through the floor several stories down.
Hollywood Chameleons: There is one gag in which Gaston puts colour-painted sheets behind a chameleon to force it change its skin colour, which works (to said chameleon annoyance).
Homoerotic Subtext: In one comic, Gaston accidentally swallows the prize inside a box of snack food and has to be taken to the hospital. Fantasio waits outside and acts just like a Panicky Expectant Father, complete with chain-smoking and a nurse cheerfully telling him that it's an airplane.
Hypocritical Humor: Gaston is a militant ecologist and pacifist, but his cars emits more exhaust than a truck race and he oftens assembles working military-themed models (tanks and bombers) to demonstrate what they can do in Real Life. Hilariously, he once put a giant balloon at the end of his exhaust pipe to catch all the gases, but afterwards he thought nothing of just emptying the balloon in the middle of a street! In result everybody in the general vicinity lost consciousness from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Freddy "Fingers". Even the office staff sees him as this, treating his burglaries as friendly visits in the morning when they inevitably find him captured (accidentally) by Gaston's inventions.
In Name Only: The movie. Actually, it's not even in name only, because Franquin didn't want the names of the characters to be used.
Iron Buttmonkey: Gaston, Fantasio and Prunelle have been victims of serious injuries several times.
Just Eat Gilligan: One wonders how Gaston manages to keep his work despite him causing so much disasters that being fired would be the very, very least thing to do (it actually happened just once, and he got it back thanks to tons of letters sent by In-Universe Spirou readers who wanted him back).
Lethal Chef: While flambeeing crepe suzettes, he set fire to his orange liquor bottle that shot like a rocket and exploded only a few meters away from the French president's limousine (Gaston had used a presidential parade as distraction to circumvent a "no cooking in the office" order).
Lethally Stupid: Gaston loves making scientific experiences. Too bad he doesn't know anything about science... or safety. With all the disasters he causes, it's a miracle everyone around him is still alive...
MacGuffin: The Mesmaeker's contracts. We never learn what's in them (though it's implied advertising is involved), only that Gaston accidentally prevents them from being signed (or destroys them after the fact).
Macross Missile Massacre: Gaston once manages to turn a set of chimneys into ballistic missiles. The pilot who was shot down tells his superiors that there's somebody in town with an anti-aircraft battery.
The Maze: Whose bright idea was it to put Gason in charge of the library anyway?
Mean Boss: Fantasio and Prunelle. But considering how lazy and unproductive Gaston is, they pretty much have to be. Prunelle quickly realized that he cannot win, but the few times he does get back at Gaston, he shows that he is not without a sense of humor.
Lagaffe is a transparent enough name even in English.
As for Labévue, it literally means "the blunder".
In the same vein, De Mesmaeker is another "mess-maker". This one is a coincidence: De Mesmaeker is named after fellow comic book artist Jidéhem's father, because when Franquin introduced him, everybody thought the character looked like said father. Jidéhem is the French pronunciation of the letters J-D-M — Jean De Mesmaeker.
The Movie: There was a live-action film based on the comic, called Fais gaffe à la gaffe ! It was an utter failure.
No Name Given: Two examples: a cartoonist seeing in some gag and the recurring secretary and Lebrac's love interest (apparently, Franquin found a names for her, but has forgotten). Subverted with Jef. He is unnamed in the comics, but his identity is confirmed on the official website.
Office: Subverted in that while Gaston works in an office, he is a hindrance to any actual office work being done.
Office Lady: Mam'zelle Jeanne. Her first appearance was when Gaston went around the office looking for a secretary to take to a costume party: he passed over the pretty ones and chose Jeanne, the plainest of the lot, because of her long ponytail (which ended up as part of his centaur outfit).
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Chemistry, cooking, rocket science (he once built one that had members of the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and representatives from other armies fighting over whose branch would get it), model building... Subverted in that he only has enough knowledge in each field to make spectacular explosions.
Overly Polite Pals: In one strip, Fantasio encourages Gaston to be more polite. This leads to a major traffic jam when he and another car driver refuse to go first into a street, blocking up every car behind them.
Perpetual Motion Machine: Gaston invents one of the "weak" type. It doesn't do anything; it just hops around and gets on his co-workers' nerves.
Pet the Dog: Mr. Boulier has one in one strip when he inspects Gaston's floor to find out why productivity is so low. After dealing with the cat's joyous mood, Gaston experimenting with a malodorant product, the seagull being angry, and Gaston's experiment blowing up, he gets on the phone with Mr. Dupuis, clothes still in tatters, to recommend a massive raise for all his coworkers.
Pink Elephants: Played with. Gaston once borrowed an elephant from the local zoo and gave him a pink paint job, in order to play a practical joke on a friend who drinks too much. The original edition of the gag failed due to a colorist's error: the elephant is red in the album.
Powder Trail: Gaston once leaves one with a leaking bag of homemade rocket fuel. It ends up torching De Mesmaeker's contracts.
Progressively Prettier: Jeanne was originally meant to be homely and quite grotesque-looking, but she has evolved into becoming very pretty. Franquin never intended to make her permanent at first, but since all the (admittedly pretty) other office ladies either quit their jobs or had other romantic interests and she was the only one left, he decided to have her mature. She's more or less the same age as Gaston, and Franquin always said that his character was never older than 18.
Required Spinoff Crossover: Spirou and Fantasio have made recurring appearances in the series, while Gaston has had cameos in a couple of Spirou and Fantasio adventures. Understandable, as he works in the same place they do - Franquin did decide to make Spirou and Fantasio less present in the journal before handing the characters off to Fournier. Gaston is referred to later on, by Tome & Janry notably.
Ridiculously Human Rubber Doll: Gaston owns a life-sized rubber doll of himself that gets repeatedly mistaken for him, or vice versa. In the most extreme cases Fantasio once almost throws the real Gaston out of the window, mistaking him for the puppet, and another time gets arrested for murder in the act of disposing it, and it takes the coroner hours to notice that something is amiss.
After more than 40 years, De Mesmaeker NEVER managed to successfully sign those goddamn contracts, as every single attempt had been thwarted by Lagaffe's antics.
On the few occasion when he has, he either actually signed something else, or Gaston destroyed them after the fact.
Once he took liking in one of Gaston's gastronomical experiments (a chicken-fish soup), and abandoned the intended contract for one about the rights to its recipe.
Almost the same thing happened another time, when Gaston had made a funny cuckoo-clock that looked like a space capsule, and had an astronaut instead of a cuckoo. De Mesmaeker found it hilarious, and immediately bought rights to manufacturing them.
Another common gag was Gaston being in charge of "ordering" the documentation room... Effectively turning it into a cavern made of books, which people were afraid to get near to without spelunking equipment "because of rockfall".
Gaston being ordered to deal with the late mail, which he usually avoids by hiding it or, in one case, (accidentally) destroying it.
Yet another returning gag was the office being burglarized by Freddy "Fingers". It was always Gaston's antics that got him caught, and he was usually found in such a dismal state the next morning (stuck in a giant cactus, buried under an avalanche of books, etc.) that the other characters took pity on him and sent him home with some cartoons for his kids instead of handing him to the police.
The perpetual motion gizmo, once invented, is occasionally seen bouncing around in the background in later strips.
The "Parking Meters War" between Gaston and agent Longtarin.
Every time Gaston ends up crashing De Mesmaeker's car with another vehicle or anything with wheels (such as a radioguided lawnmower or a statue on a wheeled plank), the cops will tell De Mesmaeker that he didn't had the right of way at the moment of the crash (usually angering him even more).
Scale Model Destruction: Prunelle has an office building model destroyed by Lagaffe with a miniature model of the Gaffophone.
De Mesmaeker: Thanks for this glimpse into the future... BWAAHAHAHAHAH!
Scary Shadow Fakeout: Featured several times, when the eponymous character's car, instrument or other materials create a frightening illusion in a low visibility area.
Screech Before Attacking: The gull's distinctive "Hi-hi-hi-hi-HIARRRRRRRR!!!" is the only warning people get before a beak-divebombing.
Short-Distance Phone Call: Entering Gaston's office, Fantasio takes what he thinks is a call from the Ducran & Lapoigne note Guts and Strongarm, managers of the bridge building company in the next building. In fact, the phone is out of order, and he doesn't realize they're actually talking to him through a gaping hole in the wall.
Fantasio: Hello? Yes, one of my colleagues has been playing around with a chemistry set, but I forbade him from using it any longer. Ducran: We have reasons to believe that you have not been... Lapoigne:thoroughly obeyed...
Smoking Is Cool: Changed over time. Gaston started out as a casual smoker, which was quite normal for a young European male in the 1950s. But as Franquin wised up to the dangers of smoking, he had Gaston quit and eventually become something of an anti-tobacco activist. He once tampered with the Dupuis company's fire sprinklers so they drenched anyone who lit up indoors.
Spell My Name with an S: Is De Mesmaeker or Demesmaeker? Canonically, it's De Mesmaeker (Jidéhem — Jean De Mesmaeker). But since the speech bubbles are always written in all caps, and by hand, the lettering can get a bit crowded.
Spinoff Babies: Gastoon is a comic published in 2011, about Gaston's young nephew and his elementary-school-aged friends Jeanne, Jules, Bertrand and De Mesmeaker.
Stuff Blowing Up: Usually the result of Gaston's experiments, especially with chemistry. Of course cartoon physics apply so they are all Non-Fatal Explosions. Non-fatal (usually results in Ash Face), but a trip to the hospital is quite frequent.
Sometimes, he goes overboard with those; one comic showed him sweeping his chimney with a mysterious box with a fuse. The contents of said box ? Old surface-to-air missiles. He unknowingly shot down a fighter jet with those.
Later he builds a miniature spark-throwing tank for his nephew, sending it straight towards a gas leak.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Prunelle replaced Fantasio as the "mean boss" role. This was because Franquin didn't want Fantasio to be appearing both in the Gaston series and the Spirou series when he stopped writing Spirou. Played with as Prunelle is visually very different from Fantasio (Fantasio was clean-shaven, blond, a non-smoker and always wearing a suit; Prunelle has dark hair, a beard, chain smokes cigarettes and pipes and dresses more casually), more vulgar and more prone to harm Gaston.
There Are No Therapists: De Mesmaeker really, really needs to see a therapist, and fast, considering how much any hindrance leads him to refuse to sign the contracts and literally turning red with anger. (He probably needs to see a heart surgeon soon enough, in any case.)
Fantasio and Prunelle sometimes manages to make Gaston work, usually by tricking or scaring him. He once worked straight a whole day, being under constant surveillance. As the day closed, he was called away for a doping test...
Officer Longtarin managing to give Gaston some pretty spicy parking tickets.
Too Dumb to Live: Gaston in some comics. For example, once he decides to play at cup and ball with his bowling ball.
Unusual Chapter Numbers: The album numbers go as follows: R1, R2, R3, R4, 6, 7 and so on. There used to be no fifth album. This is because the original album printing was done in half-sized softcovers, five of them specifically, the sixth being the first hardcover. When the original five were reprinted (the four "R" albums), only three-and-a-half albums' worth of material could be obtained from the softcovers, the fourth album using humorous text filler and character logs to round up to a full album, leaving the fifth album gap and turning this into a Mythology Gag. After a while, a fifth album was compiled from gags that hadn't been published oustide the journal yet, or that had been made for advertisement purposes. It was numbered R5.
Vague Age: Gaston is obviously in his late teens or early twenties, as he has a job, a car, and his own place, but his age is indeterminate beyond that, and he often acts younger. Franquin, the creator of the series, admitted to neither knowing nor wanting to know Gaston's age. He mentioned that Gaston, in his mind, is a teenager.
Walking Disaster Area: Gaston really doesn't want to harm anyone, but due to his total lack of common sense he causes huge disasters no matter what he does. Even when he IS careful, and DOES demonstrate common sense, he's unlucky - or someone or something else triggers a disaster.
What the Hell, Hero?: When Gaston built a model World War II airplane that threw real bombs on Prunelle, as a Take That on said warplanes being depicted in the magazine. Learning nothing from his mistake, he stated that for his next project he was building a tank "with realistic flame thrower."