Since the death of Franquin in 1997 and the release of a posthumous album two years later, there had been no new adventures from Gaston Lagaffe. For decades, fans thought that the most famous goofball would not survive his creator. But in March 2022, thunderclap. A new album, Le Retour de Lagaffe, was announced by Dupuis. The legal proceedings initiated by Franquin’s daughter delayed the return of the most inventive mail clerk by a year. Meeting with Delaf, the Quebec author (Les Nombrils) who had the difficult task of bringing the whimsical espadrilles hero back to life.

LE FIGARO. – After all the legal twists and turns and the postponement of the release of this album, were you afraid of having worked for nothing?

DELAF. – No. I’ll tell you a secret: if the album had been released on the scheduled date, I would have had a hard time finishing it on time (laughs). I stayed out of all that. The only thing I could control was the quality of the album. Today, I don’t know if Franquin’s daughter has read the album. In any case, she did not wish to comment and I respect that.

The last time Gaston Lagaffe was at the top of the bill was at the cinema in 2017. The film was not unanimously acclaimed. Are you afraid of being criticized?

No, because I made this album to reconnect with the little boy I was. This objective has been achieved. The little voice inside me tells me that I did well. But, I know that Gaston Lagaffe is extremely polarizing; there are fans totally opposed to the revival. I can understand them too. Gaston’s love of the universe manifests itself in different ways.

Most current Franco-Belgian comic book authors cite Tintin or Asterix when talking about their awakening to comics. For you, it’s Gaston.

It was even a “graphic shock”. I was 9 or 10 years old, and I found the drawing absolutely crazy. I was mystified, I felt lots of different emotions. I had the impression that Franquin was a hypersensitive being. Then quickly, the world of this character became a great passion. I had Gaston’s sweater, I slept with Gaston socks, later on Halloween I dressed up as Gaston…

You chose to leave Gaston Lagaffe in his time and not do stories that would take place in the 21st century… Why?

So much time has passed since the last gags written by Franquin that I have no idea what he would have thought of social networks and other major issues of our time. For me, as a reader, Gaston is not that. It is anchored in the 1960s and 1970s. I wanted to leave it there, and at the same time I allow myself to make little nods to the present.

Graphically, what did it mean to follow in the footsteps of a great master like Franquin?

For me, Gaston has a sacred side, and I wanted my drawing to be as close as possible to that of Franquin. It was a real challenge. I studied his work a lot, I came back to the basics: to the skeletons of the characters, to the geometric shapes, to their energy. The main graphic challenge was to unlearn my way of drawing to stick to that of Franquin. My features are sinuous, his is more nervous. It’s a whole different state of mind. Ultimately I progressed a lot, it was like intensive learning.

And regarding the scenario, what was your room for maneuver?

There are two elements that make Gaston Lagaffe successful. First the gallery of characters, with the mise en abyme of the editorial staff of Spirou’s diary and then Franquin’s view, his criticism of society. On all of this, we couldn’t move the cursors too much. Despite everything, we find my touch of humor. It is above all an album by Delaf, not by Franquin. Readers are not fooled.

What do you think Franquin would think of this album?

I have absolutely no idea. I discussed people who knew him well. They told me that if Franquin had seen my boards, he would have taken me under his wing. That’s nice to hear but the truth is we’ll never know. I hope he would understand all the respect and love I have for his world.

“The Return of Lagaffe” (Dupuis), released November 22, 48 pages, 12.50 euros