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Ownership of Characters: Is Gaston Franquin's - like Tintin is Hergé's?

#1 · Posted: 31 Mar 2022 17:31
Gaston Lagaffe is a popular Belgian comic, about an accident-prone and reckless fellow. It has been translated into English as Gomer Goof.

It was created by Andre Franquin. After his death in 1997, the series came to an end much like Tintin did with Hergé.

Since then, they have only published the standard books, omnibus editions and even publications featuring every gag of Gaston, even those not previously published in books.

Other artists have drawn gags featuring Gaston, but mainly as homages in special magazine editions.

Now, however, Dupuis decided to actually commission a series of gags featuring Gaston and publish a book edition in October 2022, drawn by the French-Canadian artist Delaf (Marc Delafontaine).

Franquin's daughter, Isabelle, does not approve of this and is taking Dupuis to court about it.

This may seem like another, "Only Hergé can draw Tintin", issue, but there are some interesting sidelines.

Franquin is also known for the Spirou comic series, which other artists have continued to this day, but Franquin was in fact the third artist to draw Spirou, who was created by Rob-Vel in 1938, and who passed it on to Jijé (Joseph Gillain) in 1943, and Jijé passed it on to Franquin.

Franquin's Spirou is by far the most memorable, so his is the standard that others have had to match since.

Another character he created was the Marsupilami, a monkey with leopard-like fur and a long tail. Franquin drew many of the early adventures and was assisted by an artist named Batem (Luc Collin) who has continued them ever since.

So here we have a case of, "It's mine and mine alone", followed by, "I will share with others". It will be interesting to see how the case goes, and how that might affect the right for others to draw comic series, even if the original artist is against it.
#2 · Posted: 1 Apr 2022 09:26
So here we have a case of "it's mine and mine alone", followed by "I will share with others".

I think that there is actually going to be more to it than that - I feel that what may be in dispute here is legal, more than moral, ownership.
It could be that, if Franquin came up with Gaston in the line of his employment at the magazine, the magazine could claim that they, not he, were the owners of the characters and settings.
If Franquin, acting as an editor working for Dupuis, was either asked or decided that the magazine would benefit from commissioning filler material to be used to plug gaps in the magazine, then it might be deemed what is called in America "work for hire", where the rights remain with the company.
This is to protect businesses, which, having invested time and money in producing and promoting a work, are then left bereft if an employee walks off to a competitor taking the work with them.
It's probably quite a strong case, especially if what the Wikipedia article you link to is true, and that other known individuals contributed to the design and creation of the character. It's probably even stronger if the character can actually be shown to have been established as "working" at the magazine as part of his raison d'être.
This is all not to say that perhaps Franquin's daughter doesn't have some evidence to back up her position - perhaps Franquin had some contractual claim over his work, and had it in writing that his creations, while working for Dupuis, remained his. He may have been big enough, and valuable enough, to have been granted special conditions, but only time will tell on that.
The fact that there is his period drawing Spirou to be considered may also be used to back up assertions that he was working "for hire" for Dupuis, or perhaps that will explain why he later insisted on having characters he created deemed to be his - we must wait and see!
Marsupilami, having had an independent life outside of his source comic, and a seperate set of adventures in adaptations, may be yet again a separate entity, so that too could add grist to the mill.
These things are rarely clear-cut, and no doubt the layers will make money from the situation.
As was seen in the Dutch case involving Moulinsart, Casterman and reproduction rights for Tintin, these things can turn on the smallest of details, and take unexpected turns!
#3 · Posted: 2 Apr 2022 13:43
He may have been big enough, and valuable enough, to have been granted special conditions

He certainly was. There are many examples of Franquin having considerable influence at Dupuis and mentoring other artists, such as advising his assistant Jidehem on how to get his own work published, which was successful.

In 1955, Franquin fell out with Dupuis and went to Lombard - publishers of the weekly Tintin magazine! Franquin created the gag strip Modeste et Pompon for them. Dupuis was keen to get him back, however, so they negotiated a deal, the result of which Franquin had to contribute to both publishers! Eventually, he left Lombard but they had bought the rights to Modeste et Pompon which other artists and writers continued.

Here is another paradox:
Franquin owned the rights to the Marsupilami who was an established character in the Spirou adventures.
In 1970, the artist Fournier took over the Spirou strip. It was only after he had written a story featuring the Marsupilami that he was told that he could not use it!
A compromise was reached by which the Marsupilami would feature but drawn by Franquin. After that, the Marsupilami inexplicably disappeared from Spirou's adventures.

Franquin later sold the rights to Marsu Productions and drew new adventures of the Marsupilami.
When he died in 1997, other artists and writers continued the series.

Dupuis bought Marsu in 2013 and the Marsupilami was a major character in a Spirou adventure published in 2016 - along with many of the supporting characters of Gaston: Prunelle, Lebrac and de Mesmaeker. Even Gaston can be seen, albeit in the background during a Zoom internet call in which he is not actually doing anything. It's curious how this was handled: like having Snowy, Haddock, Calculus and the Thom(p)sons making major appearances in a non-Hergé comic while Tintin is just a face in the crowd.

In 2011, Marsu had also published a series called Gastoon, about Gaston's nephew and his friends, who resemble Gaston's adult acquaintances!

Isabelle Franquin threatened to sue Marsu over this but then came to an amicable solution. In any case, the series was attacked on social media and was a commercial flop.

I hope the lawyers manage to figure this out.
#4 · Posted: 17 May 2022 18:41
Isabelle Franquin appears to be getting her way. The publishers have announced that the Gaston book drawn by Delaf, rather than her father, has been suspended until the legal issues have been sorted.

Delaf is a popular artist in his own right. I've seen some of his drawings for Gaston, and must admit that not only does he come close to imitating Franquin's style ("traced" according to one critic) but he also captures the characters, their foibles and the pace of the gags.

Some say that when a master dies then their work should die with them: not just Hergé and Tintin, but also Goscinny and Asterix and Lucky Luke.

While I agree with that view in general, Delaf appears to have handled it better than others.

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