A graphic non-fiction, Etienne Davodeau’s The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs (NBM/Comics Lit) recounts the awakenings of French artist Davodeau and wine-maker Richard Leroy as they spend more than a year getting to know each other’s creative worlds. For Davodeau, this means going to work in Leroy’s vineyards in Montbenault; for Leroy, it means learning about the process of European graphic novel creation and production. Both, through the course of the book, wind up sampling work from their field of exploration – learning to appreciate each other’s respective art forms.
Both artist and winemaker possess a healthy curiosity about the other, and it’s Davodeau’s goal to get us to share that curiosity. As a wine-illiterate plebe, I have to admit initially being unsure about Leroy’s half of the book, but both men proved engaging enough that I followed them into the fields and wind cellars. As a vintner, Leroy is committed to organic farming so we subsequently learn about the different approaches winemakers take in producing their wares (using or not using sulfur to reduce oxidation, for instance). Leroy is passionate and opinion abut his avocation, but he isn’t obnoxious about it – which also proves to be the case after Davodeau persuades him to sample different graphic novels and offer his take on each. We even get to meet some of the artist’s peers, including personal fave Lewis Trondheim (who gets to contribute a page to the book), over the course of the duo’s time together. We also wind up meeting two living characters from Emmanuel Guibert’s Afghanistan set graphic non-fiction The Photographer who have themselves left their original jobs to become winemakers.
As you can guess from the above, The Initiates is not your slam-bang mainstream graphic entertainment: sweetly contemplative, it looks at both its worlds with curious appreciation and an eye for telling specifics. Leroy’s take on the comics he’s given (which includes such English language masterworks as Maus and Watchmen proves amusing and provides an object lesson in how to read comics. As for Davodeau’s own visual style, his gray pallet proves subtly washed yet expressive, with a strong eye for the ways that adults present themselves at work and in ardent discourse. A humanist’s take, perhaps: an acknowledgement that doing what we love provides a reason to get up in the morning. As Davodeau notes early in the book, “Here’s something that counts: feeling the devotion and pleasure felt by the guy who made the wine . . .or the book.” It’s a simple point, but one that is frequently lost in our commodified world.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1561637033]