|The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau|
Futuropolis 2011/NBM Comics Lit 2013
Etienne Davodeau is a cartoonist from France, and his good friend Richard Leroy is a well regarded vintner. In 2010, Davodeau proposed a unique venture to Leroy - he would spend the year assisting the winemaker in every aspect of production, from trimming in the winter to shipping in the fall, and the cartoonist would open up and introduce him to his world of comics. What transpires is told in the surprisingly wonderful non-fiction docu-comic The Initiates, which was published in the United States this year by NBM (Davodeau's first work translated to English). And it is, hands-down, one of the best comics of the year.
I was initially put off by NBM's tagline on the cover "A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs." It sounded a bit gimmicky - it cannot possibly be that simple to trade off like that, like some bad reality teevee pitch. Thankfully that is not what happens in the book at all. Davodeau goes to work for Leroy, while Davodeau introduces Leroy to the best graphic novels of France and the United States while meeting some of his country's preeminent cartoonists. Just as Davodeau is given the full process of Leroy's wine making, Leroy witnesses the full process of comic production from editorial meetings to color corrections at the printer. The Initiates is far from the cheap gimmick the tagline makes it out to be, but a vital and entertaining documentary of both the processes and cultures of wine making and comic making in France.
From being so embedded in Leroy's production, we get the full picture of how wine is made, or at least how he makes it. We get explanations of the scientific processes at work (and what Leroy does is certainly more art than science), we are witness to the time and toil he puts into everything. Davodeau does a remarkable job of translating, both visually, and descriptively, the entire universe of wine making and consuming that Leroy inhabits. Davodeau's art, expressive and accessible black and white and grey, is well suited for this project, capturing the personalities and settings with equal quality. And in regards to the work as non-fiction documentary, so often with non-fiction work in comics the subjects tend to be downers (to say the least). But the entire execution of The Initiates is simply delightful.
Davodeau and Leroy share many, many lively conversations with cartoonists and winemakers, with the subject of conversation looping in and out of the worlds of wine making and comics, always always always shared over a bottle or five of fine wine. What days aren't consumed with hard work are equally consumed by friends and conversation and food and, yes, wine. When all is said and done, Davodeau is no less likely to start making wine as Leroy is to make comics. Davodeau gets a graphic novel from the experience if not the nuanced palette of his friend; Leroy gets the opportunity to meet many luminaries in the French comics field, if not a desire to continue exploring that culture. Both walk away with a unique life experience that we are lucky to witness. I get a greater sense that the initiates of the title are us, the readers. The Initiates completely captures the two worlds, not necessarily bridging the two but creating an understanding of both. In The Initiates, Davodeau has crafted a captivating, edifying, comprehensive, absorbing, delightful and incredibly entertaining documentary that certainly deserves to take its place in the growing nonfiction graphic canon.
When you finish The Initiates, you get the sense of having spent the day with good friends, good food, good wine, and good conversation, falling under the spell of camaraderie capped off by the euphoria you can only get from a few drinks at the end of a day well spent.
Buy The Initiates on Amazon now.