April 23, 2013

Review -- The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs
(Etienne Davodeau; NBM)
4.5/5 Stars
Like the rest of you, when I think of France I think of great wine and comics. Wait... what... comics? Yeah, comics. France has a vibrant and iconoclastic comics community producing ground breaking and entrancing books for all kinds of audiences. Since 1992, Etienne Davodeau has been producing best selling and award winning fiction and non-fiction books, and his latest one isThe Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs. This 272-pager follows the story of when Davodeau spent a year learning about biodynamic wine making from his neighbor, Richard Leroy. While learning about the process, he introduced Leroy to comics, both creating and reading them.
 This book succeeds on a number of levels. Its first success is in the amount of information it conveys about wine-making and comic book production. It's extensive and Davodeau is able to present all of it in an engaging and gentle manner. Secondly, there is Davodeau's art. His inkwork, especially when depicting the landscapes of the various wine-making regions they visit, is stupendous. Light, open, expansive – it is in the natural world that Davodeau's work shines brightest, bringing his readers along with him even in black and white.

Finally, this book succeeds best when it draws parallels between the two art forms. Wine-making and comic creating are much closer in their craft than one might imagine, and it is when Initiatesmakes these connections that it is most captivating. Davodeau depicts Leroy as a man who infuses his personality into his wine. Leroy sees his creations as an extension of the man he wants to present to the world, part of the best face he puts forward. Davodeau feels the same way about his comics; he also sees his books as an opportunity for an audience to see the man who creates them.

Through the discovery of each other's work, they understand that both wine making and comic crafting are arts of experience and heart. The pair travel around quite a bit in the course of their journey of recognition, visiting other vineyards, attending comics conventions, tasting in cellars, watching the process of printing in action, talking with wine-makers and other cartoonists. At each of their stops, the two men often compare how alike the impetus for each other's art is to their own, “a true attention, a human closeness...” By drawing these parallels each artist is able to further define the universality of craft, of art, of the desire to communicate and be heard. There is a brilliance to this unfolding that Davodeau may not have been able to reach had he not chanced on this opportunity. It shows his true artistic sensibility that he was willing to open himself to this experience, and we are all the better for him having done so and for him having produced this work.

The Initiates was, of course, originally written in French, and  the book's only detriment is Joe Johnson's translation, which is a bit stilted and wonky at times. Certain turns of phrase could have been made so much more smooth had a more careful editorial hand been present. The awkwardness of the language is distracting at times, but overall effect on what Davodeau has accomplished in this book is only slightly diminished.
If you like wine, comics, and thinking about what makes each one so special as you think about the act of creating itself, pick this one up. 
You can buy The Initiates directly from NBM.

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