The Initiates (NBM)

Initiates

Rating: 4.5/5 – Learning to make wine while exploring comics.
by guest reviewer Scott Bradley.

The Initiates is an ambitious book; it aims to peel back the curtain on two very esoteric worlds: comic books and wine-making. Author Étienne Davodeau manages to pull it off though, as best as he’s able to within 267 pages. The book ends up being the tale of two people learning about worlds they had previously not been exposed to – and finding more similarities between the two than they had perhaps thought.

The subtitle to the book “A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs” is slightly misleading. Davodeau works for a year in his opposite number Richard Leroy’s vineyard, pruning vines, weeding, and ultimately picking the grapes, interspersed with wine tastings in order to develop his palate, but is ever under the watchful (and critical) eye of the vintner. The winemaker does not draw any comics but is instead put through a sort of best of the comic book world tasting with Davodeau bringing him various books to read.

Through conversations between these two, the reader joins them in their respective educations. Since this is an English translation of a French comic, I ended up getting a glimpse at what French comic conventions are like, as well as being exposed to some French cartoonists I hadn’t heard of. I was also amused when it came time in Leroy’s comics education to read some American comics (he didn’t make it through Watchmen but loved Maus). After each wine is tasted and comic read, our main characters discuss the merits of each. Leroy is obviously a very opinionated person and his comments on the art in the comics he read is especially critical – which leads to a brilliant three page sequence that “guest stars” French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim; and some chiding of the author from time to time.

The artwork is in a somewhat loose and “cartoony” style, though not unrealistic, with a spare line and an ink wash. This brings me to my one gripe about the book. I wish it was in color. I don’t mind black and white comics and think that sometimes it’s appropriate to have a book in this style. However, with The Initiates, so much of the book takes place in the countryside, I feel we are missing out on what could be some stunning artwork. Davodeau does a good job in his landscapes with the ink wash but color would really bring it home, especially since we see the vineyard over an entire year. The changing of the seasons would be so nice to see in color. Funnily enough, one scene shows Davodeau at the plant that is printing one of his comics, obsessing over getting the color right in thei black & white book! But this is a minor gripe on an otherwise excellent book.

Fans of wine and fans of comics will each find plenty to enjoy in this book and perhaps, like the two protagonists, the reader might find a new interest as well.

Guest Reviewer: Scott Bradley
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