Ètienne Davodeau’s The Initiates is a graphic memoir about the time when he and established vintner Richard Leroy worked closely together to learn about each other’s professions. Davodeau knows nothing about wine or winemaking; Leroy doesn’t read comic books. The two work in strikingly different worlds, but as they get hands-on experience in the other’s field, the parallels in their lives become apparent. Each is an artist in his own right.
Over a period of about a year, Davodeau shadows Leroy at his vineyard. Rain, snow, or shine, he participates in all of the backbreaking work that goes into organic winemaking. During downtime, Leroy teaches Davodeau all about wine tasting — everything from cheap bottles to wines that cost hundreds of dollars. He takes Davodeau along on business trips, and the two visit other vineyards in the French countryside. The vintner community is small and obsessed with their craft, and long, animated discussions about winemaking often ensue.
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In return, Davodeau gives Leroy stacks of comics to read through and discuss. They discuss popular classics, such as Maus, but Davodeau also introduces Leroy to some of the more avant garde works that are out there. Just like Leroy takes Davodeau along on business trips, Davodeau does the same in return: they visit the printer so that Leroy can see the process behind publishing a book, and they also visit conventions, where Leroy gets to witness fan adulation at its finest. Davodeau also introduces to other comic artists; just like with the vintners, spirited discussions about their craft and artistic philosophies took place.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when their two worlds collided for me: Davodeau takes Leroy to meet Emmanuel Guibert, who illustrated one of my favorite graphic memoirs, The Photographer. In return, Leroy takes Davodeau to meet a couple of the former doctors who played a role in The Photographer; those men are now French vintners.
The Initiates is a truly lovely book; it’s basically one long conversation between two talented friends. It contains some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in a graphic memoir, and the numerous conversations that take place about the artistry and craft in each respective field are fascinating. I love it.
The Initiates was originally published in France in 2011. The English translation was released in the US in March 2013 by NBM Publishing.