It took me a long time to understand that intelligence isn’t strictly an attribute endowed to us by genetics or some kind of cosmic rule. I mean, aside from learning disabilities, intelligence was often a matter of work habit- if you found something interesting enough, then you found the drive to learn about it, and so you became intelligent through your own efforts and practice. People would often compliment someone’s intelligence as if it were some kind of inbred quality, like hair color. Really, though, anyone can be smart if they just practice. Most of the time.
That was the first thought in my head as I read The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau. It’s the true story of two creators--a comic artist and a winemaker--meeting up and learning about each other’s jobs. Neither has had much experience or literacy in their opposite fields, but each makes an effort to understand and immerse themselves in each other’s work--Etienne, being the author, naturally spends the majority of the book learning how to plow, trim stems, and spray biodynamic-friendly solutions on vineyards. His friend, winemaker Richard Leroy, accompanies him to comic festivals, artist signings, and reads classic works like Maus and The Watchmen, along with a host of authors I’ve unfortunately never even heard of. It’s a fascinating attempt to compare and contrast the worlds of two highly different content producers--and they do find similarities that change their perspectives on what they do for a living, in what amounts to a tale of character development.
There are a lot of great themes here, including the work it takes to be either a teacher or student, the dedication required to bring a seemingly simple product to market, or the relativism of judgment. On that note, Davodeau has a few things to say about reviews and reviewers, both of wines and comics. His point is right in my opinion; we’re kind of a weird lot, hoping that our opinions will be accepted as some kind of quasi-facts that determine the fate of whatever we’re reviewing. Leroy is kind to an American that sniffs around his basement to rate him on a point scale, and yet, he ultimately doesn’t care what a wine journal has to say about him...kind of.
Leroy himself is an especially entertaining character. I like how discriminating he becomes when he eats at a restaurant; grumbling about the awful wine selection, trying to find the gem in the rough, settling for less with a frown. It’s great because of his livelihood; he didn’t contract wine snobbery arbitrarily, it was a side effect of living and breathing the job.
I enjoy the pacing of the book a lot. Events in the book are snapshots of seasons, and the story takes place over a year or more. There’s no tension or deadline. Even when they’re depicted traveling by bullet train, the pictures betray no hint of motion. It’s a calm, serene style for a story of two easygoing characters. It’s a book to relax with and take in slowly- like a good wine, really. A very welcome change to other comics I’m reading, with all their drama and life/death/destruction of the universe problems.
The art style strikes a middle ground between iconic and realistic. Character faces are soft, while anatomy and proportions remain realistic. It feels mature and inviting at the same time; I really like the use of light shadows, as it helps give it the light and calm feel I got from it. What I enjoy the most is his drawings of scenery. He’s really great at drawing panoramas and there is this one art installation he illustrates that is very impressive. The panel layout is a very basic layout of six panels per page, with the occasional wide panel. With such a basic layout, it is easy to follow and helps convey to us a sense of calm and uniformity to their daily lives. No rush, no tension. Just trim the bushes, you have all month to yourself.
I really enjoy this book for its atmosphere. It’s a great story of two people who willingly decided to venture outside of their comfort zones and find out more about something they knew little about--and as a result, found more in common with each other than they thought possible. It’s an examination of how we are when we love something we’re dedicated to, and it’s engrossing in a way that invites you to just sit, relax, and take it all in after an exhausting day.
I should really drink wine more often.
TL;DR: For a story rooted in non-fiction, The Initiates is a relaxing bit of escapism I think you’ll enjoy.
A review copy of The Initiates was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.
NOTE: NBM is a sister-company to Papercutz, where Beth works. Other than some italics and photos, she was in no way involved in the writing or editing of this review.