Graphic novel ‘The Initiates’ serves as gateway to genre
by Etienne Davodeau
There are books that stridently advocate and those that tell simple stories. “The Initiates” by Étienne Davodeau is one of the latter. It tells a true story of two proverbial old dogs learning something new. It presents. It does not demand. It shows. It does not tell. It speaks softly and leaves the stick behind.
Over the two months since I finished reading this understated, humble graphic novel, the story has settled into my mind and serves as a patient guide.
“The Initiates” is the graphic novel for people who want to read graphic novels but don’t know where to start. There’s not a superhero, historical apocalypse, serious family illness or major dysfunction to be found. The book follows Davodeau, a well-known, French graphic novelist, and Richard LeRoy, a winemaker, over the course of one year.
Davodeau approached LeRoy with the idea that he would teach the winemaker about graphic novels while LeRoy would teach the artist about winemaking. LeRoy agreed and “The Initiates” is Davodeau’s chronicle of that unlikely partnership.
Told with simple, clean drawings and deliberate prose, the reader learns a great deal about creating and publishing a graphic novel while, also, getting to know the behind the scenes details of operating a vineyard. There’s some cursing and a great deal of pruning.
There’s debate over the different styles and narrative approaches of various graphic novelists. There’s discussion about the soil and how it needs to be cared for, and, of course, there’s more than a touch of well-intentioned snobbery when it comes to selecting wines for lunch.
The heart of “The Initiates” is the interest, care and, at times, difficulty that each craftsman works through while learning to appreciate a field wholly different than his own. The men are at times fascinated, puzzled and bored with the myriad aspects of the foreign pursuit. Both of them stay the course.
At first, they do so only because they have promised each other that they would. Later, as they each persevere to understand and appreciate the other profession, they learn to understand their own skills and expertise in a deeper, fuller manner. Craftsmanship is craftsmanship, after all, no matter what the medium. From this divergent commonality a friendship is born.
When you finish the book, you will feel part of that friendship and be ready to learn something completely new.
Cameron McVey is a library Assistant at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
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