Friday, January 17, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #17: The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau

This is the mildest of criticisms -- certainly nothing that substantially damages a lovely book about art and work and life -- but the subtitle of The Initiates is not really correct. That subtitle is "A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs."

Now, it's true that Etienne Davodeau, the author of this book and a cartoonist of no little fame in France, did work very closely with Richard Leroy, the wine-maker of the title. The two of them spent a year doing the hard work of vineyard and winery: pruning, hoeing, weeding, harvesting, preparing and filling and moving barrels. So Davodeau did Leroy's work. But Leroy only read comics over that year, though he did read a lot of them. Leroy isn't co-credited on this book; he didn't lay out pages or craft dialogue or even spot blacks.

So Leroy was introduced to an artform new to him as a consumer, whereas Davodeau began to learn a complicated art -- assuming "art" and not "craft" is the right word to describe the work of wine-making -- as a producer. Certainly, Davodeau ended the year nowhere near Leroy's level -- he became a competent assistant, not a leader -- but he did the work of wine, while Leroy didn't do the work of comics.

I'm harping on this point because I think it illustrates exactly the difference between "artist" and "artisan:" there's art in both of them, but you can't teach anyone to be an artist. You can teach someone to appreciate art, and maybe that will lead them to want to make it. And you can teach the skills needed to do a skillful craft -- though, again, you can't teach the spark of inspiration or the love of that work that leads to great art.

Anyway, Davodeau thought it would be interesting if he found a really good winemaker -- one who worked close to the land, on a small plot, to be as close as possible to the way a cartoonist creates his pages with his own hands -- and the two of them spent a year learning about each other's lives and skills and crafts and arts. So they did, and The Initiates is the record of that time: of 2010 and, mostly, the grapes growing in Leroy's fields that year and the books and comics festivals Davodeau had Leroy experience.

So The Initiates is a book about appreciating wine and books -- about what goes into the making of each of them, about the people who make each of them, and about what makes them special. It's the kind of book that makes you want to drink a lot of wine -- or whatever food/drink you love the most -- and read a lot of good books. It's a positive, loving, deep look at the world of making art. You probably do have to have some love for comics to read it -- it's in comics form, after all -- but The Initiates doesn't require any knowledge or love of wine; just a willingness to watch and learn and care.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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