Notes (excerpted, edited, and expanded from a letter I recently wrote): Putting the heart and the head together, making sure our thoughts are connected to our hands, is what it’s all about in this life. Am I always comfortable with that? Fuck no. Do I sometimes wish for a mind/body split, that old nasty dualism that informs so much of how we as a species think? Of course I do. But I’m wrong for wishing that. I just read Etienne Davodeau’s The Initiates. It is fantastic, maybe one of the best longform comics I’ve read in two years; upon finishing, I immediately started it over. The premise: A French cartoonist (Davodeau) decides to tag along with his winemaker friend (Richard Leroy) for a year, working in Leroy’s vineyard and becoming initiated in winemaking and wine culture. In exchange, Davodeau will give Leroy a crash course in comics and graphic novels, and in publishing culture. So, they’re both initiating each other into their respective worlds. What’s great about the book is how much it’s about work, about the day-to-day process of making something with your hands–drawing for Davodeau, working the fields for Leroy. It’s also a lot about the communities that swirl up around this stuff–no book ever gets made by just one person; no wine ever gets produced by just one person. Both disciplines require lots of help, lots of mutual love and respect, and lots of camaraderie. Friendship and warmth and networking are all crucial. Communities of love are essential to creation, says this book. And yet there’s a lot of hard abstract thinking going on, a lot about different philosophies of life and creation, in The Initiates. Davodeau’s breezy, loose drawing style is warm and inviting, and makes you less aware that these worlds (wine, comics) are rarified and a little befuddling to outsiders. (I savor comics but my wine palate can’t tell the difference between Two Buck Chuck and a $400 Bordeaux.) It invites you in. It helps that Davodeau and Leroy are funny, and that they genuinely love each other–they’re brothers in arms, and The Initiates enfolds us in that embrace, too. Hearts, heads, and hands together–that’s the way to go. Oh, the beer: Not as rich and buttery as the St. Bernardus Abt. 12. But damn close, and I may like the coloring better.
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