French discover new pleasure: adult comics about wine

It is no secret that the French love wine. But they are also the world's second-biggest consumers of graphic novels after the Japanese. Now a new wave of literature is putting the two passions together -- comics for adults about wine.

French discover new pleasure: adult comics about wine
Emmanuel Guillot poses with his comic book in his cellar in Cruzille, northeastern France. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP
The genre that was completely unheard of little more than a decade ago has jostled itself on to the bookshelves, with a festival dedicated to it booming among the vineyards near Bordeaux.
BD & Vin — meaning graphic novels and wine — is the brainchild of winemaker Romain Sou, whose Chateau Lacouture domaine is just across the Gironde estuary from the fabled Chateau Margaux.
“I love graphic novels and I love wine and so do most of my friends. But 10 years ago when we started, it wasn't at all obvious that there would be a thirst for BDs (graphic novels) about wine,” he said.
Ironically, it was the phenomenal success of the Japanese manga series “Drops of God” which turned the French onto the potential of comics about wine. The story of a Japanese beer company employee, who must correctly identify 13 wines from his father's collection to inherit his wealth, made several obscure French winemakers stars overnight in Asia. 
It also sparked runs on some wines featured in the series, including the Bordeaux Chateau Mont-Perat, with one Taiwanese importer selling 50 cases in two days. 
Decanter magazine declared the manga “arguably the most influential wine publication for the past 20 years”, and its authors, sister and brother Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, taste setters.
Rise of natural wine 
Another dynastic soap opera, this time thick with sex and intrigue, has since made the French adult comic book series “Chateaux Bordeaux” a bestseller. But a line of more down-to-earth graphic novels has struck a still deeper chord in France.
“Les Ignorants”, “A Great Forgotten Burgundy” and “Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou” — which has already been translated into English — have caught the mood of a country which is looking much harder at what it drinks.
All deal, in one way or another, with organic and natural wines, whose rapid rise in popularity in recent years often sparks heated debate around French dinner tables.
Etienne Davodeau's account of his year with the natural winemaker Richard Leroy in his Loire Valley vineyard in “Les Ignorants” (“The Ignoramuses”) is already regarded as a classic. Leroy is one of a growing band of organic winemakers who have turned their backs on a homogenised way of winemaking to follow biodynamic principles, using little or no sulphur.
“Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou” is a hilarious insider take on a wine-obsessed, mostly urban crowd. The three trendy Parisian friends “drink wine, think wine, talk wine and dream wine”, said their creator Michel Tolmer, who gently sends up their nerdy rivalry and “wine-upmanship” as they blind taste.
Indeed, the flavour, character and aroma of natural wines can vary hugely between years as winemakers try to find the pure expression of the ground and climatic conditions in which the grapes were grown — what the French call “terroir”. 
This almost mystical concept is of course sacred to Mimi, Fifi and Glouglou — French for “glug, glug” — who are ever ready to put the finer points of a wine's minerality to the test, through several bottles if necessary. 
'You are drinking a story'
Organic winemaker Emmanuel Guillot also sets out in search of the ultimate oenological high in his warm-hearted hit series, “A Great Forgotten Burgundy” (“Un Grand Bourgogne Oublie”), which is as much about educating as entertaining its readers.
His Guillot-Broux family estate pioneered organic winemaking in Burgundy in the 1950s, growing almost all their grapes on soil that has never been touched by herbicides or pesticides.
For Guillot — whose characters are often modelled on his friends, family and fellow winemakers — the success of the genre is all about wine-lovers' thirst for a deeper relationship with what they are drinking.
“When you drink a bottle of wine you travel. It is not just alcohol, you are drinking the story,” he told AFP. “There are the people and the culture and the struggles behind it — and most of all, how the earth it comes from has been looked after.”
Guillot's latest story is partly inspired by his friend and namesake Emmanuel Giboulot, who was threatened with prison for refusing to spray his organic grapes with insecticide in a celebrated case in 2014 which helped change the way Burgundy winemakers now deal with disease outbreaks. 
“With graphic novels you get right inside the lives of the characters and you see the joys and the crises that have gone into a bottle of wine. It's all about emotion,” he said.
Good wine, Guillot argues “is a bit like theatre. Why go to the theatre when you have television? Because when it is good it is so much better, and when you have experienced that you will go back again and again…”
By AFP's Fiachra Gibbons


‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.