One Model Nation review

What do one of The Dandy Warhols, a band on the run in postwar Germany and David Bowie have in common? CJ investigates a strange new graphic novel...


It’s not often I use the term ‘graphic novel’.

The format is used to try to give validation to comics when none has been necessary, and is about as meaningful as ‘static movie’. Graphic novel has become a Procrustean bed that’s used incorrectly to describe trade collections of comics storylines, miniseries or limited series that may not be written as a whole. One Model Nation, though, is a graphic novel in the best sense of the phrase.

Why does One Model Nation work a graphic novel? A key ingredient is its 20th century, almost real-world setting. The 1970s were a fascinating time for music, despite the best efforts of cheesy phenomena like Stayin’ Alive. The grooviest decade birthed some of the world’s biggest names and influenced successive generations of musicians. One Model Nation‘s titular band move through an age of musical legends.

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The hit German band become embroiled with the Baader-Meinhof Gang. As a project, One Model Nation approaches film in its execution. It takes the reality of ’70s youth and terror and embellishes it. Accompanying the story are a writer’s commentary and alternate scenes. A historian – Donovan Leitch – was consulted and there are producer credits.

That postwar, dingy and tumultuous period in European and world politics was balanced by alien, futuristic personas like Ziggy Stardust, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, John Foxx’s Ultravox! and, of course, Kraftwerk. It was music as performance art in a way trending performers like Lady Gaga and LMFAO can’t match.

The book’s design is well considered from cover to angular red, white and black cover. Inside, colourist Jon Fell sweeps from hazy, graphite grey through deep purple nighttime to a crisp daylight, to fascistically communist blood reds and, finally, back to stark, drab greys. Figures like David Bowie are rendered in strong colour against the members of One Model Nation. The team behind this book aren’t just peddling another superhero whammy.

Chances are that if you like music you’ll have heard of the memorably monikered Courtney Taylor-Taylor, nee Courtney Allbritton Taylor. One Model Nation‘s author is frontman of The Dandy Warhols and exactly the sort of dude you’d expect to geek out over old bands and indie comics. If you like comics then you’ll probably know of the book’s artist Jim Rugg too.

Rugg is the illustrator behind Dark Horse’s The Guild and one of the most awesome creator-owned books ever, Slave Labor Graphics Street Angel – about a homeless, ninja skateboarder girl. Pick it up in trade, it’s gnarly. Rugg is one of the few artists in modern comics capable of compelling panel-work.

One Model Nation has taken awhile to get over the pond to the UK – Taylor-Taylor and Rugg’s book originally popped up from Image in the US in 2009. It’s already received high praise from comics, music and film luminaries. Director Gus Van Sant calls the story “awesomely executed”, and retro-cool artist and credited producer Mike Allred agrees. Allred is known for atypical superhero work with Peter Milligan on X-Statix and comics, like Red Rocket 7, that have delved into musical history.

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Thanks to Titan Books we’re finally getting an opportunity to read this American take on a very European period in musical history. In the meantime, Taylor-Taylor has managed to pull together a whole CD based on the concept of his fake Krautrock band. The album is entitled Totalwerks.

A graphic novel like One Model Nation doesn’t come along very often: aesthetically engaging, movie-like and complete. As Taylor-Taylor says, “[It] is nowhere near an accurate historical text… It is merely inspired by the outrageous behaviour and style during this amazing time and place.” There might not be life on Mars anymore but there’s certainly some in Titan.

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