One Model NationA comic review article by: Rafael Gaitan
A question no one's ever asked but probably should have: "What would happen if Kraftwerk got caught up in the search and sieging of the Baader-Meinhof gang?" The answer, or at least a stylistically sound attempt at it, can be found in the pages of One Model Nation, a graphic novel by Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols and with art by Jim Rugg. Previously published a few years ago, a "deluxe" edition has redrawn bookend sequences by Rugg and a spiffy hardcover with loads of bonus material... but the story itself seems lacking. The premise is solid and frankly I was ready to five-star this motherfucker on that alone, but the book lacks the meat, the substance that pulls the reader into these characters and their plight. There's a lot of thoroughly researched and seamless historical interaction that is well-placed and engrossing to read, but it all comes across too suddenly.
The overarching plot is quite well pieced together and hardly a hair is out of place, but the narrative suffers from a combination of speediness and the weight of the unnecessary opening/ closing. In a bookend sequence (redrawn from the original printing), two men from an unspecified band meet with a documentarian who is making a film about the Krautrock era, and he inquires about a few bands before dropping the bomb: whatever did happen to the band One Model Nation? Cutting segment wouldn't have hurt the flow, but including it does because Taylor-Taylor never answers his own question -- there are just ponderous statements and no real ending. Originally a screenplay, the script was trimmed down with the help of Keanu Reeves (seriously) and Mike Allred, but it feels like the pace is too brisk -- we don't spend enough time in this world that's so enticing. I wanted to see more of the day-to-day between the band, perhaps more inclusion of the governmental workings rather than making them a faceless and unexpected deus ex-machina.
Taylor-Taylor's story stands on its own well enough, as collaborator Donovan Leitch's meticulous and fine-toothed research has uncovered a fascinating period where music, fashion and fascism went hand-in-hand. The titular band are largely based on Kraftwerk, most obviously their meeting with David Bowie and their refusal to answer the phone at Kling Klang studios but once a week. OMN have gathered a cult following because of their refusal to be "on the grid," preferring unlicensed and clandestine shows in remote areas. It's only a matter of time before they attract the wrong element, and the increasing police presence soon informs the band that members of the notorious Red Army Faction have been attending their shows, and they've even become acquainted with some of them. Taylor-Taylor draws some interesting parallels with the band's fear of their fandom/mistrust of their audience with the feelings of the government at the time, but this potent idea only gets lightly touched upon.
When they're interacting or speaking to one another or moving along the plot, it's great stuff, but perhaps the writer's musical background led him to fill far too many scenes with gratuitous performance collages. These could have been trimmed and more time devoted to world-building and exploring of the theme, but instead there's a great sequence of the infamous jailbreak of Andreas Baader that in turn gets rushed to an unsatisfying ending. The band gets arrested after a show is raided, where they are summarily dismissed as nobodies and released. Diegetically it punts -- the band becomes concerned because they fear that the government considers them a threat and they discover this is not the case... but then why was their actual studio raided? The concerts make perfect sense, but the fact that the band's workspace was tracked down and when Baader escapes their homes are raided immediately -- why would this occur if they weren't viewed as a threat?
Jim Rugg's art is excellent as usual with his unique kinetic expressiveness giving each frame a burst of life and motion, while colorist Jon Fell uses deep reds and grays almost exclusively, engendering the feel of the blood and concrete that seems to be covering Germany in the late '70s. Visually the book is 110% solid and nothing is ever questionable, likely due to Rugg's experience with sequential art. Perhaps it suffers mostly from the translation from one medium to the next, but One Model Nation is a flawed if entertaining read. Taylor-Taylor hit on a rather brilliant idea, but he couldn't quite pull it out in the long run. Comics are a limitless medium when done right, but there really must've been too much to contain. This could have worked better as a maxi-series, given room to grow, but ultimately I refuse to fault someone for trying to do something different. One Model Nation doesn't always fire on all cylinders, but when it hits the right notes it kills.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart. He ain't got time to bleed.