Graphic Novel Review: One Model Nation

(Titan �16.99)

A NATION literally torn in two. A new, politically-charged torrent of popular music is linked to the activities of various anti-establishment underground groups, and the resulting cultural turmoil leads to the paranoid government suspecting every youth of plotting to overthrow the system.

The place? Berlin, the divided city slap-bang in the middle of East Germany. The time? 1977, the dawn of punk and new wave. The protagonists? Rising art noise band One Model Nation. This is a graphic novel which fuses stark historical fact with dramatic artistic licence, creating a breathtaking portrait of the era of analog synths, Kraftwerk, skinny ties and terrorism.

When members of electronica group One Model Nation become caught up in the activities of the notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang, they discover that political protest takes on a whole different dimension as the bodies start piling up, and soon realise that the price of artistic freedom may prove far too high…

Courtney Taylor-Taylor, frontman of US rock band The Dandy Warhols, is the writer of this original graphic novel, illustrated in a minimalist style by acclaimed indie artist Jim Rugg, and released to coincide with the launch of a One Model Nation album at the end of January.

Nicely paced, with a strong attention to detail, it perfectly captures the period’s zeitgeist while also telling a generally interesting narrative, but ultimately the reader is left feeling as though they have only experienced part of the story, and there are too many questions left unanswered at the book’s conclusion.

The length of the novel prevents any in-depth analysis of the politics behind the subversive Red Army Faction or the BMG, and there’s a substantial compression of time to allow the story to occur over a few months rather than several years. Most crucially, by the time in which the book takes place, both Baader and Meinhof were long since dead, meaning there was no way they could have interacted with the band’s members.

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Certain plot threads are left open without explanation, characters appear and disappear apparently without any obvious reason (who is the narrator for example, and how does he know such intricate details about events of the time?), and some of the protagonists are little more than blank ciphers with no substantial depth.

The framing narrative suggests One Model Nation disappeared without trace after getting caught up in events beyond their control, but there’s no real explanation in the story about where they went, and a lack of information about their music sort of dampens the suggestion that the police cracked down on them because their lyrics were so incendiary, for example.

Maybe the album will help to fill in at least some of these gaps, because although Rugg manages to deliver on all fronts artistically, he is let down by Taylor’s scripting. As a first foray into comics, it’s better than should be expected, but ultimately there’s too much here which just doesn’t work, which given such a fascinating time period and subject matter is just disappointing.