One Model Nation: Rock Music, Politics, and Comics
By Andy Frisk
February 22, 2012 - 21:04
Writer(s): Courtney Taylor-Taylor
Penciller(s): Jim Rugg
Colourist(s): Jon Fell
Letterer(s): Rodolfo Muraguchi
As I mentioned on my music blog in reference to Eternal Descent, I rarely come across a project that effectively crosses over and makes effective use of my two major loves (and writing topics): rock music and sequential art. It does seem that many rockers have an affinity for sequential art and vice versa though, so as time progresses, more and more quality crossover/collaborations are appearing. One of the best is The Dandy Warhol’s lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s One Model Nation. Backed by Taylor-Taylor’s friend, Madman and Red Rocket 7 creator and artist Mike Allred, and penciled by alt-comics star Jim Rugg (Street Angel, Afrodisiac) One Model Nation is the tale of the fictional alt-rock/industrial/electronica influenced, and number one counter culture and lightning rod for controversy band that took Cold War 1970s Berlin by storm, then mysteriously vanished in 1978 after the break out of German Red Army Faction (Baader/Meinhof Gang) leader Andreas Baader. Interestingly and subtextually touching on the dangers of left wing extremism, ultra-conservative fanaticism, and how such movements can corrupt as well as influence art, One Model Nation is a smart read from a smart musical artist.
The setting of late 1970s Berlin is an odd choice for a rock and roll graphic novel. Taylor is a fan of the musical movement of the time though, which in many ways mirrored the New York punk scene of the same time period, and instead of simply making an album of music paying homage to the most popular bands of the time (like Kraftwerk), Taylor decided to do both (for a review of the album click here). The story of One Model Nation, the band, is fictional, but it is set in the context of real events. The Baader/Meinhof Gang (who called themselves The Red Army Faction) was a real ultra-left wing terrorist group, that the fictional One Model Nation band is suspected of being sympathizers with, if not outright youth corrupting supporters of. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the main creative force behind OMN is neither, and his travels through the dangerous world of art, commerce, and the left and right wing factions that are trying to corrupt the band and its art, forms the basis for the main conflict, emotional hook, and resolution of this well told story.
One would think that the first sequential art writing project from an alt-rocker like Courtney Taylor-Taylor would be a, well…one doesn’t really know what such a project from the colorful front man of The Dandy Warhols would be like. Thankfully, but somehow not surprisingly, his first sequential art project is incredibly good, and somewhat out of left field, in a totally good sense. The sound and scene of One Model Nation is nearly the opposite of that of The Dandy Warhol’s sound and scene. Thematically though, there is a great amount of congruity and universality between One Model Nation’s main character Sebastian, the leader of the band One Model Nation, the artistic life, and every day people. Sebastian battles with the desire to leave the band for good, abandoning its more dangerous, rebel rousing, and political violence attracting attributes, vs. his desire to stay on with the band because of his love for the music that he and group create and the love, adoration, and importance the band’s music represents for the majority of their listeners and fans. Sebastian isn’t nearly as political as one particularly troublesome member of the group is, and is way more pacifist and focused on the human experience and its ups and downs rather than humanity’s divisive, destructive, and, in this case, violent politics. One gets the sense that Sebastian is there to work out his own demons and problems through his music, and if his music helps those around him get through theirs, it’s all the better.
It is people like Sebastian that Taylor is championing in One Model Nation: people who are more interested in the politics of the heart and how the evils of extremist politics can corrupt one’s heart and mind. His story, which is packed with brilliant subtext (both as concerns the story itself and the greater human experience) is, as Taylor himself admitted, simply another retelling of the mythological hero’s journey. Sebastian’s journey isn’t one that only rock stars, punks, or political types can relate to, even though this is a story of the journey of a rock star. It is one that many of us can relate to. Herein lays the credible artistic power and ability of Taylor, Allred, Rugg and company. Especially though for Taylor, as he has now demonstrated that he can tell a story that initially appeals to one certain type of fan topically, but ends up being more than just a genre type of fiction. It ends up being one of the best kinds of fiction: the universal kind.
Of course, One Model Nation wouldn’t have succeeded on so many levels as a story if not for the intelligent artwork of Jim Rugg. Rugg is a master of artistically rendered body language and facial expression. His ability to advance a story through visuals alone is incredibly important. This ability is also perfectly suited to One Model Nation since a great deal of the story is told without dialogue, and a smart non-use of sound effects. This is particularly interesting since One Model Nation is fundamentally the story of a loud “noise band.” The effect is brilliant though since it really forces the reader to become actively involved in the creative process of bringing the story to life. One has to imagine the noise and music that is happening in the tale. Of course, Taylor made an album of songs that comprise the fictional hits of the fictional band, which is quite good by the way, but it isn’t necessary to have heard, or even enjoy, Taylor’s One Model Nation music project to enjoy Rugg’s art and Taylor’s story.
One Model Nation is a work of art that can stand totally on its own as a sequential art project or as a musical project, but is one of the best examples of an amalgamation of the two that I’ve ever come across. Intelligent, thought provoking, and engaging, One Model Nation simply rocks. It’s the kind of project that I love writing about the most, and that I wish there were more of out there.
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