One Model Nation tells the story of a fictional rock band active at the time of real world events concerning the Red Army Faction, a militant left-wing group in Germany in the 1970s. The graphic novel was originally intended as a screenplay by Dandy Warhols lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor, who also released a companion album in the guise of the titular band.
I’m always a little dubious when it comes to graphic novels that were originally supposed to be something else. Unfortunately I’ve been proven right again; the story never quite works in a readable way. While I have enjoyed Jim Rugg’s artwork in the past and found it appealing here, it was difficult to follow the narrative and differentiate between the characters. I suspect this has more to do with the writing, which is light on structure and at times feels like a series of random inspirations and inside jokes.
I was unfamiliar with the Red Army Faction and this book had me intrigued enough to do some research. Militant leftist groups such as the RAF began to emerge all over the world in the wake of World War II, but were particularly active in countries like Germany, where the youth had hard historical reasons not to trust their parents’ generation.
Taylor-Taylor is careful to keep his central characters apolitical and disapproving of both the RAF and the status quo. Gunnar, a friend of the band, is secretly involved with the RAF and works closely with infamous members Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. In the story, many RAF supporters are also fans of One Model Nation, meaning the band is associated with the movement and all it represents without ever having to endorse their extreme views. This happens alongside other real-life famous figures, such as David Bowie, stepping in to praise the band as well.
If this were simply a vanity project about a great band during a tumultuous historical time, I think it might have worked better. The scenes that focus on the band performing have enough in them to carry the story all on their own, as they reflect the real passions of the writer. It’s the exploitation of more serious events and the ways that they have been modified to put the fictional band at the center of them, without actually participating, that irk me. In One Model Nation, real-life journalist-turned-militant Ulrike Meinhof is recast as a pretty young hipster that one of the band members almost gets to sleep with, which is later revealed to be based on an experience that Taylor-Taylor had. (He is quick to point out that in his case, however, it ended differently.)
Despite the dubious rewriting of history, there is plenty of action and intrigue in One Model Nation, and the unusual premise should appeal to older teens and adults, particularly fans of the Dandy Warhols. At best, it’s an enjoyable rock and roll mystery with a little historical fiction thrown in. I just hope that anyone who is drawn to this story will also take the time to learn about its more complicated context.