At the end of October, comic book readers can book a trip to '70s-era Germany by way of "One Model Nation," a historical fiction graphic novel published by Image Comics. Created and written by newcomer C. Allbritton Taylor with art from "Afrodisiac" illustrator Jim Rugg, "One Model Nation" takes place in Germany in 1977, where an industrial/electric band called One Model Nation is unwittingly thrust into the forefront of a radical political movement. The graphic novel chronicles the varying viewpoints of the band's members – some interested in the idea of revolution, others more interested in making music – all while driving towards the inevitable conclusion of One Model Nation being erased from the history books.
CBR News spoke with Taylor and Rugg about the story of "One Model Nation" and how the project was developed.
For both the writer and the artist, "One Model Nation" boasts a fairly simple premise on the surface. "It's about an industrial/electronic band in 1970s Berlin," Rugg told CBR. "It's set against the historical backdrop of the Red Army Faction, and in particular the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Basically, the band and the terrorists both influence the youth culture of the period, and the authorities have a hard time differentiating between the two. The band is apolitical. Their main interest is just to make music. But from the outside, that makes it hard to tell where they stand."
"It's about a group of artists and the effect that the politics of the day have on their lives," Taylor explained further. "When the politics intrude, it focuses mainly on the smallness of the individuals who are involved on the political side, whether it be media, or political activism, or what have you."
While the titular band's four members are at the forefront of the story, Taylor wrote each of the musicians as though they were different sides of the same psychological quadrilateral. "I made the four main characters sort of one person – four sides of one person," Taylor said of his writing process. "The main character is flighty and impulsive, so he stands out the most. The other three are, loosely: sophistication, childlikeness and self, with the self character being blandness or [having] the least amount of noticeable characteristics – just like people's lack of perspective about themselves."
Given Taylor's unique viewpoint on the book's characters, it should come as no surprise that the novel's themes are similarly complicated – in other words, there's a lot more going on in "One Model Nation" than just music and revolution. "Those are two major themes, but I'm not sure that it's actually about either," said Taylor. "In the story, as in real life, there was no revolution. It was more like a Charles Manson thing: a bunch of dicks acting like dicks and being convinced by a dick that they're right. [Committing] horrible, murderous acts and [acting] completely self-righteous about it – it's awful. In the book, there's no music, because it's a book. Books are silent. I could have written it about a group of painters and saved myself a lot of trouble – or comic illustrators, for that matter."
Instead of focusing specifically on music and revolution, then, Taylor wanted to explore other themes. "The idea that you can just ignore 'them' and keep doing good work – that is the ultimate revenge and the ultimate source of power that you can have in this world," Taylor described of one of the book's central thematic ideas. "I feel that I've been beaten up pretty bad by this world and the mean little nasty people who keep popping up in it. I guess we all have – fuck 'em. You can always split. Make it so they can't find you, that's all. You'll be fine in the end if you work hard and just make cool shit. Always do the best you can, whether you fix boats, or clean kitchens, or make guitar amps. All of these things are very important, and if you are into understanding that, you will do great work."
"One Model Nation's" more literal events depict the band as caught between a rock and a hard place: namely, the tight-ruling German authorities and the Red Army Faction – specifically the Baader-Meinhof Gang – in the late 1970s. Both Taylor and Rugg found the time period a fascinating place to explore creatively. "The style, the guilt and alienation of a whole country; the music, the films, the influence which is felt more now than even then – I guess just about everything [interested me], including that I don't have to live in it," said Taylor about what makes the book's setting so compelling. "Karl Bartos [of German music group Kraftwerk] assured me that it was actually far less interesting than I thought it was."
"I was born in '77, and my oldest media memories are of that time period, so I have a weird fondness for that era," Rugg assessed of "One Model Nation's" temporal setting. "I can't really explain why I find that period compelling, but I do. I love the lighting and film stock from that era as well as the comics."
In order to fully grasp the visual world of Germany in the 1970s, Rugg had to thoroughly research the era both for that country and others. "I looked at a lot of material besides Germany in the late '70s," the artist said. "I looked at some late '70s/early '80s punk poster art – stuff by Art Chantry – to try and capture some sense of the photocopied/industrial/mechanical reproduction that might visually make sense with the band's music. Donovan Leitch, one of the guys who came up with ['One Model Nation's'] story, sent me a lot of reference – photographs, artwork, etcetera."
While "One Model Nation" undoubtedly has a distinct visual style, the story wasn't always slated for the comic book medium. Initially, Taylor wrote "One Model Nation" as a screenplay, but the experience in attempting to get it made wasn't particularly desirable. "I had a real problem communicating with the film types I met," Taylor revealed. "They always seemed to want to put something in it that they needed to work out in their own lives. It was weird – the father thing, the ex-girlfriend thing, the media thing, or they wanted the band to fight with each other – Cheeses Christ, you guys, leave it alone! I really felt that the story was so clean and naturally balanced that I couldn't see how to fit one more thing in without constipating its flow.
"So I called Mike Allred and said, 'Read this and tell me if I'm crazy.' I knew he had written maybe hundreds of stories and read maybe thousands," he elaborated further. "Mike has the soul of a fourteen year-old boy, so I knew he would be clear on whether or not this story rocked or if it was burdened with heavy dialogue or too talky or whatnot. Well, he got rocked. He said he couldn't believe it. He wanted to do the graphic novel version but I think in the end he was just too busy, so he hooked me up with Joe Keatinge at Image and away we went."
Keatinge and Allred previously spoke with CBR about their editorial participation in "One Model Nation," and Rugg himself gushed about working with both of these creative minds. "I adore Mike's work," Rugg said of Allred. "It was pretty exciting to talk to him about drawing comics and working together. When I would do roughs for the cover or character designs or anything, I would send them to everyone involved for feedback. Mike was also very helpful with that. Hopefully we'll work together again one of these days."
As for Keatinge, the book's other editor, as well as Image's PR and Marketing Coordinator, Rugg described him as "a real kindred spirit" in terms of their shared comic book interests. In fact, their conversations led to the eventual visual design of the novel. "We came up with the idea of doing the book in a series of grids," the artist said. "The reasoning behind that decision is that we wanted the book to be accessible to non-comics readers as well as people who are familiar with comics and graphic novels."
Of course, Rugg's closest collaborator on the project was none other than Taylor himself. "It's been stellar," Rugg said of their working relationship. "I would send Taylor breakdowns and pages every week. We'd go over them, make revisions and then send the hi-res files to the colorist. Any time there were choices about style, layouts, character designs, cover elements, lettering – every time, he picked the one I picked. That makes for a pleasant working experience."
"My amazing colorist Jon Fell and I would get [pages from Rugg] every Monday at noon over the internet. We high-fived and hugged and patted each other on the back a lot in those days – some of the best days of my life," Taylor said of working with Rugg. "He's an incredibly organized thinker as well as a true comic historian. He didn't balk at doing tons of research on the period himself, either. Getting the clothes and hair and cars and guns right took a lot of paying attention. Really, the perfect fit. It also didn't hurt that he said, 'I've read hundreds of screenplays and I've gotta say, 'One Model Nation' tops them all.'"
In light of Rugg and Taylor's shared enthusiasm for "One Model Nation," both creators are understandably eager to get their hands on the finished product. "I'm curious to see it in print," Rugg said. "It passed through quite a bit [of hands] once I finished my part – a colorist, a letterer, script revisions. I'm eager to see the results."
With less than a month to go before "One Model Nation's" release, Taylor already has a copy of the comic book – a version that's not quite as glamorous as what readers will be able to purchase in stores, but a version that is very much loved nonetheless. "I have a print-out clipped together, and it's dog-eared already," Taylor said. "God, I love it. I get lost in it for hours a day. One of the most beautiful places there is to go in this world is into these pages."
"One Model Nation," written by C. Allbritton Taylor and illustrated by Jim Rugg, hits comic book stores in late October courtesy of Image Comics.