Graphic like you

The Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor has just published his first graphic novel

You are more likely to see Courtney Taylor-Taylor headlining a music festival than signing books at your local bookshop. As lead singer and guitarist of The Dandy Warhols, he has released an impressive eight albums across a 17-year career, and was responsible for the track ‘Bohemian Like You’ that stormed the UK charts in 2001.

But while many rock musicians go on to release an autobiography detailing their hedonistic exploits, Taylor-Taylor has made the unusual move of penning a graphic novel. A collaboration with illustrator Jim Rugg, One Model Nation follows the exploits of a fictional krautrock band from Berlin whose music soundtracks the rebellion of a generation of German teenagers. The band’s own story is intertwined with the fate of the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang who terrorised Germany in the late 1970s.

Taylor-Taylor picked the period setting because “I waited 20 years for someone else to do it and no one did”. The novel does an impressive job of evoking a nation simmering under the repressive rule of a paranoid police state, the result of detailed first-hand research. “I was in Germany a lot over a 12-year period,” he says, “so getting together with middle-aged Germans and just letting them talk really added depth to my whole experience.”

He cites influences as diverse as the new German cinema of [director and screenwriter] Rainer Fassbinder and the science-fiction comics of Mike Allred when envisioning the novel, which he combined with his own experience of fronting a band. “I ended up structuring the whole thing like a map of the Dandy Warhols plot arc, but as a German period metaphor,” he says.

Delve deeper into One Model Nation and you can find allusions to the legacy of Nazism and even an examination of the way popular culture can be exploited by politicians and the media. This infiltration of politics into music is a subject he feels strongly about. “I hate it when it does,” he says. “Politics are based on us against them. Music is about how you feel. Is it possible to feel anything but frustrated or angry about politics?”

While writing music has become second-nature to Taylor-Taylor, he describes his early attempts to write dialogue as “a two-tier tightrope walk over a pit of sharks with alligators snapping at my heels”.

“I had never tried writing like that before,” he says. “Reducing the amount of descriptive dialogue but then having actual images instead was great. I just tried to stay out of the way of the story.” He compares the process of crafting the story, which is “really long and you can’t see the whole thing at once”, to composing music, where “you hit play and see how it flows”.

Jim Rugg’s energetic illustrations are central to the book’s success, and he manages the impressive feat of conveying the frenzy of a gig or the chaos of a riot via still images. Taylo-Taylor says he was in “constant communication” with Rugg throughout the book’s creation, although he was wary of imposing his own views onto the finished design. “You have to let the artists you work with blow your mind or its just no fun,” he says.

The initial idea for the book was conceived in 2000, but it wasn’t delivered to Rugg to draw for another nine years, a delay that he accounts for as “three years to write it and six more to make it not suck”.

“I’d like to have my favourite writers redo this exact story but put it in a different epoch,” he says. “Roman or American revolution or the renaissance or whatever. Have a band in 'Star Wars' that runs around a lot and subtly influences politics and the rebellion against the empire.” A fascinating idea, but don’t expect to see him signing copies in that bookshop any time soon.

One Model Nation by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Jim Rugg is published by Titan Books.