Kaleidoscope City: Losing And Finding Love In A Sea Of Humanity

by Hannah Means Shannon

Kaleidoscope City, Marcellus Hall’s graphic novel debut, arrives in the first week of March from Bittersweet Editions. Hall is both a musician and an illustrator, but he’s exploring sequential narrative here for the first time.

In fact, you may have seen Hall’s illustrations in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and Time as well as children’s books, but as a musician, he’s been known for the bands Railroad Jerk, White Hassle, and most recently, Marcellus Hall and the Hostages.

Appropriate to a discussion on Valentine’s Day, Hall’s new book is steeped in a consideration of romance and human connection. The book is set up to provide “snapshots” from a year in the life of an artist trying to recover from a failed relationship. He’s searching the boroughs of New York City for inspiration as the season’s change, and sketching as he goes. He finds it in unlikely places, glimpsing a mysterious woman.

Actor Bob Odenkirk, who is best known of late for Better Call Saul, is a big fan of Hall’s new book, saying:

KALEIDOSCOPE CITY is a masterpiece of beauty and longing. If you haven’t felt feelings in awhile, pick this up and lose yourself in it. I can’t say enough about how it made my heart beat again.

Looking through the book myself, I can’t help but be struck by the focus on mood and a kind of fluid relationship between language and images that reminds me of Hall’s expertise in both music and illustration. This isn’t a book where you’ll find the hard, confining geometry of panel grids very often, but rather one that suggests a lack of borders on the comics page and beyond. The relationship between facing pages is often clearly defined in spreads that suggest distance and space in their ideas as well as the scenes they set.

Something very attractive about Kaleidoscope City is its “voice” which doesn’t set out overtly to tell a story with a specific message, but is rather conversational, meditative, and invites the reader to follow the narrator’s train of thought. The narrator, and the book, seem to have a taste for wandering in a great city surrounded by a sea of humanity, and that will appeal to many readers who similarly like to observe humanity and think about their place in the world.

Also delightful, though, are Hall’s forays into the fun and absurd, as when his narrator moves from inking a page to becoming small enough to wield a brush like a sword and flee from tides of ink, suggesting the elastic realm of thought as it flows into the imagination.

It’s easy to see why Kaleidoscope City is already getting such meaningful reviews–it’s a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, and appeals to the humanity in readers, emphasizing the commonality of our own quests for a place in the world.

Look out for Kaleidoscope City out on March 6th, 2018, from Bittersweet Editions.