On March 6th, musician and illustrator Marcellus Hall’s graphic novel debut, Kaleidoscope City, arrives from Bittersweet Editions. Hall has done illustrations for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and many other publications. He is also a well respected musician and formed the band White Hassle.
Hall took some time to discuss the book with Forces of Geek, which has been described as, “a spellbinding, dreamy love letter to NYC.”
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FOG!: Marcellus, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at Forces of Geek. I just read the book and I really loved it. You’ve done comic strips like Bill Dogbreath. What was the impetus to do a longer narrative?
Marcellus Hall: The impetus for Bill Dogbreath, which I created in my late twenties, was a subversive glee I took in wordplay and the turning inside out of American tropes and icons. Kaleidoscope City was a different animal that arose from a nuanced and lyrical perspective. I sought to capture a surreal plane of existence, a certain thrum or pulse of a character’s interior life.
And the way, for example, Marcel Proust creates a mood by way of language (slowing time with undulating sentences) I wanted to employ visually using repetition and empty space.
Who or what are the biggest influences in your work?
There are zillions of influences in my work, but for Kaleidoscope City, in particular William Blake, Walt Whitman, Franz Masereel, and Raymond Pettibon come to mind. None of them are cartoonists. Blake and Petition combine words and pictures. And Masereel pioneered the wordless graphic novel in the 1920s or thereabouts.
How long have you been working on this book? How did you hook up with Bittersweet Editions?
The book has been in the works for years. About six years ago Marco North of Bittersweet invited me to contribute to an anthology he was compiling and I submitted pages from Kaleidoscope City. Later he offered to publish a book. His patient encouragement and tactful editing over the years has been invaluable in making Kaleidoscope City a reality.
Were you a comic book fan growing up? If the opportunity were to occur, is there any character that you would be love to take a shot at?
I never imagined myself “taking a shot” at any particular character. In fact, I never considered myself a comics fan, per se, until later when the wave of underground, independent comics were being made in the early nineties. In my younger years I was fanatical about Mad Magazine whose satiric slant undoubtably shaped me.
Was the process of making a comic similar to that of making music? Were there any unexpected challenges?
There were many similarities between making Kaleidoscope City and making music. For one, I considered the pages of the book as one would consider the tempo of a drumbeat. Getting right the crescendos and refrains was important, as was the lyricism of the text. The biggest challenge, I think, was keeping a bird’s eye view of the book from front to back. With a song you don’t have to do that per se.
What else do you have coming up?
I continue to submit cover ideas to the New Yorker and I have thoughts about a second graphic novel brewing. My band and I have begun recording new songs that we’ll finalize and make available this year.
What are you currently geeking out over?
The movies of Korean director Hong Sang-Soo recently caught my attention as I was preparing for a trip to Asia. I borrowed DVDs of his movies from the New York Public Library. There is something Woody Allen-ish about his output and autobiographical style. I’m also attempting to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest at the moment. Comics-wise I’ve enjoyed in recent years the work of Adrian Tomine, Gabrielle Bell, Jillian Tamaki, Guy Delisle, Peter Kuper, Riad Sattouf, and Lucy Knisley.
Below, check out an excerpt of Kaleidoscope City, available on March 6th!