Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson is a graphic novel by Mark Siegel. There is a riverboat on the cover, the author’s name is Mark and the hero’s name is Twain. But don’t be fooled. This is not about the famed author also known as Samuel Clemens, but there are some noticeable links. This 400 page hardback book originally evolved through a web comic. Sailor Twain is a story filled with mystery, romance, and mythological elements surrounded by the steam and prosperity of New York during the Gilded Age. But what makes the book stand out is how the author draws the reader into the story through clever character development and intentional artwork.
Captain Elijah Twain guides the riverboat “Lorelei” along the Hudson River. He is an honorable man hoping to pay for his wife Pearl’s medical treatment, which someday may release her from her dreaded wheelchair. Late one night while the invalid Pearl is home ashore, Twain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters. Fighting his own moral demons tempting fidelity, he keeps the enticing creature hidden from others on the riverboat while he nurses her back to health. Concurrently, the captain must endure the amorous antics of the boat’s owner, Dieudonné Lafayette, who also has a secret fascination with mermaids. The mystery behind the mermaid’s existence is somehow tied with the disappearance of Dieudonné’s brother Jacques-Henri de Lafayette. Captain Twain is determined to solve the mystery.
Names play an interesting role in Sailor Twain. Foremost is the devious double title, Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson. There are two defining storylines intertwined, one about the personal life of the captain, and one about mermaids. Though the aforementioned Mark Twain does not make an influential appearance in the book, his allusion is still present. Aside from the obvious title reference, he also shares a remarkable resemblance to the Captain’s military father when shown in a flashback of his youth. The unique riverboat names hold ironic value to the story as well. “Lorelei” is the name of a water maiden who became a siren in German legends and name “Melusine” is a European fabled fresh water spirit. Both are mermaids, and a captain is bound to his ship just as much as the hero is bound to the creature of the depth.
The artwork by Siegel is as impressive as his storyline. The popular bright colored illustrations used in many graphic novels today are replaced with rich charcoal drawings. Using a soft foggy mist enhances the dreamlike emotion of the mermaid scenes while crisp dark lines pull the reader back to the known world. The absence of color also helps set the tone of a socially inept age hidden in a world of industry and growth. From a technical standpoint, having idle conversation text obscured just outside some of the image panels is another clever way Siegel draws the reader’s attention to the chaos of social commerce in the background. Time does not stop while Captain Twain faces his reckoning.
Not your ordinary graphic novel, Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel is sure to draw you into the murky depths of the Hudson River. The characters are as complex as the plot, and both play well together. Through his imaginative skills of both story and artwork, the author has created a mysterious world of dark mythical proportions.