Synopses & Reviews
One hundred years ago. On the foggy Hudson River, a riverboat captain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the busiest port in the United States. A wildly popular--and notoriously reclusive--author makes a public debut. A French nobleman seeks a remedy for a curse. As three lives twine together and race to an unexpected collision, the mystery of the Mermaid of the Hudson deepens. A mysterious and beguiling love story with elements of Poe, Twain, Hemingway, and Greek mythology, drawn in moody black-and-white charcoal, Sailor Twain is a study in romance, atmosphere, and suspense. Sailor Twain is one of The Washington Post's Top 10 Graphic/Comic Reads of 2012
"In a work that calls to mind Conrad's enigmatic short story 'The Secret Sharer,' we follow the story of Captain Twain, a steamboat captain who discovers a wounded mermaid clinging to the side of his ship. Twain secretly brings her aboard, stows her in his cabin, and nurses her back to health, developing a strong attachment to her in the process. As he begins to learn her story, he recognizes that it may have a connection to correspondence between DieudonnÃ© de Lafayette, the womanizing proprietor of the steamboat line, and writer C.G. Beaverton. Lafayette spends his days in endless conquest of the women who board his steamboat, which keeps him distracted enough that he doesn't discover Twain's secret stowaway. What readers eventually discover about the mermaid and her world brings about a series of dramatic events that lead to the story's remarkable conclusion. Siegel's strength as a storyteller is in knowing precisely how to balance the verbal and the visual, sometimes taking us for two or three pages on a wordless sequence that says so much more than dialogue ever could. As well, the manner in which he presents both the real and the fantastic shows his profound understanding of both worlds." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"This extraordinary work of fiction pushes the graphic novel well beyond its previous limits. The narrative takes us on many journeys through space and time, but is more than a mere tale. It's about past and present, the absolute importance of myth, of language, of stories themselves. In superb words and drawings, it also explores obsession and love in a way that is original to the genre, and to literature itself. In the best sense, the completed work succeeds in a very difficult task: making the reader more human. Bravo!" -- Pete Hamill "Addictive." -- Rachel Maddow "Wow. Fabulous." -- Robin McKinley "A gorgeous piece of work about moral conflicts, romantic distress, and fishy secrets." -- Laura Kipnis "A romance in the truest sense of the word, Sailor Twain
is a marvel of graphical beauty and complex, intelligent storytelling. Siegel creates a misty, magical Hudson river that is somehow realer and truer and mroe seductive and many fathoms deeper than the real thing." -- Lev Grossman "I had a most engaging voyage on the doomed Lorelei, and I much enjoyed meeting young Captain Twain -- not to mention the mermaid in the Hudson. This is a gripping novel with compelling characters, enhanged by haunting, erotically charged drawings." -- John Irving
"Siegels illustrations underscore the multiple themes of deceit and deception: softly blurred charcoal riverscapes transform the Hudson into a proving ground for dark magic, and the doe-eyed characters are nowhere near as innocent as they look. Youre never too old for a well-told fairy tale." -- BCCB
"Absolutely not to be missed." -- Booklist, starred reivew
About the Author
A Q&A WITH SAILOR TWAIN AUTHOR MARK SIEGEL
What drew you to New York in 1887?
New York in the Gilded Age sits on the cusp of two eras. Steamboats ruled the Hudson and the Mississippi, but the train was about to overtake them. To me, this time period is on a border between old and new, myth and history -- it's an age of discovery, but also great misery, all bathed in an atmosphere of steam, steel, smoke and fog. The seeds of what would become the Civil Rights were being sown. Women were struggling for equality. Top hats, bustles, corsets, bustles, but Manhattan was at its most dangerous and violent. It's right between the ebbing age of the Civil War, the romance of the Victorian Era, and the industrial fog of our modern age.
Why a mermaid story?
The mermaid sings and the compulsion is more than any man can resist. To my mind, a mermaid's song isn't the sweet melody of Disney's Ariel, it's something sad and beautiful that overwhelms anyone who hears it. Like some addictions, passions, obsessions overtake our reason. Originally I didn't start Sailor Twain for anyone but myself. My early notes and doodles were a way to give form to some of these overpowering creative obsessions I couldn't handle otherwise. What appeared was a gallery of characters, a steamboat captain, a frenchman wearing 18th century clothes, a famous and reclusive author—and a mermaid. Later they wanted their own lives, and had to grow beyond just voices from my head; the characters wanted their own lives, their own voices. The mermaid wanted the story to be seen through her eyes, too, not just the doomed captain's.
Is charcoal a good medium for comics?
Not really, no. It's very messy, and you have to work large because it doesn't lend itself to small detail. But for the mood of Sailor Twain it was perfect—things come and go, and vanish in the mist. Not everything has to be said; you can hint at things, suggest them, half-show them. Combined with a greasy pencil for the lettering and a Conté Pierre-Noire for some of the line work, it allowed me to mix styles—sometimes cartoony, sometimes realistic—without losing a certain believability.
Sailor Twain was first offered as an online serial; why?
It was an experiment in returning to the old fashioned 19th century serial—Twain, Melville, Dickens, Austen. People read some of them in Harpers Monthly and old broadsheets. Now that tradition has reincarnated as the webcomic. There's so much great work coming out in webcomics these days. Before I started, I didn't really know what I was doing, putting out a page every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I really wasn't too sure if anyone would go for a slow-building plot with intertwined love stories, and stick with it over a couple years. As it turns out many did. And best of all, I had a fascinating interaction all along the journey, with some smart, attentive readers, some of whom became friends.
Is the Hudson River romantic?
Supremely romantic. There's beauty, tragedy, mystery there—and the North River still has many a deep secret.
Before Sailor Twain your published books were for young readers. This latest work is for adults and contains nudity, sex and adult themes. Is this a career change?
I'm still working on picture books and other things for younger readers, I always will. But this book is an adult story. Captain Twain is a thirty-seven year old man, and everything can be quite different for a man at that age, different from his twenties or his teenage years; so that's what I was exploring. In that mid-life period, there's a singular potency and intensity. Some people find themselves, others completely lose themselves at that time in life -- depending on what kind of mermaid is singing to them.
Reading Group Guide
This graphic novel is multimedia, meaning that many materials were used to create it—for example, each part has a series of newspaper clippings, and there are maps at the beginning of each chapter. Did these details enhance the story? And if so, how?
Sailor Twain is fiction, but much of the setting is very realistic. What did you learn about New York in the late 1800s by reading this book?
When it is revealed that the mysterious author, C. G. Beaverton, is a woman, there is a huge public reaction, much of which is negative. Did this surprise you? Why or why not?
Singing is a recurring motif throughout the story, whether it is Pearl, Ella, or South herself. What are the different roles that song plays?
Twain suffers from writers block until he meets South—after they kiss, he is flooded with some of the best writing he has produced. Have you ever been struck by inspiration? What triggered it?
Sailor Twain takes place shortly after the end of the civil war, and tense but changing race relations are depicted or hinted at throughout the story. How do race relations in the books events compare to those of the years before? To the present?
C. G. Beaverton describes possible symbolism of mermaids: “The lure of the drink, the fatal attraction of mad lovers, the perennial lust for war or… the magnetic pull of fame.” There are other things that draw people the way the mermaid draws the men in the book. What are some other symbolic legends?
The mermaid traps spirits by tearing them in two, so half of their self remains below the water with her. What do you think it feels like to literally be in two places at once?
How did you feel about South by the end of the story? Her back story is a sad one, but she herself has also causes a lot of unhappiness. What kind of “person” is she?
Sailor Twain was originally published online in single-page installments. How would the experience of the book be different if you only read a little bit at a time?