Monday, March 25, 2013

Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson

Over time, many fairy tales have been sanitized, stripped of their sex and violence, and made more appropriate for children. Sailor Twain is a throwback to a more primordial, frightening kind of fairy tale where magical creatures typically trap and doom people. Twain is the captain of the aptly named Hudson River steamboat Lorelei, and strange things are happening on his vessel. There are affairs, people who go missing, castaways, and a fascination with a mysterious author. One day, Captain Twain finds a wounded mermaid and decides to nurse her back to health. This creature augurs bad news, as mermaids are known to drawn sailors to their deaths with their compelling song.

Twain finds himself artistically and personally inspired though, neglecting his wife and nautical duties. At the same time a number of mysteries about people's actual identities begin to crop up, making for some intrigue. Some people on-board appear to want to harm the mermaid, and she appears to be linked to a few past maritime disasters. Although the art and story have some sinister overtones, this is not quite a story about good and evil. It is more about how murky, misty, and indistinct life decisions and human relationships can be.

The backgrounds, buildings, boats, and geometrical faces are all beautifully rendered by artist and writer Mark Siegel, the award-winning editorial director of one of the premier graphic novel publishers, First Second. He co-created the ballerina graphic novel To Dance with his wife and has a few children's books to his credit. He speaks extensively about his work on Sailor Twain in this interview.

Reviews of this book I have read have been very positive. Seth T. Hahne called the book "breathtaking" and found it "beautiful and haunting." Barnes & Noble's Paul Di Filippo felt that it "exerts a mystical attraction." In a more measured review Greg Burgas wrote, "For the most part, Siegel does a very nice job building a strange mystery full of interesting characters, and he does challenge the reader in many ways, which is always good to see," but he felt that the ending did not come together satisfactorily.

This book is published by First Second. It was originally published serially online, and its homepage is a fount of previews, information, and more.

Finally, one word about audience: Although this book does have fairy tale overtones, it also has some language, violence, and nudity that make it more appropriate for more mature readers.

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