A steamboat captain named Twain who moonlights as a writer? I’m in! But guess what? It’s not Mark Twain. The hero of Mark Siegel’s graphic novel Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson is Elijah Twain, writer and steamboat captain.
Sailor Twain’s “overture” effectively sets up the story’s mystery with evocative black-and-white drawings and interesting angles of perspective. Mark Siegel definitely captures the grandeur and gritty engineering mechanics of steamboat life. His characters also grew on me: the mermaid; the philandering, amoral Lafayette; the strange shoplifting kids who steal copies of Huckleberry Finn; and Captain Elijah Twain who becomes a player in the mermaid mystery he is trying to solve. Sailor Twain’s admirable historical accuracy delves into 19th Century attitudes about women and minorities, as well as various kinds of mysticism popular at the time.
A tight narrative does not exactly describe Sailor Twain. Its rambling, intertwining storylines maybe work better when read in serialization than in this self-contained form. By the end of the book, I’d lost interest in what began as an appealing mermaid mystery.
This one is definitely not for kids. It includes naked breasts, eff-bombs, PG-13 sex scenes, and racy double entendres.
While I admire the detail and artistry, Sailor Twain seems like a labor of love for a very specific audience, and I hope that audience finds its way to this well-drawn tale after its October, 2012 publication from First Second.