Mania Grade: B+
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- Author: Mark Siegel
- Publisher: First Second Books
- Genre: Graphic Novel
- Format: Trade Paperback, 399 pages
Comic Review: Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson
Beautifully illustrated story telling
By Chuck Francisco
February 24, 2014
Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson (2014)
© First Second Books
If I'm being completely forthright about it, the first thing that I look at when browsing graphic novels is the art. Casually flipping through the lush pages of an off the rack unknown has brought my imagination to countless worlds and wonders; it's precisely the way in which I met Mignola's Hellboy for the first time. Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel is exactly the sort of beautifully illustrated story telling which not only serves as the perfect impulse purchase, but encourages a long relationship by rewarding the visual cortex upon subsequent revisits. With its rerelease this week, this time in handsome trade paperback form, I thought it an excellent opportunity to introduce my fellow Maniacs to Siegel's compelling artwork (the story's not bad either!).
Sailor Twain is set in the 1880's, and follows the misadventures of the titular riverboat captain, as he steams passengers up and down New York's Hudson River. Juggling the needs of his motley crew (including a surly navigator, uppity Christian first mate, deaf as a door nail engineer, and an unscrupulously lecherous owner), Twain is working to save enough money to see his wife cured of an illness. The gears of his tick-tock existence grind to a screeching halt with the appearance of a creature straight out of a pulp mythology romp: a busty mermaid. Will she tempt Twain to damnation or is there something less sinister afoot? What will happen if the crew find out what the captain is hiding in his cabin?
What comes to pass is a mythical mystery tale told through the robust charcoal art of Mark Siegel. That's right, the entirety of the composition was complete only in charcoal. There is a depth found in the artwork which sucks you right in; very much in the fashion of a masterfully crafted black and white film, there is an intensity to the very shadows which cannot be duplicated by pen and color. Siegel seems to know exactly when to soften the focus, lending an ethereal mood, and when to sharpen it to a scalpel's edge to provide flashes of emotion, splashed with hints of sinister intention. His evocation of movement is similarly precise, always projecting the exact stroke and shading to pace the action.
Taken all at once, it should be quite clear that charcoal is the perfect medium to tell a steamy, rain spattered mystery wrapped in a cloak of mythos. In perfect mystery fashion, every detail is accounted for, and there are rewarding "ah-ha!" moments to be had as the truth becomes plain at the resolution. In retrospect, it's a meaty adventure replete with wonder, amusement, and beauty. And despite the character design, this is no children's tale- indeed the rampant nudity and sex means you probably don't want to let little Johhny read this one till he's older.
Mark Siegel's art is the driving force behind Sailor Twain, but without a solid story behind the visuals, this wouldn't be so earnestly recommended. Any comic fan with an eye for beautiful art will fall in love with Sailor Twain, likewise fans of mythological and legendary creatures should be enchanted by it. I was so enamoring with it, that I read it in one sitting.
Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel is available this week from First Second Books as a Trade Paperback for $15.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.