Sailor Twain: don't fall in love with the mermaid of the Hudson valley

I wrote about Sailor Twain, Mark Siegel's beautiful, haunting serialized graphic novel when it began. Since then, the story of a New York steamship captain who is haunted by his love for a mermaid has run its course, and today it has been published in a single, handsome hardcover volume from FirstSecond.

Sailor Twain tells the story of Captain Twain of the Lorelei, which plies its trade up and down the Hudson valley, while the ship's owner, a dissolute Frenchman, seduces the wives of the gentry in the owner's cabin. Captain Twain's own beloved wife is wasting with some unspecified disease on land, and he works to raise money to send her to specialists. He's a good man, beset with tragedy, and he has forgotten how to write the poetry he once loved.

And then comes the day when he spies a mermaid clinging to the deck of the Lorelei, gravely wounded. He pulls her from the sea and into his cabin, and everything changes for Sailor Twain. The poetry comes back, and at his request, she never sings for him, never puts him under her siren spell. But still, he is hers.

Out spills a mystery, a story about seduction and duty, mythology and gender, dreams lost and dreams forgotten, and the lure of magic and wonder. Siegel's illustrations are charcoal drawings that fearlessly mix highly detailed, realistic depictions with cartoons, impressionistic smears, and caricature, and they are moody and grey and dreamlike, the perfect match for the story.

This is a stupendous work, a beautiful and sad and lovely thing. If you don't believe me, go read it online for free and see for yourself.

Sailor Twain


  1. I remember a classic cartoon of two fishermen in a rowboat near a rock with two mermaids.  One mermaid has the upper body of a woman, the other mermaid has the lower body of a woman, and one fisherman says to the other “That’s a tough question, Bill.  Which one do you want?”

  2. “If you don’t believe me, go read it online for free and see for yourself.”

    I think that only the overture and Part 1 are still available for reading on the Sailor Twain site. Although those are well worth reading, you will not get the full story unless you buy the book, which you should definitely do.

  3. You used to be able to read the entire thing as we all did thrice weekly now he’s taken most of it down! It’s not so much the free book but a solid little community had built up over the years, sad to see that go.

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