Indie Comic Review: Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel – First Second Books – $24.99

Sailor Twain is a book I have been looking forward to reading for quite some time.  Anything that manages to marry mermaids with sternwheeler paddleboats and river life seems like it could have plenty going for it.  The age of Mark Twain stories is a pretty magical time in Americana history, so the introduction of fantastic, river-dwelling creatures should add to the  mysterious and magical feel of it all.  But, did Sailor Twain deliver?

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.

Originally a serialized webcomic, the story of Sailor Twain is deeply complex.  It takes the reader on a journey through twists and turns of emotional intricacies and tangled relationships where there is never a clear indication of where the characters are or should be going.  It is difficult to tell where loyalties lie and those who seem to be the least reliable may end up being the person who holds the key to salvation.  But, in matters of the heart, does one really want to be saved?

Captain Twain runs a tight ship.  He is aware (or so he believes) of all the comings and going on his ship.  However, the ship’s owner, the philandering Lafayette, is behaving more and more oddly since his older brother disappeared.  When Captain Twain makes the fateful decision to recue an injured mermaid, his neatly ordered ship is turned upside down.  More importantly, and possibly dangerously, there appears to be a connection between Lafayette and the beautiful mermaid.

This convoluted maelstrom all takes place on the decks of a steam powered stern-wheeled paddle ship on the Hudson River.  The strict confines of the ship make for a claustrophobic and tense situation where the main characters cannot seem to get away from each other.  They all have secrets to keep and agendas to hide, but there is no place on the ship where they are away from prying eyes.  Liaisons which regularly are given a blind eye, are now the subject of tight scrutiny.  And for a Captain who never has kept a secret, how does he explain a mermaid in his room and why he cannot go home to see his sick wife?

Mark Siegel’s script is a joy to read.  He has carefully crafted each character and given them such a unique voice that even without the pictures it would be simple to tell them apart.  Everyone has their own agenda and moves about the ship in their own way.  Some with determination. Some with trepidation.  But, in the end, they all are moving along a path of their own destinies.   Their conversations always hint and probe and the doings of each other, putting everyone on edge.  Captain Twain and Lafayette in particular circle each other like a pair of wary dogs…each suspecting the other of trying to steal that which belongs to him.

Siegel’s art matches his script well.  As with the characters’ voices, each character in the book has a distinct look. Twain is all angles and straight lines, giving physical form to his outlook on life.  Lafayette is swirls, swoops, and powdered wigs showing off his outsider status and devotion to “romance”.  They also hint at how each will go about trying to resolve the mermaid issue.

Even the mermaid has her own distinct look (besides the obvious tail).  She looks exotic and curvy, unlike the other main characters.  Her hair is long, her body lithe and strong.  While she is a thing of beauty, she is like an exotic animal – lovely to look at, but completely out of place in a domesticated world.

She is also a striking contrast to the women who Lafayette and Twain have in their lives.  She is strong and able where Twain’s wife is weak and frail.  She is caring and devoted where Lafayette’s women are frivolous and fleeting.  The metaphorical interlocking triangle formed by the mermaid and the men and the men and their women makes for a tangled web exploring the meaning of love and devotion.

Sailor Twain is a complex and intriguing bok.  It challenges the reader’s ideas about who “good” and who is “right”.  There are no easy answers. The ending of the book wil have the reader going back and re-reading, trying to decide if the characters all got what they deserved.

You can check out a preview of the book here.

The bok was being given away at San Diego Comic-Con (Yay!!!) and will be available for sale in September.  Be sure to ask your retailer to pus aside a copy for you!  Or, if you are worried your retailer may not carry the book, you can order one from Amazon today!


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