Fish tales: New graphic novel tells of Hudson River mermaid

Sailor down: Mark Siegel’s new graphic novel “Sailor Twain” explores the perils of obsession, featuring the Hudson River’s very own mermaid.
Courtesy of Mark Siegel

The Little Mermaid lived under the sea, but she wouldn’t dare go into the Hudson.

A captain of a steamship traveling along the great river falls in love with the body of water’s most elusive resident — a mermaid — in a new graphic novel.

Captain Twain of author Mark Siegel’s part-historical fiction, part-fantasy, “Sailor Twain,” finds the exotic hybrid of human and fish wounded on the deck of his ship, the Lorelei. As Twain nurses her back to health in his cabin, she becomes his muse, his infatuation, and his dark-eyed secret — but not for long, as the lascivious owner of the ship, and others, conspire to muddy the waters for this unlikely pair.

And don’t expect any show tunes — this story’s songs have unhappy consequences.

“I don’t mean the nice tunes from Disney’s little Ariel, I mean the more sinister kind that lures hapless sailors to their doom,” said Siegel, who will be appearing at Word bookstore this month for a night focused on graphic novels.

“Mermaid songs have names like ‘Obsession.’ Or ‘Fatal Attraction.’ Or ‘Addiction’ — something irresistible, which overwhelms your good sense and might just pull you down, down, down.”

Illustrated in charcoal, the art style creates the illusion that people and objects emerge from a puff of steam or a cloud of mist, and Siegel’s fable reminds us that we’ve all heard a siren song or two.

The setting — New York in 1887, when the industrial revolution is ramping up and the Suffragist and Abolitionist movements are rising — feels like another character in the graphic novel.

“The pall of the Civil War still hangs over the nation. The steamboat is the icon of the age, but about to be eclipsed by the train,” Siegel said.

“Romance. Beautiful bustles, top hats, but also rampant crime, abject poverty — for a storyteller the setting is pretty irresistible.”

“Graphic Novel Night” at Word bookstore [126 Franklin St. at Milton Street, (718) 383-0096, facebook.com/wordbrooklyn]. Oct. 30, 7 pm. RSVP.

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