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New nautical graphic novel captures New York in the 1880s

Mark Siegel's

Mark Siegel's "Sailor Twain"

In his day job, Mark Siegel is the editorial director of the NYC-based graphic novel publisher First Second Books.

But Siegel is also an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books, as well as the creator of the critically acclaimed graphic novel "Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson," published by First Second.

The book, which began as a webcomic, is a mystery about a riverboat captain and a mermaid, set in New York in 1887. Siegel first conceived the book as a "doodle in my journal on a train ride to work," he says. His commute, incidentally, takes him along the Hudson.

"The setting was right there, inescapable," Siegel says. "Day by day, the captain and the mermaid developed a conversation. Eventually, teasing that out one train ride at a time, I saw the early framework of a story."

amNewYork spoke with Siegel, who will be exhibiting his work at the New York Public Library Friday in an evening featuring free food and unique "Sailor Twain" wine.

How did the book's webcomic origin influence the work? Having developed a taste for 19th century serialized novels, I became interested in serializing the story after that tradition. In the 1800s people flocked to the docks for the latest installment of Dickens; today they have an RSS feed - today's serial is the webcomic.

How intense was your research? "Sailor Twain" was nine years in the making. Alongside every stage, there was nonstop research. 1887 is a fascinating moment in N.Y. history.

Do you have a favorite spot on the Hudson River? I have many favorite haunts along the Hudson. The Palisades live in my heart forever

Why should people see this exhibit? The beauty of this exhibit, curated by the great Matt Knutzen of the Old Maps Division, is that it treats the events in "Sailor Twain" as historical fact. So it intersperses original art from the graphic novel with relevant maps, prints and other treasures from the Library. It's a dream come true.

If you go: Mark Siegel will be at "Sailor Twain's New York" today from 7-8:30 p.m. at the NewYork Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Room 117, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, 212-340-0863, FREE. The exhibit runs for 6 months.

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