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Exploring the Hudson Valley, 19th Century Style

Mark Siegel highlights the rivertowns in a popular webcomic.

The steamboat Lorelei sets sail at dusk – and you're invited.

Travel up the Hudson River in style under the watchful eye of Captain Elijah Twain in 1887, making stops at hubs like Yonkers, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and ending in Albany. Meet characters like Miss Camomille, Lafayette, the Captain himself and even a mermaid during a mystery-filled adventure up the historic river.

Tarrytown resident Mark Siegel has captivated audiences worldwide with his thrice-weekly updated online serial graphic novel, Sailor Twain or The Mermaid on the Hudson.

After developing the concept for the comic over a period of six years, Siegel now spends the early hours of the morning creating extremely intricate charcoal illustrations before heading off to his day job as editorial director of First Second Books in Manhattan, a publishing company focusing on graphic novels.

Siegel, who was raised in France, has a passion for all things comic, and hoped to help bring the genre to the mainstream in the United States.

"I had a vision of what could happen in America, if [comics] were done boldly and not too timidly," he said. "Now, there is an incredible amount of talent."

Siegel's Sailor Twain is a Victorian era mystery, romance and action story aimed for adult audiences, which celebrates the jewels and history of the Hudson Valley. Each one-page feature coincides with a relevant blog entry, often involving interesting historical facts and documents from Twain's world.

"I love the Hudson. My love affair with the Hudson was pretty much from the first time we moved to Tarrytown," said Siegel, who also enjoys taking walks in the Rockefeller Preserve and eating at Finalmente Trattoria in Sleepy Hollow.

In a recent entry, Siegel praised Tarrytown's Mint Café and recalled his experience at a Josh Ritter concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

According to Siegel, a core of 5,000 to 7,000 readers in 25 countries from the United States to Australia, the United Kingdom, France and even Brazil, Germany and India check in for every new installment of the webcomic. Readers often leave comments of praise for Siegel's work, and sometimes, even offer corrections to the historical accuracy and continuity of the comic.

"Commenters are reading very carefully because they only get a page Monday, Wednesday and Friday," said Siegel. "They read the nuances—that has really surprised me."

Hype from the likes of Rachel Maddow and Canadian webcomic creator Kate Beaton haven't hurt the story's popularity either. Siegel said as of last month, 150,000 unique visitors have clocked in since the webcomic launched in January.

"Magical things have happened," Siegel said, who is in awe of the following he's garnered.

Siegel, who attended Comic-Con in San Diego this past July, has inspired designers to become "Twainers" along the way, too.

Artist Lissi Erwin created Lorelei-inspired stationary that can be personalized with a Victorian-style calligraphy message and Allison Hourcade of RockLove.com recreated a pendant from the beginning of Sailor Twain for a special jewelry collection.

Another testament to Twain's growing popularity is the impressive participation in Siegel's first "Sailor Twain Victorian Portraiture Contest" earlier in the year, where fans posted 19th century-style photographs of themselves on the webcomic's Facebook fan page.

"The story itself is going to be unfolding for quite a while," said Siegel, who is typically thinking 60 – 80 pages ahead of the most recent publication.

He added upcoming episodes will reveal more about Tarrytown, as it is Twain's hometown, including a visit to the Old Dutch Church, along with other regional references.

Seigel also has a book deal in place for Sailor Twain once the comic is completely published online.

"It's slated for fall '11, but it's not a pressure deadline," he said. "It's a long story, so it's got a long ways to go."

Mark Siegel February 12, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Book releasing October 2, 2012, from Macmillan! The online serial has exceeded 700,000 unique visitors as of February! Thanks again for this piece, Sarah and Tarrytown Patch.

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