Archive for Laika

All Dogs Go to Heaven


I got this a while back and loved the stuffing out of it, so let’s go ahead and give it a proper review.

“Laika” is a 2007 graphic novel by Nick Abadzis about the first animal to go into space — a small mixed-breed dog named Laika, who was sent up by the Soviets in 1957 aboard Sputnik 2. The first Sputnik had launched just a month before, but Khrushchev wanted a second space triumph to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November of that year. They decided to send a dog up with the next launch, partly to see if an animal could survive launch, partly for publicity’s sake. And because of the extremely short deadline, they never designed the craft to make it back to Earth. Whatever animal was sent up was doomed to die in space.

This is the background for Abadzis’ story — some speculation about what Laika’s earlier life might have been like (Abadzis creates a life story for the dog that’s equal parts comfort and hardship — pushed from loving homes into cruel ones, and ending up as a stray in the streets of Moscow), and a lot of focus on the men and women who were running the USSR’s space program.

There’s Sergey Korolyov, the lead designer and engineer of the Soviet space program, ambitious and charismatic but also single-minded and obsessive, who starts the story out as a just-released prisoner, forced into the gulags during one of Stalin’s purges, walking across the frigid Russian winterscape and telling himself over and over “I am a man of destiny. I will not die.”

There’s also Yelena Dubrovsky, the official dog trainer, who accepts that one of the dogs she’s training will be sacrificed for the space program, but is bitterly unhappy that Laika, her favorite, has been chosen. She’s actually a fictional character created by Abadzis, but you’ll finish the story thinking she was real.

But the main character and strongest personality is Laika, even if she only speaks in Yelena’s imagination. Her calm, docile, loving qualities are what allow her to win the hearts of the people working on the space program — and also what doom her to her one-way trip into orbit.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Simple but charming artwork, an uncommon glimpse into the early days of Russia’s space program, and beautiful, beautiful storytelling. Abadzis did an amazingly good job with a story that’s informative, entertaining, and just plays the heck out of the heartstrings, especially for dog lovers. Three good reasons you may want this — first, because of the interesting look into the early days of the Space Race from an unusual non-Western POV; second, for the hard-nosed look at life in the USSR, for both the privileged and the common man; third, because like me, you’ve got a weakness for great stories about good, good dogs.

It might take a little work for you to find it, but it’s worth the search. Go pick it up.

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