“Two Sputniks in the sky, had everyone hypnotized, but I am very sorry for the poor little puppy in the Russian satellite.” That is a lyric from “Russian Satellite,” an excellent song by the calypso singer, The Mighty Sparrow (which I found on an episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, which returns with new episodes in a week and a half!!!), about the death of a Russian dog who was sent into outer space in Sputnik II. Nick Abadzis’ graphic novel, Laika, is about the story of the dog itself, the woman in charge of handling the dogs for the space program, and the head of the space program, a man who years earlier was in a Russian gulag. It’s a strong cast and a strong story, and Abadzis does a wonderful job depicting it.
This is a great graphic novel.
Abadzis did an extensive job of researching the events involving the launching of Sputnik II. It is a really good backdrop for a story – the launch of Sputnik I was a massive propaganda boom, leading to Khruschev making the bold declaration that he wants a second Sputnik to be launched, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution – in a MONTH’S time!! This puts the head of the program, Koralev, in an almost impossible position – to launch in that much time (and be different from the first launch), they have to include a dog passenger, but they will not be able to bring the dog back.
That is all historical data – the book is not really about that historical data, but the human (and animal) background behind the facts, including the background of Laika (actual name Kudryavka – yep, they actually renamed her before they launched her into space), which Abadzis obviously had to fictionalize, but he does it well.
Koralev is an interesting character, mostly because of the amazing fact behind his rise from being in a Gulag to later becoming the head of the Russian space program (all while techinically considered only a “paroled prisoner” – he was not cleared of all charges until AFTER Sputnik I, even though there were never any crimes CHARGED against him!), but the emotional hook of the story is Yelena, the lab technician in charge of the dogs.
Here Abadzis demonstrates his manner of having Yelena communicate with the dogs, by having her basically imagine conversations between her and the dogs, but due to the dogs’ expressiveness, it feels as though they ARE saying the words she imagines them saying. Good stuff.
Here is a sample page…
As you can tell, Abadzis also has a nice art style – cartoony, but never skimping on details. It is strong, and evokes emotion quite well.
By the end of the story, you will certainly be just like the Mighty Sparrow, and you will find yourself feeling “very sorry for the poor little puppy on the Russian satellite,” and Abadzis deserves a lot of credit for creating that emotion.
This is a great book.