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Laika Paperback – September 4, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Laika was the abandoned puppy destined to become Earth's first space traveler. This is her journey.

Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fiction and fact in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet space program, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and life. This intense triangle is rendered with the pitch-perfect emotionality of classics like Because of Winn Dixie, Shiloh, and Old Yeller. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal moment in modern history, casting light on the hidden moments of deep humanity behind history. Laika's story will speak straight to your heart.

Questions for Nick Abadzis

Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: What inspired you to pick this particular topic for a graphic novel? And why, for example, a graphic novel as opposed to a strictly written account?

Abadzis: I'd known it was a good story since I was about six years old. It had always been at the back of my mind as a story to tell. In 2002, new information came to light about the Sputnik II mission and specifically Laika's death. That was the spark, although back then I envisaged something much shorter. It, uh, grew. Why a graphic novel? Well, comics are my language. It's the medium that I'm most familiar and comfortable...so it was first choice.

Amazon.com: What most surprised you while researching Laika?

Abadzis: There were a few things. I had no idea there were so few Soviet engineers and scientists involved in the nascent space program--not to trivialize their incredible achievement but, in many senses, they just winged it, borne along in great part by Korolev's force of will and political maneuvering. Also it was interesting to find out how much the Soviet scientists cared for their cosmodogs. Events conspired to make Laika a sacrificial passenger on board Sputnik II, but they really did honor their canine cosmonauts. There's even a statue of Laika in Moscow. Perhaps this book will go some small way to re-establishing her position in history: whatever the circumstances, and whether you agree with what they did or not, she was the first earthling in orbit around this planet.

Amazon.com: Was there anything that didn't make it into the graphic novel because it just didn't fit?

Abadzis: There was quite a bit, actually. I could have done with another hundred pages. But I'd taken a bit of time to write and thumbnail it (which I do at the same time) and when that stage was finished, the publisher and I realized that the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launches was fast approaching. When I first pitched the idea to Mark Siegel at First Second, neither of us realized that it was so close. It felt like we needed to be a part of that, so I drew it extremely fast--two hundred pages in a little over eight months. It's an understatement to say that it was extremely hard work. What got left out was a longer explication of Laika's origins; the scenes with Mikhail, her first owner were much longer.... Originally, I did have an idea of doing three books: Laika would be the first, Gagarin the second, and a full-on comic strip biography of Korolev [the driven engineer on the project] would be the final part that would bind together events seen in the first two. Maybe one day. Certainly, elements of Korolev's life that I felt were important to the story made it into the final version of the book.

Amazon.com: Did you worry about the sentimentality inherent in the situation? How did that affect your decisions in creating the graphic novel?

Abadzis: I suppose it would have been easy to make it another cutesy, twee, and overly saccharine dead-dog story but that wouldn't have been true either to my taste or to the socio-political system and culture I was attempting to portray. Laika--the real Laika--was a cute dog, as photographs attest. There's no getting away from it, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest her owners thought so, too. I didn't want to anthropomorphize her, at least not to the extent that she was spouting speech/thought balloons like, say Tintin's Snowy (which works just fine for those books). Having made that decision--which I didn't really feel was an option, in any case--I knew that to really do it justice, I'd have to do a lot of research. The sentiment of the story, such as it is, would take care of itself and be implicit in certain character's actions or words (or not, as the case may be).... All that said, it'd be disingenuous to suggest that, in dealing with a true story that involves dogs and their owners (even if they happen to be scientists in a Soviet cosmodog program), there wouldn't be a bit of emotion. There's plenty (and I hope the reader feels it). But there's also the harsh reality of the time, the place and the confluence of events that put Laika into space.

Amazon.com: What are you currently working on?

Abadzis: I'm currently working on a new graphic novel for older readers called Skin Trouble, which is also for First Second. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what that's all about, suffice to say it'll be an ensemble piece, character-wise. I've also got a children's graphic novel in the works. Can't say anything about that at all, but I'm looking forward to drawing it.

From Booklist

Classic dog-story themes such as loyalty serve as a backdrop for this fictionalized account of Laika, the first living creature launched into outer space. A charming and scruffy little dog, Laika survives an uncaring master and life as a stray before becoming part of the Russian space program circa 1956, just as the Soviet Union had achieved a huge victory over American competition. With a stilted romanticism that doesn't fit the story's tone, Laika is established as "a very special dog," but soon the focus of the complex tale turns away from the dog to Yelena Dubrovsky, the trainer responsible for preparing Laika and the other dogs for the rigors of testing. Through Dubrovsky, the progress of the program and the incredible pressure on the scientists are given effective form. The rough-hewn art, similar to the Joann Sfar's work on the Dungeon books, makes the characters appear constantly nervous and uncertain, lending immediacy to the all-pervasive atmosphere of strict formality and enforced patriotism. An extensive bibliography of sources is appended. Karp, Jesse

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: First Second; First Edition edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596431016
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596431010
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Dead dog books used to be a dime a dozen. Time was a kid couldn't walk into a bookstore without getting whacked over the head with Old Yeller, creamed in the kisser by Sounder, and roughed up royally by Where the Red Fern Grows. Recently, however, dogs don't die as often as all that. You could probably concoct some magnificent sociological explanation for this, citing changes in the political and emotional landscape of our great nation leading to the decrease in deceased literary pups, but as I see it, a good dead dog story is as hard to write as an original paper on Moby Dick. What else is there to say? Man's best friend dies and everyone feels bad. In this jaded culture it would take a pretty steady hand to find a way to write a dead dog tale that touches us deeply. Not a dog person myself, I direct your attention today to Nick Abadzis. I don't know how he did it. Laika, the world's most famous real dead dog (a close second: the dead pooch of Pompeii), is now presented to us in a graphic novel format. Though I prefer cats through and through, "Laika" the novel grabs your heart from your chest and proceeds to dance a tarantella on the remains. The best graphic novels are those books whose stories couldn't have been told any other way. "Laika" has that honor.

Her story was more than just her own. It encapsulated a vast range of people, many of whom you may have never heard of. As the book begins we see a man named Korolev leaving a Russian gulag in a freezing night.
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Format: Paperback
This is a beautiful, heartbreaking book, as much about the powerful trust that animals place in us as caregivers as it is about the early days of the Russian space program. It's also about political dissidents in communist Russia, and the struggle we all face between our duty to ourselves and our duty to a higher calling (in this case, the communist party), and a hundred other things.

Read this at home if you're disinclined to public displays of emotion.
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The story of the dog that was sacrificed for the conquest of Space by the Russians is well known. This illustrative graphic novel describes the events well and, for those who do not fully appreciated the political undercurrents of fear and the low standard of living and low hope that existed in Russia during that period, it effectively brings this forward. My 12-year old son managed to read the book in one sitting and he now absorbed the sad reality as the lesson in life and politics that drove the events of that time. The illustrations bring the past back to life.
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November third, 1957 the Soviet Union sent Laika (a.k.a. Kudryavka) a female part-Samoyed terrier into space aboard Sputnik 2 with no plan for recovery, Laika would die in space. What was told to children of the 50's and 60's (myself included) was that the Soviets had made every effort to ensure she was as comfortable as possible during her flight, that she was "put to sleep" before her supplies ran out after ten days in space and that she "did not suffer."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The book Laika by Nick Abadzis is the the book I wish I could have created. A graphic historical novel rendered in just 205 pages, Abadzis re-creates the Cold War Era and the frenzy of the Space Race. Of all the creatures great and small that would die in this effort to "conquer space" Laika/Kudryavka was the only one I know of who was deliberately sent on a one-way mission.

With astounding detail brought by fantastic research (including at the house of Sputnik's Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev) the author presents not only the story of the dog the world would come to know as Laika but the lives of the people intwined with her fate in the context of the 50's, the Cold War, the Space Race and all that that implies. It has taken decades and the collapse of an entire nation state for facts of this story to come to light. This is not a happy story but it is a story that needs to be told nonetheless, for the sake of all good dogs everywhere and for ourselves.
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Nick Abadzis interweaves narrative and history very skillfully in his work Laika, throwing light with dazzling artwork upon the interactions between dog and dog-handler; dog and dog-catcher; the vastness of space and mankind; Soviet Union Premier and ordinary citizen. At once it is a simple tale of a good-natured stray dog from Moscow, which would become known to the world as Laika, as well as an intricate account detailing the almost manic race to reach space. It is also a tale of office politics and intrigue, where we see the clashes between the decent Oleg Gazenko and the bullish Sergei Korolev (both real figures from history). And Laika is at the center of it all, representing the fragility of life in the vastness of space. Abadzis gives voice to Laika and to this age. A good read.
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the story of Laika has so much to teach us - about the way progress depends upon violence, about the way we exploit others for our own goals, about the way individuals who are oppressed by a political system participate in the oppression of others, about who we consider "expendable" in the name of our own achievements - and this graphic novel brings that all to life in a way that is touching and illuminating without being schmaltzy.
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