A Slice of Fried Gold

Neighborhood #2

Sunday, February 1, 2009

#2 - Laika by Nick Abadzis

To be perfectly honest, going into this book, I didn't know a whole lot about the Russian space program from yesteryear. I knew about the Cold War, I knew about the Space Race, I knew about Sputnik, and I knew about Yuri Gagarin, but in terms of the first lifeform sent to space, I was pretty blank. I thought it was Gagarin, but sure enough, I was wrong.

Enter Laika, a graphic novel from Nick Abadzis. This story at its core is about Laika (or Kudryavka as she was truthfully named) and the Russian team who was tasked with sending a living creature in to space. In particular, it tells the story from the perspective of the eponymous dog, of Yelena Dubrovsky (the woman who tends to the test dogs for the Russian program), of Oleg Gazenko (the scientist who cares), and Sergey Korolyov (the "Chief Designer" of the space program). While it isn't purely factual, most of it is and really reveals a lot of interesting detail about the truth behind this animal and its life.

However, the parts that aren't purely factual (some are hypothesized from the truth) really give the story the emotional depth that makes the story work so well. From the opening with Korolyov trying to survive as he walks to town from a Russian gulag in the dead of winter, to Kudryavka's life as a stray, to Dubrovsky and Gazenko's almost romantic relationship. Plus, the love everyone develops for this "special" dog really gives a lot of weight to the tragic nature of the story.

The story is really for any pet owner who has lost an animal that they loved, as you would be able to relate to it very easily. The love that everyone shares for Kudryavka is really a universal feeling people have for their animals, and Abadzis delivers the story in such a way to make the animals fate all the more devestating.

While Abadzis the artist is not traditionally great, his basic stylings really are bolstered by his layouts. Abadzis seemingly provides different style layouts for each of the primary characters, and sometimes abandons all comic convention to properly capture the mood of a particular segment (especially well done in Kudryavka's dream sequences where she is flying). With the layouts so well put together, it allows Abadzis to focus his art on strict storytelling to further enhance Abadzis the writer and his message.

I'm not sure I've conveyed how much I really loved this book. I connected with it in a way I rarely feel. In terms of standalone original graphic novels, I'd say this is one of my all time favorites, surpassing a lot of the more hyped ones like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home or Chris Ware's impenetrable Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth.

Comes highly recommended. Once again, this is for fans of good stories, not just comic readers.

Laika: A-


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