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Comics 2009: Laika (graphic novel)

Nick Abadzis. Laika.

Last year I read a very short and monumentally affecting novel called Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson. Its reworking of the Atlas/Heracles myth was thoroughly modern and true to the source materials, but what I found most moving was the final passage where Atlas, long forgotten by humankind and, ceaselessly burdened, discovers that he is not alone...he has been joined by someone...the dog Laika, the first mammal in space, sent up by the Soviets in 1957 aboard Sputnik 2. Winterson's writing was so masterful, really capturing the relationships we can form with animals. So, when I discovered this graphic novel at a comic shop in Dallas, I couldn't resist. Abadzis is, like Winterson, a moving and purposeful storyteller. He weaves fictional elements (about Laika's life before "joining" the Soviet space program, for instance) with meticulously researched details about the Soviet animals in space program to capture all of the events of Laika's life up to and including her launch into space. Abadzis does such a good job of capturing the inherent loyalty of dogs to anyone who'll love them back in this (and I'm not a dog person). He makes Laika heroic and her treatment by her "friends" tragic. There's a great quote in the back of the book from 2008 by the doctor who was running the animal lab where he decries what he and his colleagues did in 1957. This graphic novel touched something in me...perhaps it is that sentimental place where I can go sometimes.

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