cover image Laika


Nick Abadzis, . . Roaring Brook/First Second, $17.95 (205pp) ISBN 978-1-59643-101-0

When most people think of the space program, it's images of stalwart, clear-eyed astronauts roaring into the skies on rockets of destiny that come to mind—not Laika the dog. A Samoyed-Husky mutt caught off the streets and impressed into the Russian space program, Laika became in November of 1957 the first sentient being to leave Earth's orbit, inside the Sputnik 2 satellite. The plan was only to monitor her in her few hours of life, though, not to bring her home—a sacrifice for which one of the scientists later expressed deep regret. Abadzis's tear-inducing and solidly researched graphic novel treatment of Laika's surpassingly tragic story is a standout, not just for its sympathetic point of view but for its refusal to Disnify or anthropomorphize the undeniably cute dog at its heart. The humans around Laika—her protectors and tormentors from the fictionalized early sections, as well as the rocket scientists and her doting handler, Yelena—all try to imprint their own diverse desires on her eager-seeming face. Although the tightly packed and vividly inked panels of Abadzis's art tell an impressively complex tale (buttressed by a helpful bibliography at the end), where the dog becomes a pawn in larger political and bureaucratic schemings, Laika's palpable spirit is what readers will remember. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)