Writer and artist: Nick Abadzis
Publisher: First Second
What's it about?
This is the story of the Russian fight to win the space race and the little dog they sent into orbit, Laika. All events are centred around Laika, but it is not told from the perspective of Laika, or Kudryavka as she is named by various carers. It's part fiction, part fact.
The story is narrated chiefly by three people, Korolev, Chief Designer of the space rockets, Yelena, dog handler for the programme, and fictionalised families that have cared for Kudryavka in her early years.
By using these different viewpoints Abadzis walks us through many aspects of Soviet life and we bear witness to the diffiuclties and contradictions facing everyday people, as well as the joys. We learn about the cruelty of the ruling party, the ambition of your average Soviet citizen, the transition from Stalin's regime to Khruschev's, and we get an inkling of the effect that life in the gulags had on those poor souls sent there.
What's good about it?
For a Russian history buff like me this is a great way to read more about the Soviet system. It's heartbreaking and powerful read. Abadzis has invested a lot of research time into creating this book and he gives us a very personal insight into what was arguably one of the most difficult twentieth century to live through. The characters are never demonised nor sentimentalised and so the book serves as a good lesson for an important time in world history. For those wanting to learn more, there is a bibliography and links to further documentation of interest at the back of the book.
What's bad about it?
I have nothing to criticise about this book. They even get the patronymics right.
What's the art like?
It is most definitely not like your average superhero comic! It's simple, with soft lines used to define people's faces. It's not heavy on the inking (shading) and there's a lot of expressions drawn really easily without making the art over complicated. There is an element of caricature in a lot of the people depicted, which somehow serves to make them more familiar to the reader. Quite often blocks of colour are used to enhance the mood of the scene, or to emphasise the feelings or actions of the subjects.