This month we have the second part of our blog about telling true life tales, and how the creative work happens behind the scenes! We are publishing it to celebrate our latest competition: Create a Comic! and it’s all about writing and illustration a short comic strip starring your favourite animal.
For the occasion, the author Nick Abadzis, our guest judge in the competition, invited us to find out more about Laika and how she became a worldwide star through his masterful storytelling.
Did you get inspired? You can check out our competition here and download a full pack of activities to help you create your very own winning story here! We are looking forward to your entries – best of luck everyone
The Telling of True Life Tales – Part II
Guest Blog (c) Nick Abadzis 2022
Since I told her story in a graphic novel published in 2007, I’ve observed the tale of the Russian cosmodog Laika morph from an acknowledged historical event into something approaching cultural folklore, something almost semi-mythical as if she, as the first earthling in orbit, was a willing pioneer aware of her own undertaking.
She wasn’t. She was a dog, albeit a highly-trained one, and she is the only living being from Earth ever to be sent into space without the express intention of getting them safely home again. She should be celebrated, as the first earthling to cross that frontier, but to my mind, her story is also very much about the system and series of events that condoned the act of human cruelty that made her a sacrificial passenger.
I’ve always been careful to note that my way of telling her story was, to a certain extent, historical fiction, albeit extensively researched fiction. The graphic novel is, broadly, a biography with a bit of added supposition to join the dots between known historical events. My version of her story contains many characters who are based upon real historical figures, plus a couple I invented to give the reader thematic focal points and a sense of continuity between the situations and locales featured in the book.
I dramatised Laika’s life and extrapolated certain scenes from known events, but the facts of the story and what was known about her – her training, her treatment, her launch in Sputnik II from Kazakhstan on October 3rd 1957 (plus some actual dialogue drawn from the historical record), are all real.
Other than the medical telemetry that recorded her vital signs and death from overheating five hours after launch, how Laika felt on her voyage into orbit as Earth’s first space traveller isn’t known as there was no human present to actually observe her, so the scenes in the book that depict her experiences inside the capsule are necessarily imaginary, extrapolations of what I know about canine behaviour.
I hope this all served to give my retelling of her story a veracity, a sense of truth that neither contradicts the facts of her life and fate and gives a sense of how she came to be caught up in a pivotal moment of history – one that heralded the technological, information-led age we live in. To put it simply, I wanted to honour Laika and give her life a context and a memorial that I felt she deserved.
There is also an animated VR adaptation of my graphic novel, which was created in 2021 by a huge team of character designers, animators, VFX directors and the production staff of Passion Animation. It was directed by Oscar and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia. I co-wrote the script with Asif, co-art directed the project and also provided some voice acting. It was an entirely different, almost communal experience compared to the more solitary pursuit of creating a graphic novel, but the intention was always the same – to recreate a true story and bring it to wider attention.
Since the book was first published, there have been a myriad other retellings of Laika’s story, in reference books, in comics and other print media, online, in recorded song and most recently, in an off-Broadway musical. There will no doubt be many more, as the story of Laika’s lonely journey slowly, inexorably becomes legend, as it edges towards that shadow of the terminator line of stories that are no longer held in living memory but in the realm of communal recollection and antiquity.
What I think is key is that no matter what the method, whatever the medium, the telling of a true story, however recent, however old (and if records allow), should be researched to the highest possible degree in order to honour the spirit of those involved in the original undertaking.
Laika (the graphic novel) is still in print in English fifteen years after its first publication and many other languages besides. This year it was published for the first time in Russian on 12th April 2022 – the national Russian Cosmonautics Day. Russia is now busy trying to rewrite history books again. Nonetheless, there’s something very gratifying about the book seeing the light of day there, as if the spirit of Laika has found her way home at last.