Laika Means “Barker” or “Howler”

If you don’t know by now, I love my dog, Cayuga. I love most dogs – but I really love Cayuga. Ever since the day I adopted him 5 years ago we’ve been joined at the hip. If I’m on the couch – he’s next to me. If I’m sitting at my desk – he’s laying on my feet. When I go to bed at night – he sleeps on my pillow. I broke all the rules our dog trainer said – but it was worth it.

Sometimes when we walk we get funny looks. I think it’s because I’m very tall with short dark hair and he is very little with white fluffy hair. But it’s okay – you see our relationship is built on more than just looks. We respect each other, we have fun together – it’s just great.

Of course not everyday is perfect. Sometimes he can get on my nerves. But I think that you have to take the good with the bad – and that makes our relationship stronger. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a comic book that could somehow show the relationships between people and their dogs?

Awkward segue…

Recently I was exploring my LCS looking for something fun and exciting to read and I stumbled upon Laika by Nick Abadzis. When I picked it up I didn’t know anything about the true history of Laika and therefore I knew nothing about the book. To me it was a book with a dog on the cover – so I thought it was worth a read.

I bought it – but did not crack it for weeks. I suppose my excuse has something to do with the stacks of books around my office – it’s the same excuse we all use. I finally found time to read it on a flight to Colorado. Before I get into the book too much – I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. My only regret was reading it on a plane. I have a slight tendency to get emotional – and this book tugs the heartstrings.

Laika was the first dog – the first animal – to orbit the Earth. She was also the first dog to die in space. However, even with her demise she paved the way for humans to enter space. It’s almost funny to think about now. We have an International Space Station, we have NASA launching shuttles all the time, we even have Richard Branson working on commercial space flights. For all I know my kids will grow up on Mars. But in 1957 is was new territory and Laika was the pioneer.

The book starts with the humble beginnings of both Laika and the man that would eventually send her into space, Korolev. He is imprisoned (wrongfully) by the Soviet government and to mirror that Laika is an unwanted/unloved dog that eventually becomes a street mutt. And, as you can imagine life gets harder for her before it gets easier.

As the story progresses, I found myself rooting for Laika more and more. You see, she wasn’t one of those annoying mutts that people don’t like – she was smart and non-threatening. But, as smart as she was, she did get caught. It was that capture that eventually led her to training to be a space dog.

It was clear to me, throughout her training, that Laika was the one that would ultimately be picked – and yet there were times that you thought (or hoped) she wouldn’t. A lot of credit… well, all the credit needs to go to writer Nick Abadzis for walking the fine line between real animals and anthropomorphized dogs. He makes it clear that people have emotions for the dogs and he shows that the dogs do care and have fear… especially fear. But he does not make the dogs so human that it becomes unrealistic. As a dog owner I can attest to times that I have seen genuine fear in Cayuga – and I’ve seen what I think is love.

I don’t want to give away the entire story because it is absolutely worth a read. And – even though we know that Laika dies at the end – there is still an incredible journey… with a little twist at the end.

What does need to be talked about is the art. My initial attraction to the book was the cover. It is very simple and clean. The colors are vibrant yet muted and those qualities exist through the whole book. I wish there were a less contradictory way to explain it – but you’ll just have to read it and see for yourself.

The drawing style and the panels are very “cold war”. The panels are tiny – with a lot of them crammed on the page. The art is simple, clear and has a cold quality to it (except the panels that are showing love, etc.). So even though the book was written in 2007 it carries a definite feeling of late 50’s Soviet Russia. Or at least what I think it would have been like had I been alive and in Russia at the time.

The obvious question is – would this book be as good if you don’t have a dog? I have no idea.  es, this is the story of a dog. But it is an amazing story – and it has great art. So, add it to the stack. Let me know what you think.

I’ve got to go play with Cayuga now.


  1. We’re on the same page, man.   

    I flipped through this at my local Barnes and Noble, and even that was too much for me.  This book would break my heart and scatter the pieces throughout the land.  I’ve always been a dog person, and these stories absolutely ruin me for weeks.  

    We3 by Morrison and Quitely is another tough one.   

    Great write-up, Gordon.  I think the question of dramatic irony is really interesting.  Even though we know, historically what happens, we still root for things to go differently.  That’s such a big part of historical narratives.  The best writers make us forget that there is a set path.  

  2. wiw this sounds really neat. my mother is a dog person so i should probably recommend this so that way she can enjoy comics like i do. my dog is like Cayuga also. so i think i should look into this and maybe Leia (my dog) and I could read this together.

  3. *Thinks of the Futurama episode of Fry and his talk and starts crying* Damn the memories!

    Man Gordon, for a guy who doesnt write as often as the big guys, you give us some of the best books to read! I saw this at my local Barnes and Noble too, I guess I know what I’m buying when I get there.

  4. Definitely going to read this. Maybe I’ll even try to get the gf to read it. It’s always great to find comics that can be enjoyed by all.

  5. I am really pleased to see this being reviewed here.I have read this and can verify that it both beautiful and utterly compulsive, very moving. Everybody should read this book!

  6. love this book. totally worth reading for the beautiful art and moving story.


    i first took this out from my public library and liked it so much i bought my own copy.  

  7. @paul~  We3 is another great example.  The animal speak kills you toward the end. 

    Another great animcal book is Pride of Bahgdad.  That one was a heart breaker as well.

  8. Last year was Laika’s 50th anniversary of her doomed trip into space.  I became a bit obsessed with her sad story. Here are some of the posts I wrote about her…

    Her new statue:


    Beautiful film that breaks my heart:


    I also created two t-shirt lines with Laika vintage matchbox labels from Russia and Hungary:


    Now, I guess I should read the book too.




  9. Good to know the book’s good. It looked like it had potential, but I haven’t risked the money on it yet. Thanks for the heads up!

  10. I’ve been close to picking this one up a number of times.  Maybe this’ll push me over the edge.

    On a similar subject, First in Space by James Vining is a great book about Ham, the first hominid to be sent into space.  It’s a Xeric grant winner.

  11. The entire time I was reading this review, I couldn’t stop thinking about this:

  12. @SixGun – nice!

  13. gordan, gordan, gordan… sometimes i worry

  14. Who’s Gordan?

  15. I just figured Edward was talking to somebody else that I don’t know…

  16. I don’t know how you manage it Gordon but you always pick books to review right after I’ve read them. I picked this up at SDCC and I would not only reccommend it for Dog lovers, but also lovers of Space history and the early days of rocketry. It’s geeky in a whole different way. If you liked "The Right Stuff" but wished there were more animals and Russians…

  17. whoops