Storyworld/Umwelt: Nonhuman Experiences in Graphic Narratives


In Nick Abadzis’s Laika (2007), a graphic narrative based on historical events surrounding the use of dogs as “test pilots” in the early days of the Soviet space program, the title character is a dog originally named “Kudryavka,” or “Little Curly,” after the shape of her tail (27). Subsequently renamed “Laika” (“Barker”) by Sergei Korolev, a rocket designer who had been imprisoned in the Gulag during Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s, but who went on to become the architect of the Sputnik missions, the dog is conscripted into “an experimental scientific program to loft animals on vertical rocket flights into the upper atmosphere” (80). As part of this program, Laika, who forms a bond with research assistant Yelena Dubrovsky, is strapped into a massive centrifuge and also subjected to zero-gravity conditions during a parabolic jet flight. When Khrushchev demands that Korolev launch Sputnik II just one month after Sputnik I, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and underscore the superiority of the Soviet space program vis-à-vis its U.S. counterpart, Laika is rocketed into orbit with no provision for recovery, dying (probably from stress and overheating) only hours into the flight—notwithstanding the Soviet government’s claims that a system for painlessly euthanizing the dog had been put into place (189-90).

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