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Laika’s 50th Anniversary

Laika the Soviet space dogSeeing as today is the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik 2 launch, it seemed to be a good time to check in with Nick Abadzis, creator of the Laika graphic novel. I caught up with him last night, as he was preparing for today’s Laika presentation, including a new animation and a toast to the late great Soviet space dog herself, at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in London.

Comics Alliance: Having just come off a month-long promotional tour of the USA, what were some of the high points?

Nick Abadzis: SPX, certainly. I had a ball, meeting people…especially other cartoonists. I always love SPX, but this had to be my best one ever. Also doing three signings at the National Air and Space Museum, and seeing that there is a massive crossover audience for comics, if you get the right book in front of people…let people know that they exist.

CA: I guess being a sci-fi fan, that must have been a treat, doing a signing surrounded by real rockets and other paraphernalia from the space race.

NA: Well, to differentiate, I’m a huge “real space” fan, as well as a lifelong fan of science-fiction. I was always nuts about the space shots, moon shots, Skylab, Soyuz–I watched all that kind of stuff on TV when I was a kid (along with Dr. Who and the Gerry Anderson puppet serials).

CA: So this 50th Anniversary must be a big deal to you then. I mean you’ve signed at Air and Space, traveled to Russia, spent several years of your life immersed in this material…. How do you feel?

NA: It’s kind of incredible to be on the eve of fifty years since the first creature who initiated live exploration of space…since that era came to pass. The fact that it was initiated by a small dog, I think is pretty incredible in itself. I guess right now I’m feeling kind of nervous, because I’m due to do this presentation and talk at the ICA tomorrow. And we’re going to raise a glass and toast her [Laika]…. In many ways it’s a bittersweet feeling.

CA: And in the course of working on Laika, you’ve corresponded with and met people who were involved in the space race? In a small way, I guess you’re part of all of this now too.

NA: I talked to a lot of space historians and journalists. I even met a guy, when I was doing the National Air and Space signing, who had worked with Oleg Gazenko, who appears as a character in my book. He had some extremely interesting insights…he told me that I’d nailed the character of Gazenko somewhat, that I’d caught his sparky sense of humor. So that was good.

CA: Sweet.

Laika cover imageNA: From talking to some of the other gentlemen…in this Sputnik anniversary year, it’s become obvious that a lot of the things that were previously held dear by the real space community, now they’ve become part of a larger, wider, richer form of culture. Laika’s reached a sort of iconic status in her own right, certainly alongside the original astronauts and cosmonauts. They are perhaps the first generation of Earth’s space-going humanity. Let’s hope there are more.

CA: Obviously you’ve been interviewed a lot in the last 6 weeks, so I don’t want to just ask the same questions you’ve already answered–I figure that most of our readers know how to use a search engine…. Is there anything you didn’t get a chance to say in all of your interviews?

NA: Well first, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to all my friends, colleagues and everyone else who made my recent trip to the USA both so memorable and enjoyable. Hard work was never so much fun. Thanks to all the friends whose floors I slept upon (actually, those were some nice beds), all the store managers and convention organizers and exhibitors who were so kind and accommodating, and all the interviewers and radio hosts who asked such great questions.

CA: Done.

NA: One of the other things I’ve wanted to mention, is that I’ve got loads of other influences besides “real space”, science-fiction TV shows, and comics. There’s a lot of films, a lot of books I’ve read, that feed into (hopefully) the richness that you see in a graphic novel [of mine]. I’m a big fan of The Wire and Six Feet Under, both with sensibilities that I try to invest in my characterization. And good movies like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 3 Colors trilogy, directors like Terry Gilliam, and an unhealthy interest in old Hammer Horror films.

Another hugely influential source (which is an SF TV show) was the original Outer Limits, all shot in brilliant black and white, with really superb lighting; and creepy creepy atmospheres. Now that’s good stuff! You can list your cartoonist influences ad nauseum, and everybody sort of knows about those…but not so much this other stuff. I could go on forever…. And of course my Tove Jansson Moomin fixation….

CA: So what’s next for Nick Abadzis?

NA: I’m beginning a new graphic novel for First Second. Its working title is “Skin Trouble.” It’s kind of a story about immigration to the West from other cultures. That’ll be drawing upon some my own family history. I’m hoping it’ll pick up emotionally where Laika left off…. It’ll have as big an emotional kick, but it will be a much smaller focus. There won’t be worldwide events–there’ll be world-changing events, in the sense that they’re more about social history.

CA: Wow…. Well thanks for your time. And good luck at the ICA.

There you have it. 50 years ago today, Laika was the first dog in space. Please raise your glass….

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