There are always alternative endings, whether you believe in parallel universes or not. The parallel world has long been a staple of both TV and literary SF and of course there’s the whole genre of alternative history fiction. I always loved “What-ifs” ever since I watched the Doctor Who story “Inferno” as a child wherein Jon Pertwee faces off against the Brigade Leader, an alternate version of “our” universe’s beloved Brigadier.
Well, truthfully I didn’t understand it the first time I saw it, as I was way too young, but that, and the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” were my first exposure to the idea. Then there were the “What-If” takes in Marvel Comics – what if the Fantastic Four had different powers, or what if Doctor Doom had become a hero instead of a villain…? I loved that stuff. I soon became aware that you could apply it to yourself – what if I chose this way over that?
As you get older, you realize that the power of choice is what dominates us as human beings – it comes into everything we do. It’s the crux of the argument between predestination and free will. The power of conscious choice is what makes us different from animals (along with the conscious knowledge of inevitable death, but let’s not go there).
And that’s where the appeal of the idea lies. What if even a tiny choice affects something larger, further down the line? The whole genre of historical fiction hinges upon different choices being made at crucial times and the outcomes of major situations—battles, political crises—not going the way we know they did. The “parallels” idea is slightly different but just as intriguing – a world where things are broadly similar to that which we know, but details are different. The later Star Trek shows regularly paid visits to the “Mirror” universe just because it was so compelling to see characters we know and love acting weirdly. (My personal favourite of those alternate realities was “Parallels” in which Worf slides through several different universes in a single episode, each one slightly different from the last – it had the quality of both a wish-fulfillment dream and a nightmare.)
But somehow, it never occurred to me to investigate the idea of alternative worlds until very recently. In 2007, I wrote and drew a graphic novel called LAIKA, based on the eponymous dog who was the first honest-to-goodness space traveler. She was launched into space by the Russians in the second-ever artificial satellite, Sputnik II. Ever since publication, I’ve regularly received emails from readers upset about the ending of the book. (If you haven’t read it, go read it.) Filmmakers get in touch all the time, thinking about doing a movie of the book, but they’re all scared of that ending. (Did Old Yeller have a happy ending?) There’s not an awful lot I can do about it, as that’s what took place – sticking to established events is what “based upon a true story” means. As the Doctor said, “You can’t rewrite history. Not one line.”
Except of course, you can – at least in certain contexts. While I frown upon changing historical events to fit a story, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “What Ifs.” That’s the basic power of storytelling – what if? It’s probably the basic building block of human imagination.
When Big Planet Comics approached me about doing a webcomic to celebrate their 25th anniversary, a series of alternative endings to LAIKA seemed to fit the bill. The first episode is up now and there’ll be four more from this Friday. At the end, Big Planet Comics will be running a competition to win one of the original pieces of artwork by yours truly from this run, so stay tuned.
Nick Abadzis is an internationally published cartoonist and writer and has been honored with many and various storytelling awards, including the prestigious Eisner for LAIKA. He is currently at work on numerous new graphic novel projects, but took time out to celebrate Big Planet Comics’ 25th anniversary with his web series, The Alternative Endings to LAIKA Show.