Jul 14 2011 2:02pm

LAIKA: Alternative Endings

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.  

Stefan Jones
1. Stefan Jones
I enjoyed Laika. I think it handled her demise as well as could be done.

I hope there are reminders when the other alternate endings go up.
J Wilson
2. bluestraggler
Laika was a really wonderful book and you handled the ending very, very well.

Completely amazing that you get any feedback about an alternate ending. Maybe you could do a story about the 2010 Congressional Election and make that turn out better, too.
Stefan Jones
3. John R. Ellis
Just wanted to add to the voices of those singing the praises of Laika. One of the best historical fiction graphic novels I've ever read.

I wouldn't change a thing, though I do recall reading an SF novel in my teens where extraterrestrials saved Laika from her fate.
Paul Howard
4. DrakBibliophile
Julian May had some of the extraterrestrial observers of Earth save Laika. It was in the hardcover Intervention (paperback was either Surveillance or Metaconcert).
Nick Abadzis
5. Nick_Abadzis
Thanks, all, for the complimentary words. LAIKA was a both a work of in-depth research and a labor of love, and seems largely to have been received as such, which is very gratifying. The fictional alternative endings are a small thank you to both the readers who’ve written to me over the years wishing things could’ve been different and also Big Planet Comics who have been such a great supporter of me and my work.

@ Stefan – check the Big Planet Comics website late every Friday for the next four weeks – there’ll be a new strip there.

@ John R. Ellis and DrakBibliophile
There’s also an excellent BBC Books Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles called Alien Bodies that features the third Doctor giving Laika a proper resting place. It’s strange, memorable, and mournful. It is also, in my opinion, one of the best SF tie-in novels ever written.
Stefan Jones
6. JackofMidworld
I will have to check out Laika, but I always love the "what if" episodes (of whatever I'm reading or watching). Whether it's the "Left Turn" Doctor Who episode or the 1602 Marvel series (if you haven't read it & you like alternate history, definitely worth checking out), I love seeing the regular fish in a different pond.
Nick Abadzis
7. Nick_Abadzis
2nd episode is up:“the-alternative-endings-to-laika-show-part-2-by-nick-abadzis

@ JackofMidworld - I've read a lot of Marvel comics in my time (I'm one of the architects of the UK mag the Marvel Figurine Collection) but strangely seemed to have missed 1602. I'll check it out - thanks for the recommendation.
Nick Abadzis
8. Nick_Abadzis
Ep 3“the-alternative-endings-to-laika-show-part-3?-by-nick-abadzis

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