'Lovelace and Babbage' - graphic novel-ish review

A graphic novel-ish has come out recently that is fun, well-researched and beautifully drawn. It's called:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.

I'm really pleased I bought the hardcover version. I'll admit that I did wish, half-way through the book, that Padua had taken all that episodic material and the footnotes and made a single, continual story with only a small number of footnotes, but that probably would have required another year-or-more of work, so it makes sense that she's gone for a compendium instead. As far as I can tell, she re-drew a lot of the earlier illustrations in the web comic to make sure the artwork of the book was consistently high, and that's a pile of work in itself.


Padua's a master at black-and-white illustration. Above is a sample frame from the book. The tonal balance (I think) is excellent and the life and expression in the figures just leaps off the page. I hope she won't mind me putting the picture on this website, as I'm singing her praises.


I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone whose a fan of intelligent graphic novels, such as Logicomix, or someone who's interested in the history of computing or just likes excellent illustrations. There's a lot of maths in it, but not too much, and there's a lot of diagrams in it, but they're really interesting. While I'm on the subject, I'll recommend Logicomix again; it's a graphic novel telling the story of the search by Bertrand Russell for a logical underpinning of all mathematics. I know that sounds like a dry subject, but it's a fun, interesting and thought-provoking story. If you haven't already read it, do please give it a go.


Returning to Padua's book. I only have one criticism; I don't think George Eliot's nose was as big as Padua makes it out to be in the book. Here's a sculpture that my mum (Christine Ellis) did recently of George Eliot for an exhibition. As you can see, George Eliot is certainly not a classic beauty but she's not Mr Punch. As if to compensate, Padua missed out on Eliot's substantial chin (think Russell Brand in drag), so Eliot didn't come out of it too badly. One story goes that Herbert Spencer, a successful literary figure at that time, adored Eliot's work but resisted her amorous interests because he just didn't fancy her at all. He was much relieved when George Henry Lewes fell for her, and she for him, and everyone lived happily ever after.


For aspiring graphic novelists, I think the history of Padua's 'The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage' is a useful reference point in terms of a publishing strategy. The idea began as a short article, then became an on-going webcomic and finally was made into a published book. This lengthy article in the Edmonton Journal (Padua's home town) points out that Padua didn't go hunting for a publisher. Instead, the web comic became so popular that the publisher knocked on her door. From what I've learnt, publishers invariably want proof of success before they sign anyone, especially if that person is a relative unknown. This is understandable as they would be investing money in promoting you. It therefore makes sense for a writer/illustrator to make a webcomic in order to avoid falling into a Catch-22 hole, since a popular webcomic is a clever way to be successful in the eyes of publishers. I'm seriously considering make a web comic for The Great Secret and Chloe's Quantum Quest for precisely those reasons.

Anyway, getting back to the review, I happily recommend the book. Good stuff, Sydney Padua!