Sidney Padua: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

I think in every single post I have ever done on comics I have mentioned that I’m not really all that much into comics… with the occasional exception. As can be expected from that, I’m not an avid reader of web comics either: There’s the occasional visit to xkcd or Oglaf, but that is pretty much it – except, that is, for the single web comic I have been following religiously ever since discovering it (which fortunately happened quite early in its history), namely Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

This is one of those books where it is hard (if not impossible) to imagine anyone not loving it. The author’s immense enthusiasm for his subjects and his characters shines through on every single page of this volume and transmits itself to the reader thanks to the wonderful drawings, the stunning inventiveness and the catching humour with which Sydney Padua tells her stories. While these are not quite the historical Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace but alternative version who live in a pocket universe where the Analytical Engine was actually build, the author obviously loves her research and has dug up a huge amount of actual, real information, ranging from the fascinating to know to entertaining anecdotes to the outright bizarre, and she pours out this cornucopia of facts in a wealth of footnotes, end notes to the footnotes and footnotes to the end notes of the footnotes.

For anyone familiar with the web comic this is a very close and nice approximation of all the links to Google Documents Padua likes to sprinkle across her pages (and of course there are footnotes there, too) and while not quite as extensive, bookish footnotes have of course the advantage of being more period-appropriate. Another difference to the web version of Lovelace and Babbage is that (at least to my untrained eye) she seems to have re-worked the graphics – on the web site you can follow the evolution of the author’s drawing style and see her control of and playfulness with the medium grow from comic to comic. The book on the other hand presents the (current) peak of her craft and is much more unified; it also contains a new story not on the website featuring Ada in Wonderland. Both “Organised Crime” and “Vampire Poets” are not in the books though – but one can hope for a future volume.

Anyone not familiar with the web comic is in for the even bigger treat of encountering Lovelace and Babbage for the first time and experience the unfettered glee of seeing a historic injustice righted, our intrepid heroes rewarded with the appreciation they deserve while they use the powers of the Analytical Engine to fight crime in an almost-historical Victorian London. On the way, you will meet many of their contemporaries like you’ve never seen them before, from William Gladstone to George Eliot, from Queen Victoria to that irresistible sex symbol Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and much loud laughter, astonished gasps and delighted squees are bound to ensue. It is not all fun and chortles, though – Sidney Padua never lets the reader forget that it is alternative history she is drawing and that things did not work out that well for her protagonists in our version of history. Thus, she keeps a faint but steady current of melancholy running underneath her merry tale but at the same time always keeps their very real achievements in view, turning the comic into an homage to the indomitable spirit of discovery and invention (and quirky character traits). At the very least, do check out the website but I really cannot recommend this book strongly enough.

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