COMIC BOOK REVIEW: THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE AND BABBAGE: THE (MOSTLY) TRUE STORY OF THE FIRST COMPUTER / AUTHOR: SYDNEY PADUA / ARTIST: SYDNEY PADUA / PUBLISHER: PANTHEON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It is generally accepted that Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was the world’s first proto computer. Even though the name of Charles Babbage doesn’t automatically spring to mind when thinking of historically important figures, many may have some dim recollection of it even if they can’t recall his achievements. Ada Lovelace, however, is a name that probably has no significance to any except those steeped in history. We were certainly unfamiliar with it until we read Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.
Originally a web-based comic, this is the first time that this curious mix of historical fact and steampunk fiction has been available in hardcopy, and what a handsome volume it makes with its cloth-bound spine and quality paper stock.
Padua clearly has much affection for her protagonists, and for the first twenty or so pages she introduces the historical facts regarding Babbage and Lovelace. Babbage was an egotistical and often an irascible genius prone to fits of rage, and Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Bryon, who herself was a mathematical genius. She had a turbulent childhood with a mother, so terrified that her daughter would follow her father’s decadent path, that she was forced to study maths. As a result, Lovelace was more than Babbage’s intellectual equal with her solving many of the Difference Engine’s operational problems during the planning stage as well as writing proto-programmes. Lovelace died of cancer aged 36 and Babbage’s Difference Engine was never realised.
Padua circumvents these facts by having the Difference Engine become a reality when it becomes a tool to fight crime, allows the pair to take on the American banking system, and open gateways to other dimensions. And there’s a liberal amount of ray gun usage too.
It’s beautifully drawn, with the artwork resembling something that might have appeared in The Strand or any other Victorian publication crossed with a contemporary style cartoon. Padua has clearly undertaken an exhaustive amount of research into Victorian Britain and the lead characters as she uses actual quotes in the exchanges between them. Practically every page has a footnote with interesting, and occasionally not so interesting, facts pertaining to the world as it was then. There’s also excerpts from correspondence and books of that era so you cannot help but learn as you are being entertained.
So it’s not quite a graphic novel, nor is it quite a book, but rather something unique; a tome that is brimming with an astounding amount of visual and cerebral humour that, as you read it, you can almost feel your own mind expanding to the point that you might, just might win a verbal sparring contest against Oscar Wilde.