Q: Your drawings in the Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage are very kinetic. How do you think your work as an animator informs your 2D drawing style?
Sydney Padua: Thanks! I work in 3D on a computer now, but I started out old-school animating on paper back in the Good Ol’ Days. Animation is a great teacher for drawing expressive characters— it comes from the same tradition as Vaudeville and pantomime, a language of archetypes that works well for comics. You learn a lot about conveying energy and character in a pose, because in a sense you are part of theatrical troupe, you’re always thinking in terms of supporting the story and the scene. And of course there is simply the training aspect of producing enormous volumes of drawings at speed— drawing all day every day for a few years, you’re bound to learn something!
Conversely, I think I took as long getting the ‘animation’ back out of my drawing— after many years as an industrial drawer I’d lost a feeling for my own line, my own way of relating to drawing. The nice thing about working on a computer is I felt I had my drawing to myself again; I didn’t have draw ‘correctly’ any more.
Q: Parts of L&B reminded me of Alan Moore’s LoEG, in the best way possible. Can you tell us about some authors and artists who influence your work in general, and this work in particular?
Sydney Padua: One of my clearest memories is being six years old and touring the Louvre, surrounded on every side by the greatest masterpieces of civilisation from antiquity to the present day. I didn’t see any of them because my nose was buried in an Asterix comic, which I as far as I was concerned eclipsed all previous human accomplishments. I still sort of think that, and instinctively feel that awful puns, extravagant sound effects, and a lot of running around and shouting are the mark of Quality Historical Literature.
Alongside Asterix, the late, great Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice. It’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but marching along under and beside and around the text are a friendly crowd of footnotes. They might have the original poem Lewis Carroll was mocking, or a tidbit of biography, or an explanation of relevant 19th century mathematics. Mostly the footnotes were little short snippets but sometimes they’d take over half the page when they got unruly. I used to spend hours and hours poring over that book when I was twelve or thirteen and still perk up every time I see a footnote in a book.
Q: L&B is littered with great tidbits from history that you found through research. What’s one of your favourite facts about the pair?
Sydney Padua: Only one fact!? Can I have two? One for each? My favourite Lovelace find is a single sentence from the “News Miscellany” in the New York Mirror of 1835, when Ada was 20. It reports, in full: “It is said that Ada Byron, the sole daughter of the “noble bard,” is the most coarse and vulgar woman in England!” Ada was given to swearing a surprising amount in her letters (don’t get too shocked, by swearing I just mean things like “damned”), but that’s a tantalising and very rare peek into what impression she must have given in person. She was not a very good Victorian lady!
My favourite Babbage anecdote is from a little memoir called Sunny Memories, by a lady who knew Babbage in his old age. She tells a story about how he forgot his calling-cards once when visiting, so he pulled a gear out of his pocket, scratched his name on it, and left that instead! I couldn’t have made up something so irresistibly Babbagey in a million years. If that gear ever turned up on the Antiques Roadshow it would be worth a fortune!
Q: In the book you touch on computer science scholars who don’t believe AL original work developing the worlds first complete computer program is really her own. Why do you think that is?
Sydney Padua: That’s actually a really complicated question. It’s tempting to say it’s just just straight up sexism because, I mean, a lot of it is just straight up sexism. The critics tend to use pretty blatant language– she was a “lusty coquette”, a “hysteric”, “mad as a hatter”, they go on about her love life and her personality and her wanting attention– as though Babbage wasn’t weird, arrogant, and wanted attention! There’s a sort of “fake geek girl” narrative that sounds awfully familiar. Some of it is a genuine question mark— for sure Babbage sketched out some work for the program, it was a collaborative process, I think that’s pretty clear from their letters. To me it’s also evident from the letters that the final program was Lovelace’s. I do think some of the ‘Team Babbage’ people resent how much attention Lovelace gets when poor old Babbage already had such a hard time getting recognition in his own lifetime, and as a Babbage fan I get where they’re coming from– I want Babbage to be celebrated and adored too! But I’m Team Lovelace and Babbage, which is the best team, and also fights crime.
Q: Right now, is there anything going on in your life, or in the world, that makes you furious?
Sydney Padua: Hmmm, I’m not a very furious person! I’m piqued.. nettled? that so many women are persuaded to feel that computers aren’t their “territory”. Women were there from the very beginning!