by Amy Flora

Last week I had the good fortune of attending the Ada Lovelace Symposium held at the University of Oxford in celebration of Ada’s 200th birthday. There was a series of brief lectures on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, covering a broad series of topics: the “analytical engine”, Charles’s notorious grumpiness, Ada’s alleged drug addiction, etc. Unlike the now internationally celebrated “Ada Lovelace Day,” held on the second Tuesday of October, the symposium took a more critical view of Ada Lovelace and her legacy.

While I enjoyed being surrounded by academics and leaders in their respective fields, I found myself to be much more excited by the opportunity to meet Sydney Padua, an animator and the author of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the World’s First Computer. Sydney Padua’s graphic novel tells of a dystopian alternate universe, in which Lovelace and Babbage complete the “analytical engine,” leading to exciting adventures and even some crime fighting.

The graphic novel is not only beautiful but also very well researched. Every page contains footnotes, and the end of each chapter contains detailed research used as inspiration. Sections of dialogue are lifted directly from letters by and about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. These extra details really bring the story to life and show how much a labour of love the graphic novel, which originally started as a webcomic, was for Sydney Padua.

I have to admit I did not handle our meeting very well and behaved like a total fangirl. Sydney Padua has been part of animation teams that have put out works that were clearly defined aspects of my childhood. The films she helped animate brought me joy and wonder, allowing me to expand my imagination into other countries and other worlds. These pictures haunted my dreams and inspired my daytime play. I jumbled my words as I told Sydney about how many times I’d watched my The Iron Giant VHS tape. Despite all of this, she very kindly signed my copy of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the World’s First Computer and even told me that a remastered version of The Iron Giant was about to be released on DVD.

I strongly recommend The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the World’s First Computer as a gift to yourself or anyone else this holiday season and beyond. It is visually stunning and wildly compelling. Most important though, for me, it isn’t a blind love letter to Ada Lovelace. Dystopian Ada remains as problematic and multifaceted as she was in real life. The story really brings together the best of history and fantasy, making it truly magical.

Note: My attendance at the symposium was funded by the organizers.