Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sydney Padua's awesome new book

Sydney Padua is an animator, writer and graphic novelist who is working on her first full-length graphic novel - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage. FLIP persuaded her to put down her pencil and answer a few questions about her new book.

FLIP: Tell us about the book you are working on. What is it called and what is it about?

Sydney: It's called (at the moment!) The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. It concerns the (true!) story about how a mathematics professor called Charles Babbage invented the computer in the 1830s, and Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who was raised by mathematicians so she wouldn't go mad with poetry like her father (still true), and wrote programs for Babbage's computer.

Slightly less true is that in an alternate Pocket Universe they succeed in building their computer and use it to fight crime and have adventures. Mixed in with the comic are a lot of footnotes about the history, the people, and the math and computery stuff involved.

FLIP: What was the genesis of this project? Were you approached or was this your idea?

Sydney: I'd been drawing-- well, doodling, really!-- these comics for about three years or so. It actually started as a joke. I did a very short and extremely rough biography in comic form of Ada Lovelace for a friend who was doing a Celebrate-Women-in-Science thing (Ada Lovelace Day, which is still going strong!).
Just a doodle?
 At the end of the biography, of course, just like in real life, Lovelace dies and they never build the mechanical computer. This wasn't much of an ending so I did this gag panel where of course they build a computer and FIGHT CRIME and have all these adventures. It was just a joke, I had no thought of actually doing it. I put the comic up on my very neglected blog and forgot about it.

The real Ada - Countess of Lovelace
But I got all these excited comments and links saying, "This person is going to draw this awesome comic about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage fighting crime!" I'm pretty suggestible so I started noodling around with the idea on my blog, just throwing up random jokes and panels. I got interested in the history and did a lot of reading, and put up the stuff I'd learned on the blog as well. It grew into the comic from there.

I did a bunch of stories for it for a couple of years on and off, when I had time between and around films; and did an iPad app of one of the stories with footnotes and things, with an app developer who loved comics and wanted to do it as a little project. The editor at Pantheon - an intimidatingly distinguished publisher of Very Serious Comics like Maus and Persepolis - came across the app and sent me an email asking did I want to do a book. It was a bit of a shock!

...and you can buy T shirts too!

FLIP: How big an undertaking is it?

Sydney: Huge! I was anticipating it being a lot of work but... it's a LOT of work. It feels very different from just doing my little gags online - there's something quite scary about print. I feel I have to have all the drawing be beautiful and all the jokes to be twice as clever. And unlike on a film I'm the story, direction, layout, character, lighting, cleanup, and production department!

FLIP: You have worked on awesome films like The Iron Giant and recently Voyage of the Dawn Treader. How do you balance your work on film and comics?

Sydney: It's definitely not easy! It can be very hard to come back from work at night and go sit down at another desk, or spend a weekend drawing when I'd much rather be loafing around. I don't know if I so much balance it with work, as I just get so excited about an idea that I HAVE to draw it. I think up most of my story ideas at work for some reason, so when I have a good one, even if I get home quite late I have run to my desk as soon as I'm home and draw it out.

Also, if you're an animator, comics are like CRACK. It's all the fun part of animating-- the coolest poses and all the A shots -- and it's so fast! You have an idea, you draw the panel- done! If you wanted to animate that idea it would take you three months! So I get a lot of energy from that.. comics after animating all day is a bit like a draft horse with the harness taken off and let loose in a field.. you feel like kicking your heels up!

The Difference Engine!
Now that I'm on the book I've had to take time off from films-- there's just too much to do. I'm actually finding it harder in a way to do the comic as a 'job'. I have to keep tricking myself into not taking it too seriously. The comic started as a joke and and a moment of inspiration; it seems to work best when I approach it with this same holiday spirit.

FLIP: What advice would you offer to an aspiring comic book artist?

Sydney: Just start! I meant to do a comic for decades. Decades! But I kept waiting for the perfect time and the perfect idea and for my skills to be where I wanted them to be, etc. As it turns out I started a comic at a silly time, with a strange half-baked idea, and with no notion how to draw a comic. But I started! And that's 99% better than the 100% perfect situation that comes around NEVER.

On the same lines-- and something I have to still keep remind myself of! -- you can't build something in your head- a story, or a design, or a series of panels-- and wait for it to get perfect inside your skull, before sitting down to reproduce the perfection on paper. It doesn't work like that. You discover how it comes together in the process of working. Sometimes I'll find myself avoiding writing or drawing, because I haven't come up with the solution to a problem.. but the solution always comes after I sit down and start doodling for an hour or so. Start, and keep starting.

FLIP: Sounds awesome! When can we buy your book?

Sydney: Not until 2014 I'm afraid! Publishing works pretty slowly, so even after I'm done it will take a long time for it to get on the bookshelves. On the bright side, when it does come out it will be good and BIG-- over 400 pages!


  1. I'm so looking forward to read this awesome 400 pages... Thank Flip, Thank Sydney !

  2. Great stuff. I read about Babbage and Lovelace in the late eighties
    and thought that it had all of the drama and comedy for a film script.
    I would tell their story to people who looked at me in disbelief.
    I was working day and night in public broadcasting and never had time to
    compose a reasonable story outline. Theirs is an incredible tale and I am glad that Sydney Padua has undertaken the tale. I will be in line to purchase her book once it is published. Thanks for updating her story.
    Of course somebody will see the filmic potential.