Metaphysical Speculation Into The Nature of This Comic, or: Lovelace and Babbage vs The Salamander People

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Meanwhile..

In case any neurologists out there are studying the creative process, I thought it might be interesting to post the following enlightening non-episode.

As I mentioned earlier my Accomplice and I went to this steampunk shindig the other day. The theme for this shindig was “Journey To the Center of the Earth”, so of course I had to point out to Mr V, “Did you know that Charles Babbage once went into Mount Vesuvius, where he set his walking stick on fire, and almost lost his barometer?”  (True!  and an AWESOME story –Babbage get out of the Volcano!! Babbage?  Babbage??!).

Of course then I do a doodle:

This is just the sort of contextless tableau I like to draw, so I worked it up when I got home:

Then I think of the caption– “Charles Babbage once went into Mount Vesuvius, where he battled the salamander people offered some guy a drink.”

But surely the amiable Charles Babbage, that most affable of men, wouldn’t battle the Salamander People, unless they were playing street music or refusing to fund the Difference Engine?  For although fearless in defense of their subterranean flame-caverns, they have never been know to instigate hostilities against the human race (fact!).  What he WOULD do of course is offer them a drink, which would make a great (if ancient) gag:

Which would fit really well into an actual plot-line… quick glance at wikipedia turns up a plethora of potential — salamanders are the only vertebrates that can re-grow limbs! they lay their eggs in hidden caches suspended by mucus tendrils!  Many are poisonous or capture prey with sticky tongues!  They can see ultraviolet light!  Also… volcanoes.. sacrifices.. barometer.. Hattifatteners… and this where I’ve stopped myself because I already have enough episodes at this stage of “wouldn’t it be cool if…”  Diagram:

And anyways, are there even salamander-people in this universe?!  That’s not very Educational!!  There’s vampires possibly at some point.. if a universe contains vampires does it follow it also contains salamander-people?  Are there any statistics on this?  Should I take a poll?  That’s all ‘social media’ or something.

Final note:  in doing the original drawing I had to ask myself if Babbage would be wearing a hat.  For most of western history a man would sooner go outside without his trousers as without a hat, so this is pretty important.  This raises the question:  is an underground cavern ‘inside’ or ‘outside’?  You wouldn’t think this would be an easy question to answer except that if you go to the Brunel museum, conveniently located where he built the world’s first underwater tunnel, you see this:

See, opinion is clearly divided even then.  (Note to the 19th century–  That’s TOTALLY ‘inside’, because it’s a man-made structure.  That’s just plain logic.)  Anyways it messes up my composition, plus Babbage goes really off-model with the hat.  Possible solution: sequence where hat catches fire?  Not sure why I put in this digression except I love those guys in the tunnel with their hats.

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  1. RS on April 21, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    “This raises the question: is an underground cavern ‘inside’ or ‘outside’? ”

    Years later* this important question has still not been definitely answered. DEFRA currently (jan ’16) hold that it’s only outside as far as the daylight penetrates (without specifying on what day, or how bright the sun is, or even how bright it need penetrate), whilst most of the caving community assume that all caverns are ‘outside’ and hence for the purposes of the Countryside Rights of Way Act, are an open air pursuit, and don’t need specific landowner permission to access.

    *thanks for you interesting talk at university the other day, it’s inspired me to visit this wonderful creation of which I was previously unaware.

  2. Hana - Marmota on October 28, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Also, Karel ?apek and The War with the Newts. Made into at least two comics in the Czech language, too… The slightly disturbingly colonial way Babbage approaches this Salamander rather reminds me of that.

  3. Lawyer San Antonio on September 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Your post is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and drawings.

  4. Smike on August 2, 2013 at 7:20 am

    I was thinking that he would initially have a hat with a candle or something like old-school miners. That got me thinking of the Davy lamp. Did you know that Humphry Davy was addicted to laughing gas at the “Pneumatic Institution” in Bristol. A junkie hanging out with Poets! I’m thinking an adversary for Ada here! He did visit Vesuvius, but died in 1829. At one point he ignited a diamond using the suns rays! Sounds like a super villain to me. I do not know his views regarding street music though ;)

  5. Warron on October 16, 2011 at 2:09 am

    So there are going to be vampires, eh? In that case are we going to see a reference to “The Vampyre,” the short story about a vampire originally misattributed to Lord Byron and possibly based on him?

  6. SomthingWithGears on July 13, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I can just imagine Babbage going in there with some fancy hat with a miners
    light attached. Which could lead to a part where the hat explodes or something.
    (Comedy+Hats = Scenarios (unknown number of) let number of scenarios be S.
    S1 hat catches fire
    S2 hat explodes
    S3 hat falls into ravine & Babbage risks life to retreive it
    S4 Salamander person eats hat
    S5 Salamander person steals hat
    S6 hat is carried away on underground river
    S7 hat blows off and is crushed by falling rock.)
    The possabilitys are endless!

  7. Theodore Mihajlich on March 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Spelunking cries out for a pith helmet.

  8. Floyd on October 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    “The cavern has stalactites. Stalactites would not be conducive to hat-wearing,”

    We’re talking caving here (called potholing by the Brits, these days), and I have been a caver for a long time. Entering a cave mandates almost wearing a hat, preferably a hard hat, something Isambard Kingdom Brunel could have been familiar with. Just watch the James Mason version of “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and you’ll see why. Stalactites can be annoyingly stabby without a hard hat.

  9. 2D Goggles » Well It’s About Time on August 23, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    […] spending today cleaning up the sole page of the Salamander People quasi-episode for Steampunk Reloaded.  I’m disconcerted by the Borgesian metaphysics surrounding the […]

  10. The Iron Rose on June 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

    For some reason, in the picture of them entering the cave Babbage looks like Captain Robert of Abney Park to me.

  11. Kit on January 22, 2010 at 4:37 am

    I would be careful around the problem of convection. Babbage actually was rather reckless around a volcano, but there’s only so reckless before you star to cook from the heat.

  12. Mandy on January 22, 2010 at 2:53 am

    Babbage reminds me of Bilbo Baggins. On an expedition to an active volcano, only a hobbit would bring biscuits.

  13. Roberto Keller on July 10, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Your website has GIANT ANTS!

    Nah, it just happens to be a very small website.

    P.S. love the meta-analysis going on here.

  14. Tobias on July 10, 2009 at 4:18 am

    The story which you linked to is quite fascinating, and a remarkably good read I might say! To think with what precision Babbage encountered the volcanic eruptions, he was quite the fellow it seems!

  15. Roberto Keller on July 9, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Oh please, please you have to include in the story a part were Lovelace and Babbage take back a specimen or some notes about the salamander-people to anatomist Richard Owen for study!

    • sydney on July 9, 2009 at 11:37 pm

      Your website has GIANT ANTS!

  16. […] At present the only complete comic is Lovelace and Babbage Vs The Economy. A more representative half-baked episode is Lovelace and Babbage Vs The Salamander People. […]

  17. Elzevier on May 31, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Babbage would totally wear the hat – he’s adventuring. But when entering the Salamander king’s abode proper, he would of course remove it.

  18. Susan on May 30, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Salamanders are always good, of course. They don’t bother with hats and tend to have interesting spots. Hattifatteners are also good, but must be borrowed from someone else’s alternate world; barometers are a natural connection with Babbage, yes. Your tophat, your drawings and everyone’s comments have me noticing hats, thinking about hats, and following links to hats on the internet even more than usual. If I win the lottery, I am so going to indulge in more hats and boots. And Lovelace merch.

  19. Smallpotato on May 30, 2009 at 6:28 am

    I’ve looked it up… (I’m such a frood!)

    “More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

    See what I mean?

    Eddie Izzard may claim that the British build their empire with the cunning use of flags, I say they did so with the cunning use of Hats!

  20. Smallpotato on May 30, 2009 at 6:24 am

    A hat to a 19th century is as the towel to the dude who hitchhikes the galaxy. As long as you wear a hat/carry a towel, people will think of you as a Person Of Substance, with a Purpose. Without the hat, you are just a man. With the hat, you are a Person. With a tophat, you are a Gentleman.
    That’s the difference.

    Attitude, Baby!

  21. Jon on May 29, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Hats are good for more than the sun. They protect one from falling debris, and esp. when doing construction are very useful. Keeping falling bits of rock and dust and sand out of one’s hair when you don’t go home and wash it every day is an important thing. Hats also protect the eyes from much of the same stuff and the brim acts as a safeguard for stuff falling in your collar, a-la the oblong brims on a firemans hat. Hats are very practical underground!

  22. Ceridwen on May 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I’d say be practical about the hat. The cavern has stalactites. Stalactites would not be conducive to hat-wearing, especially if he was wearing a stovepipe hat like he did in the Economic Model. Also, looking at the construction scene, with the exception of one hat-wearer, the hat faction is doing upright things while the hatless faction is bending over in their work – and the one hatted bender is actually squatting (or my eyes are bad, or both).

    Vampires and salamander people. If you can provide a good base for having both, explicit or implicit, then there are both. I’d plump for having both based on the idea that these are both fictional constructs and the story is fictional so they already inhabit the same world.

    • DavID on March 1, 2016 at 4:11 am

      I suspect that at least two of the gentl- er working class people downstairs are wearing hats. If the one standing near the barrel is not, then his ears or hair in that vicinity are quite prominent and the fellow bending over the barrel has projections above his forehead and opposite like the brim of a hat titlted backwards. Possibly only the Keeper Of The Flame (supervisor?) lacks any form of headgear. (Surely Davy lamps would be safer, what about methane even if no coal dust!)

      My Australian style preferential vote (ascending numerals indicating descending order of preference) would be

      [1] whatever illuminating helmet cautious miners (or explorers that were also planners), would wear at that time if possible

      [2] a pith helmet

      [3] a bowler hat. From Wikipedia “The bowler hat is said to have been designed in 1849 by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfill an order placed by the firm of hatters Lock & Co. of St James’s.[7] Lock & Co. had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect Coke’s gamekeepers’ heads from low-hanging branches while on horseback at Holkham Hall in Norfolk. ”

      If Brunel was consulted I’d expect something like … oh I’ll try pasting it in the website box above this text box. (In case that doesn’t work, a SteamPunk Iron Man. The phrase “What hath you wrought?” might be employed without metaphorical extension. Lets face it, around here Brunel IS a metaphor for extension, sometimes in the “Ooer! sounds a bit rude, Richie!” sense.)

  23. Elfod Nemeth on May 27, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    lmao at the hat factions.

    Keep it up!

  24. Cian on May 27, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I love the thought of Babbage clambering out of Vesuvius and having a calming glass of Bushmills whiskey. What a marvelous man.

  25. sydney on May 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    EvilHayama– Hahaha, Lovelace and Babbage fanfiction! That would be awesome– fanfiction without the inconvenient fiction! Oddly enough I was just reading this thing on Wired about audience-created meta-narratives or whatever. Hey, we can be postmodern around here.

    Justin– that is one great list of things I need to read.

  26. Justin Pickard on May 27, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    In a world with vampires, there are almost certainly giant sumatran rats. And I think they might have something to tell you about narrative options – they’re good like that. ;)

  27. EvilHayama on May 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    There’s something to be said for the audience filling in the gaps themselves too, maybe someone will write their own babbage/lovelace sidestories based on all your great ideas?

    Your graph tallies with my experience of most creative people, I guess it’s hard to balance time and ideas.