Model Sheet: How to Waste Time On Timewasting Activities

Last part of Economic Model should be up in a couple of days. In the meantime, it was driving me nuts that I couldn’t draw Babbage consistently so I drew a model sheet (click for larger if you like):


I don’t know if it’s good or bad to have so much visual reference for this guy, all of it slightly different. And drawing those horrible 1830’s jackets is going to be a constant struggle. But you can bet that is no ordinary walking stick! I have no idea what it does yet but we’re talking about a man who hacked his carriage to include a folding bed and egg-cooking-device. Note to Babbage: if I were going to go around the Crowned Heads of Europe showing off cutting-edge British tech, I would have gone for something other than the stomach-pump.

Babbage! I’m a little bit madly in love with this guy. What a completely bizarre and wonderful brain he had! I may be drawing him a little cuter than he was in life, I dunno. If you notice a resemblance to Bill Murray this is due to me going, “wow, Babbage looks just like Bill Murray!” and then using YouTube clips to get certain head angles right. He can play him in the movie.


I could easily bore you all day with Facts About Charles Babbage. He invented not only the computer but also the actuarial table; he was a man for whom nothing could be more exciting than a large error-free table of numbers, and who in his time was primarily a kind of efficiency expert, advising the Post Office, for instance, to charge a flat fee rather than metering per mile. From this one would imagine a dull automaton of a man who makes someone’s life a misery in a screwball comedy. Nothing could possibly be further from what you get when you read Babbage’s books– full of wonder and excitement at technology, he was warm-hearted, gregarious, and disarmingly naive, following beggars home to see if he could give further assistance, throwing large parties and telling rambling anecdotes with non-sequiteur punch-lines. In his autobiography he wonders why people alway assume he knows everything:

“I have frequently been mortified by having the utterly-undeserved reputation of knowing everything[…] The most frequent symptom was an address of this kind:– “Now Mr. Babbage, will you, who know everything, kindly explain to me —-.” Perhaps the thing whose explanation was required might be the metre of some ancient Chinese poem or whether there were any large rivers on the planet Mercury.”

I don’t know Babbage– maybe if this snippet wasn’t sandwiched between the whole rest of the book, where you explain everything about everything? Like the bit where you talk about telegraphy and thunderstorms with the King Of Sardinia? Remember that bit?

Some of Babbage’s other accomplishments: invented the speedometer (for trains), the cowcatcher (also for trains– he worked on the Great Western Railway, and tells a story about Brunel THAT I COULD NOT HAVE MADE UP); invented the skeleton key as well as an unpickable lock; broke impossible codes as a hobby; invented signal-lights– he used to have one on the top floor of his house where he would send short messages to friends– CHARLES BABBAGE INVENTED TWITTER!!! Oh god, and then there was the time he ran for parliament and devastated his opponent with obscure mathematical put-downs (he lost). What am I supposed to do with all this material people??!

And this was all before he spent the last decades of his life locked in a titanic struggle to the death with the street musicians of England; something for which he became so famous that it’s in the first paragraph of his Times obit (and other places as well!). Obviously Babbage vs The Organist will have to be the epic season finale of this comic, not that there is a comic you understand.


  1. Ms .45 on March 23, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I know this comic is two years old, but I am convinced that Mr Babbage resembles an older, squarer and grumpier Colin Firth.

  2. Professor_Briar2 on April 15, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for the link to the story about Brunel. If you read further, the British Association and Newcastle is also an interesting story since it revolves around powerful and opinionated men who engage in civil discussion despite their disagreements.

  3. Stephen Wells on March 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Hang on; Babbage invented a skeleton key AND an unpickable lock? Did he also invent a machine so complicated that even he couldn’t understand what it… could… do… oh, damn.

  4. derek on October 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    If Babbage is played by Brian Cox, does he give Brunel an adamantium skeleton?

    (explaining the joke: Cox played Col. Stryker in the X-Men movies)

  5. faywray on August 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I’d have to go for Ian Holm here.

  6. Ray Girvan on July 18, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    “wow, Babbage looks just like Bill Murray”

    Although Brian Cox wouldn’t be bad casting either.

  7. driving lessons bristol on June 19, 2009 at 7:39 am

    There is no way you can waste time over comedy. Since Charles Babbage was famous for leaving things half-done, I wonder that he completed his driving course in his driving school. He could have left his car in the middle of the road if something innovative occurred to him.

  8. ubiquitouspitt on June 3, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I… must know more about this man…

  9. Richard on May 29, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    from the shadow of a back ally this creepy, reedy voice comes… “That’s the way to do it!”
    cf. The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, in which there’s a cameo from Byron-as-Frankensteinian monster.

  10. Smallpotato on May 16, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Nonono… Charles Babbage is not a villain! He’s merely.. misunderstood.

    Besides, Lovelace and Babbage need a nemesis. Holmes and Watson had their Professor Moriarty, the spider in the web of 1880’s organised crime, so why not give Lovelace and Babbage The Organist (“Organist crime! Get it?! Get it?! *nudge* *nudge*) or maybe The Professor the Punch and Judy man.
    Punch and Judy men were traditionally called ‘Professor’, and ‘judy’ is slang for ‘prostitute’, so ‘punch and judy’ could be an allusion to the *real* kind of business The Professor is handling…

    Sorry, I’m rambling, but your comic is so brilliant and so.. fertile in its possibilities…

    Lovelace and Babbage need a nemesis. Somebody who gets the better of them because he knows their kryptonite. Doesn’t really matter who or what he is, as long as he’s there, in the background, threatheningly looming.

    It’s just that I have this weird sequence in my head where a poor hapless citizin is being bashed up (‘punched’) by the villains henchmen/minions (or maybe he’s being harassed to breakingpoint by streetmusicians. “No! No! Not the… ACCORDION!!!” *whimper*) and from the shadow of a back ally this creepy, reedy voice comes… “That’s the way to do it!”

    *doom* *doom* *doom* *DAHHH*

  11. sydney on May 15, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Ceridwen: yes, that was my EXACT THOUGHT. OMG what a crazy story that was, we could have lost both Brunel and Babbage in one cataclysm of machismo.

    Kim, Elzevier: OMG THE PRESSURE!! *breaks into nervous sweat*

    Smallpotato: Hahaha, I love the monkey idea. I think this would be a case of supervillain vs supervillain, because Babbage totally started the war with the street musicians. Leave the musicians alone, they’ll leave you alone Babbage!

    David: He was sure distracted by shiny objects. I think though that Babbage’s main mistake was to try to make, in the first half of the 19th century, a machine with 20,000 moving parts.

    GlenStef: Sure, just be sure you put it back. Kidding– do mean for your own use? Go ahead, just don’t print it on a tshirt because that’s way harder than I thought it would be.

  12. GlenStef on May 14, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Can i take a one small picture from your blog?

  13. David Harmon on May 13, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    The first divergence of your “alternate history” is that Babbage finished anything! He was the original for serially dropping projects half-done, the moment he got an idea for a new one (repeat until the money runs out)….

  14. Smallpotato on May 13, 2009 at 7:11 am

    You could make The Organist into a Supervillain. The one who, instead of stroking a fluffy white cat, strokes his monkey (omg, this sounds vaguely obscene) and who tries for World Dominance Through Evil Plans and then tells our heroes exactly, in detail, what those plans are… And of course, the Organist will fail and say things like, “Curses! Foiled again! And I would’ve succeeded too if it wasn’t for Lovelace and Babbage and that infernal Difference Engine!”

    Oh please make The Organist into a supervillain. Babbage could pun about ‘organist crime’ and Ada could have a wobble about puns…

  15. Elzevier on May 13, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Please, Please, PLEASE make the comic!!! I’m madly in love with this nonsense and think you’re on to something brilliant!!! Keep up the good work!!!

  16. Kim on May 13, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Can I just say that I adore all this stuff about Babbage and your comic–come on, you can’t tell me there is no comic! I’ve read it. I adore it! If you don’t write the comic (frequently!) I will be desolate. Don’t you dare do that to me. :) I know, I know, a stranger asking you to do a comic or she’ll be forever sad–it must seem strange, but it is TRUE.

  17. Ceridwen on May 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Q: If Brunel leaves Bristol to meet with Charles Babbage, at a speed of fifty miles an hour and Babbage leaves wherever he was, heading toward Bristol at a speed of forty miles an hour, which one will flinch first?

    You know, I was trying to put a finger on who Babbage looks like to me – I can’t provide a picture but he looks like my V. A. rep, who could probably out-Murray Bill Murray in the movie.

  18. […] actuarial table, and hacked his carriage to include a folding bed and egg-cooking-device (thanks to Sydney Padua for that […]