The Analytical Engine In Glorious Technicolour!

Greetings long-suffering readers (and new soon-to-be-sufferers)! If you have been feeling deprived of Lovelace & Babbage news for lo these many months, rejoice! as you are in fact soon to find yourself heartily sick of this comic Graphic Novel. Over the next couple of weeks I find myself in little short of a Media Blitz quite enough to turn a girls head. And it starts with a BANG!

The Analytical Engine in Glorious Technicolor!

If you open up the Observer Tech Monthly this Sunday your eyes will have been dazzled by no less a sight than The Analytical Engine, its very self, a in full colour hand-tinted plate (with some more extracts as well!)! It’s an except from The Book, specially coloured in for the Observer for added beautousness. Additionally I make myself more than usually incoherent in an appended interview.

The colour one I leave to the Observer, but finally, FINALLY, I can share with you the the production of so many months of labour– my exhaustively (and boy do I mean that literally) researched visualisations of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’ve been vexed for years by the invariably vague descriptions of the Engine, even in quite detailed computer history books– frustrated by the brisk summary “it was a modern computer but cogs”. As a comics slinger graphic novelist all I wanted, and this seemed a modest ask, is an Official Drawing of a huge-ass computer made of cogs, so I could see what it looked like. Imagine my dismay when I found that (to the best of my knowledge) no such drawing existed! Not by Babbage, not by a scholar or an engineer or otherwise Official Person, nothing! There were a scattering of drawings of bits of the Engine; and lengthy examinations of the math and engineering of the Engine, but the whole thing? Nope. This is sort of understandable as Babbage left literally thousands of piecemeal drawings and kept changing the design, so doing a visualisation is actually really hard. And computer history books want to explain computing stuff and not provide me with eye-candy. BUT STILL.

So I had do my own, and it took ages and ages and hair-tearing over diagrams (elevations, Babbage! They are a Thing!), but I’m pretty proud of it, so here you go:

I think this merits a





Over the next couple of weeks I’m doing a series of posts about the Engine, to show you how I got the above drawing from this:


and what this all means:


But today I want to talk about the really important matter of: what colour was it?

We rarely court controversy here at 2dGoggles Amalgamated Comics but I was a bit nervous in the colour scheme I used for the Observer colour version. For one thing, there’s a reason the comic is in black and white, and that is because its drawn by me, a person not very good at colour. More specifically though, in picturing the workings of the mysterious Engine you may have always pictured it in distinguished tones of steel grey and muted brass, as sported by its modern cousin the Difference Engine reconstruction:



So Classy!!

I myself however have had a vision before my eyes of Great Building-Sized Mid-Victorian Engineering. That vision is loud garish glorious! It’s the culmination of the greatest of Victorian Engineering projects, Bazalgette’s Sewer (comic episode ideas: Great Stink, mephitic vapours, mutant eels, trained cormorants, mole people?). Ladies and Gentlemen, if for some reason you are in ignorance of the existence of the Cathedral of Sewage Pumps, I’m privileged to introduce you to the destination of all London effluvium, Crossness Pumping Station:





Crossness was finished in 1867– pretty close to what would have been a realistic completion date for the Analytical Engine if they’d started it in the mid-30s come to think of it! Like all Victorian stuff, it’s a bit Too Much, or Just Right if you are of that temper. In the ’50s and ’60s they loved their bright chemical colours and I’m pretty sure an actual Analytical Engine would not have been left with plain unpainted infrastructure. Especially if Charles Babbage had anything to say about it! Though it would probably have had to be repainted 37 different times so he could check what the best colour scheme was. He was after all the man who printed 21 volumes of test logarithm tables using every combination of 10 different coloured inks and 140 differently coloured papers to see which read best (page not open, unfortunately, to the black-ink-on-black-paper trial*):


Half of Crossness has been left in its found condition of romantic decay, which looks really wonderful in contrast. If you want a magical day out, take your significant other to a sewage pumping station to heck and gone in the marshes east of London- next Steaming Day April 19th!

Next : An overview of the Engine!

(by they way- in terms of realism, my big concern with the visualisation above is in retrospect I don’t think it could have been a free-standing structure. While gigantic it was a very delicate instrument and would grind to a halt if any one of its tens of thousands of parts was even a hair out of alignment; probably you would have to somehow suspend the whole thing is a substantial cage of heavy ironmongery to keep it from shifting. BUT if I drew all that in, you wouldn’t be able to see the Engine!

oh- additional aside– the punchcards (it took 3 sets to run a program) didn’t hang on brackets as I’ve drawn them [I took that from a Jacquard loom]; rather, they are clearly in a box marked BOX on the diagrams. But likewise then you wouldn’t be able to see them! So some concessions have been made to Art in that drawing. ).

Now that’s out of the way, stay tuned for a series on that most mysterious of Mechanisms, the Analytical Engine, which I hope to make a bit less mysterious!

*If you’re wondering which ink and paper combination proved most successful, the winner was…. black ink on white paper.


  1. Spookingdorf on May 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I would dearly love a poster-sized version of the first pic for the classroom wall in my new school where I’m going to be leading computing. Do you have any plans to produce posters at all?

    I’ve just spent most of Sunday reading your blog, laughing out loud so so often. Thanks for all your hard work.

    You’ve sorted birthday presents for my children this year already. My daughter will love your book.


    • Narbey Derbekyan on November 30, 2015 at 5:36 am

      I myself would love to have posters of the original baggage drawings.

      Are such posters being sold? Does anyone know? I have not found anything so far.

  2. Elizabeth Dalton on May 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Great to see you in analog last night in Cambridge, MA! I didn’t get a chance to ask you, but I’m interested in converting the Analytical Engine model to a form that can be used by consumer-level 3D composition rendering tools (e.g. Poser, DAZ Studio). I’m also interested in creating rigged Lovelace and Babbage figures for these applications. I know it would be ironic, given your history with hand-drawn animation, transition to 3D animation, and deliberate circling back to hand-drawn comics, but it could actually simplify the creation of short films about our Dynamic Duo… :) Plus, I’d like to continue to use images of Lovelace and Babbage in my statistics courses, as you’ve so kindly permitted in the past. I have non-photorealistic rendering tools that I think might work well for these images and/or animations. What do you think?

  3. JJB on May 12, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Just got my three copies from Amazon (one for me and one each for my two nieces). Wonderful! Just a comment from a fellow Edmontonian though — why is your book tour not coming here, your old stomping grounds? Surely there would be things to see and people to do! ;-)

  4. ajay on May 6, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Hugely enjoyed THE BOOK, in particular the upgrades to the strips I’d already seen, which I wasn’t expecting. By far my favourite is the single-page of Ada arriving at Babbage’s party, also attended by the Herschels, Harriet Martineau, the Duke, Darwin, Faraday, Wheatstone etc… terrific image and really brings home the remarkable fact that all these people knew each other (or at least all knew Babbage).
    And it’s handsomely bound as well.

    Now keenly anticipating another damned thick, square book. Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Ms Padua?

  5. RPN on April 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    The preordered book has arrived! I’m about halfway through it.

    (most populous city in Australia) + (setting of [most of] The Taming of the Shrew) = (sheer graphic enjoyment)

  6. Brian on April 28, 2015 at 3:58 am

    The Book, The Book, I finally have my copy of The Book! How delicious it all is, truly. Everything I loved about the web comic is here (well, everything except Organized Crime, but I already knew that would be the case), and beautifully rendered. So satisfying!

  7. Elizabeth Dalton on April 24, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Book arrived this week! Pesky dissertation proposal prep has gotten in the way of finishing it, but I hope to be able to devote all of Saturday to it… and OMG OMG OMG! You are going to be in Boston next month! I might be able to actually meet you in analog!

    Did you end up building an actual 3D model of the Glorious Engine? I have some rendering tricks I’d like to try on it, if so….

  8. Geoff C on April 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Oh my goodness, The Book has arrived. I had a quick look at the printed pages for proof it was all in place and am now quite unreasonably excited at the thought of reading it. Its rather a lovely thing. Good Work to everyone involved.

    Now unfortunately back to database work….

  9. Jay on April 21, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Book ordered on the back of the BBC website video and a glimpse around here. Babbage/Lovelace were a key part of my Computer Science training thanks to a very enlightened professor who felt the history of things mattered a lot in such a fast moving industry. Your drawings are gorgeous and from the snippets I can see you have a good understanding/great portrayal of the “irascible genius” and the first lady of Tech. Looking forward to the alternate slant on what could have been.

    I’m fascinated by the tablet/stylus you use for drawing in the video – what is it? Does it hook up to a mac? Is it *very* expensive?

  10. Andrew Raphael on April 21, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Ms Padua! I just saw you on the BBC website! It’s a nice interview, and you come over very well.

  11. Betty Alexandra Toole on April 18, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I can not wait to read it both as the author of Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers and Bob Kane’s ( the originator of Batman) second cousin.

  12. Clare on April 15, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Gloriously needless elaboration! Exactly the sort of thing my architectural instructors warned against. Thanks! I love knowing this exists.

    Very best wishes for the Book Launch! (I’ve pre-ordered 2 and am haunting the mail box.)

  13. Robin on April 13, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Wonderful! It’s incredible where dangerous experiments in comics can take you.
    This is totally what has been missing from all the prior work about Babbage’s computers… “Yes but what did it look like?”
    And from E’s comment (being someone who has colour coded the size of socket screws in robots (I can never pick up the right key otherwise)) I now imagine rippling cascades of indicative colours on the cogs as the processing and storage happen. (True it is more vulnerable to bugs than electronic computers, but perhaps they can be cleared with the application of more torque?)

  14. Del Cotter on April 12, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    the destination of all London effluvium, Crossness

    All London south of the Thames, that is; its companion on the north side is Beckton, supplied by the pumping station at Abbey Mills.

    Abbey Mills, as was the way for the Victorians, was built in a different style rather than being an identical copy of Crossness, and is also nicely restored.

    Sorry not to have bumped into you at Dysprosium! I hope you had a good time.

  15. E. on April 12, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    That’s very insightful. Color was important, and color carries information. Having the sets of gears and processing areas be different colors would make assembly, maintenance, debugging (ha ha), and troubleshooting generally all much easier. I think color is a smart, probable call, and also surface decoration such as engraving and molding of motifs.

  16. Dvon E on April 12, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Magnificent! Awe-inspiring! THAT is what a computer should look like.

    But modern computers are not exactly cat-friendly. Some years back when I worked for a computer dealer, a customer brought in a machine that was so corroded inside that no amount of cleaning would help. Turns out he had been working on it with the covers off, and that evening just threw a sheet over the box to keep the dust off overnight. One of his cats jumped on the table and into the midst of what must have appeared a soft nest. Finding it otherwise caused an immediate voiding of the cat’s bladder and the warranty. The cat survived, of course. The machine, not so much.

  17. Rico on April 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I’d be quite happy is there was a 50/50 split between gloriously garish Victorian and not ggV. When my eyeballs started to hurt I could look away for a bit, then look back in awe.

  18. Laurie on April 12, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    I find myself flabbergasted. Amazed at this achievement of recreating the Analytical Engine. It is wondrous and beauteous. My cats have commented favorably on the inclusion of your cats.

    I don’t suppose those colored logarithm tables included a brown on bright pink?

  19. John on April 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Aside from the little things, like civil rights and technology and stuff, I think I appreciate the lack of incessant gaudy colors on everything the most about living in the modern day. And I think my favorite thing learned following the blog over the years is definitely the colored-tables thing.

    Modern computers do need more cats, though.

  20. Martin Hooper on April 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Woohoo! Thaat 2nd picture looks rather like a mandelbrot fractal…

    Looking forward to reading more blog posts on the subject!