The Webcomic Overlook #192: 2D Goggles

Through its relatively short lifespan as a genre, webcomics have proved they can do things just as good as any other form of media can. They can make you laugh. They can make you cry. They can make you poo your pants when you get a surprise animation of a creepy anime zombie girl. They can make you find the goodness in humanity through the flooded streets of New Orleans, and they can make you feel the frustration of trying to find a loved one in Iran.

And, yes, webcomics can teach. Moreso, I suspect, than conventional print comics can. There are a lot of webcomic creators out there — such as Kate Beaton and Randall Munroe — that actually respect the intelligence of their readers. They’ll give you a set up using an obscure historical figure or an advanced calculus mathematical equation and trust that you’ll laugh even if you don’t get it at first, and that you’ll do more research if the subject piqued your interest.

Take, for example, Sydney Padua’s 2D Goggles (subtitled The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), a webcomic about two historical characters that I hadn’t thought about since my high school BASIC programming class.

The comic centers around the legitimately fascinating figure of Ada Lovelace. Wikipedia tells us that she “was an English writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine; thanks to this she is sometimes considered the ‘World’s First Computer Programmer’.” Well, hot dog!

Adding to the legend is that she was also the daughter of the infamous Lord Byron. You know, the guy who is infamously the origin for the term “Byronic hero”? The kind of guy who, as a former lover described it, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” … and yet cultivates an undeniable aura of bad-boy sexiness at the same time? Honestly, that sounds like a superhero (or supervillain) origin if I ever heard one … only it turns out to be real.

She teams up with the flighty genius Charles Babbage to create the analytical machine, the world’s first computer that runs on giant punch cards. Ms. Padua characterizes them as mad scientists. Despite the gender politics of the Victorian Era, the two are on somewhat equal footing, united by their unique understanding of abstract mathematics. Babbage is a genius, but he retreats into his own personal world of math and equations. Lovelace is more outgoing, but has black moods that mirror those of her infamous father.

Together… they fight crime!

… well, the fight crime as often as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force fought crime. Which is to say, never. Ms. Padua’s blog reveals that this was a one-shot gag that imagined a more exciting future for Ada Lovelace instead of the real life tragedy of her early death at 36. Fans really embraced the idea of action packed of Lovelace and Babbage, and Ms. Padua complied.

The adventures feel like a series of self-contained Looney Tunes episodes with little continuity needed between episodes … or indeed, between even chapter breaks.

To get an idea of the free-for-all-nature of 2D Goggles, let’s take a look at one of the latest stories: Charles Babbage acts on his annoyance over street musicians. In retaliation he develops a harmonic disruptor that creates a destructive interference to destroy the offending instruments.

However, this only causes more problems. The street musicians take marching orders from swingin’ dude named The Organist, who retaliates by turning all of London into a giant instrument and making everyone dance. Meanwhile, Lovelace struggles with her own newly found passion for something completely irrational: poetry.

So you’ve got a healthy irreverent attitude toward historical figures, math and engineering as the basis of smart and clever jokes, and a solid cartoonist doing the artistic chores. It’s set in the visually fascinating of Victorian England. It could probably be described as steampunk, but the most annoying aspects of that genre — the unnecessary addition of flywheels and goggles — seem to at least make sense here. Given my affection for Victorian stuff and my enjoyment cracked historical recollections, 2D Goggles should be the mutt’s nutts! The bees knees! And other British colloquialisms!

And, to my surprise… I’m not 100% on board the 2D Goggles express.

I’m not quite sure why I feel that way. I think I’m a bit thrown off by the juxtaposition of the long from text with the artwork. Much of the humor comes from Lovelace and Babbage are such brainiacs that what passes for scintillating conversation in their circle goes far over the heads of everyone they meet. To accentuate the joke, we usually get long, tortured reams of explanation that show how far away they two are from holding normal conversation, complete with charts and diagrams. And while a decent illustration of how normal people would have trouble following geniuses, it does feel a bit like a reliably overused go-to-gag straight out of The Big Bang Theory.

In fact, most of the jokes center around the same three things: Babbage hates street music. Lovelace hates poetry. They build machines more complex than the task needs them to be. Running gags are fine and all, but resorting to the same goofy themes just feels so … twee.

There’s a gag when Lovelace — realizing that Queen Victoria cannot truly understand the ramifications of their analytical machine — decide to make her happy by printing out a cute kitty. That’s the strip’s most monkeycheese gag … except for the one that actually involves monkeys. I know, I know … it’s funny because it’s the queen and she’s easily distracted by shiny objects, and Lovelace and Babbage are totally acting like the overly self-important programmers of the modern day. Still, it didn’t ring true to me mainly because the punchline is simply that the queen is an idiot and the programmers are pompous. Because 3 chapters was a long way to get there.

Padua also comes from a traditional animation art style. It’s very attractive, admittedly. She has a good sense on how to design each character so uniquely that you can guess the personality just at a glance. Lovelace looks always on edge, Babbage has a manic edge to him, and Queen Victoria looks like a wide-eyed child.

Still, I’m not quite sure it’s the appropriate one to use for this kind of comic, mainly because everyone has to be drawn in a style that exaggerates their emotions to a wild degree. There are many, many scenes of the characters looking slack-jawed and bug eyed. There is no room for subtlety.

It’s a comic where everyone takes everything to be a big deal. It’s almost like they’re always yelling… which, indeed, is probably the case since everything ends in exclamations. It’s very tiring. In comparison, one of the most charming things about Kate Beaton’s Hark A Vagrant! are the slow burns a lot of her illustrations imply. If someone I staring out with a bug-eyed expression, you get the sense that he’s been standing there for quite a while and the realization had slowly dawned on him. In 2D Goggles, people go crazy for no reason like a pack of crazed chihuahuas.

Maybe this is why my favorite character is perhaps Isambard Kingdom Brunel (good Lord, that’s a man’s name). In real life, he’s a celebrated engineer who design several steamships and England’s Great Western Railway. Here, he’s the no-nosense guy who lends and air of practicality. Best of all, he doesn’t do crazy reactions shots. He has the aloof demeanor of a man who just does not give a f**k. He just sorta stands around, cool, collected, with a “who are these buy-eyed weirdos I have to share this comic with” look on his face.

And yet, 2D Goggles is smarter and better researched than your average steampunk webcomic. This is why I’m recommending the comic despite giving it a rather average grade. For all my complaints, 2D Goggles is rather unique, and you’ll certainly learn a lot about British history by reading it.

I also tried the “Lovelace and Babbage” app, by the way, and the comic looks better on the iPad than they did on my desktop. The dimensions of the panels were clearly optimized to the screen. The downside is that downloading issues can get pretty pricey, especially for a guy like me who also tends to drop a lot of money into Comixology’s pockets.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on January 27, 2012, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, comedy webcomic, historical webcomic, pop culture caricatures, steampunk webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Whoa whoa *whoa*

    Brunel wasn’t just some guy who built a few a ships and a railway line. He was probably one of the greatest engineers ever who pioneered new construction techniques which were revolutionary at the time and whose creations (the Clifton Suspension bridge and the Thames tunnel) were radical in their design and are still in use today.

    Random engineering geek attack aside his whole demeanor here fits in well with the character of the man in real life and I commend you on an excellent review! :)

  1. Pingback: “11-11-11 Binary Blues: Babbage Remembered and People’s Polls Bring New Beginnings To Old Situations “ | Living History

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