Steve Martin Tells His Career Story — Through Cartoons : NPR


The cover of Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss.

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC


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Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

Steve Martin Tells His Career Story — Through Cartoons : NPR

The cover of Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss.

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

Steve Martin has been a renaissance man for decades.

His career spans from stand-up to saturday night live, on the banjo. He’s starred in what seems like a million movies, and he’s been hailed for his latest hit, the series, Only murders in the building.

At the heart of his multi-hyphenate status is a passion for writing that ranges from short stories to plays to movies. That’s why it’s remarkable that to tell the in-depth story of his film career, he chose a new medium: cartoons.

The book, number one walkis a collaboration with the new yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. This is the second work of this pair and it will be released on November 15th.

Steve Martin and Harry Bliss joined All things Considered share the experience of collaborating to tell the story of Martin’s life through images.

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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Why they chose this medium

SM: I did a memoir of my stand-up career, and I did it in 2007, and it was called Born standing. And the reason I limited it to this tale is that it had a beginning, a middle and an end.

I started as a young, whatever, actor-comedian, then I became a comedian and then I quit. So there was a stopping point. He had a philosophy to say it. He had a soul, I would say. And then I often thought about my film career, but I always thought, well, I always think that biographies and autobiographies are really interesting before you do it, and after you do it, it’s like, “Yeah, okay, and then I met, and then I did this, and then I did that.”

I thought, I have these anecdotes and I don’t want to make a book of anecdotes because often they are tiny. These are very small things. And then I started working with Harry, for whom I started writing cartoons the new yorker with, then we made a cartoon book together.

I approached Harry, I said, “Would you be interested in writing up these anecdotes?” Because an anecdote in the form of a comic strip is very brief. You don’t have to set the scene. You don’t have to describe what people are wearing. You could just do most of the story.

So I thought it was a perfect vehicle to do that because there are certain stories that I love and there are certain memories that I love.

On the collaborative experience of illustrating someone else’s life story

HB: I live in the woods, very rural. And how that happened and how I got those anecdotes is sometimes he emailed me. But one day he called me, and I was hiking in the woods, and I had taken a small dose of psychedelic, and I felt really good. And the phone rang and I felt it vibrate in my pocket. And I looked, and it was Steve. And I thought, well, I think I can handle this.

So I answered the call and he told me this really funny anecdote about Selma Diamond. So he told me and I burst out laughing. And I hung up the phone and I said, “Well!”

I was standing right there in the snow in the New Hampshire woods. I’m going to describe it in a way that David Byrne described: How did I get to this place? Where is this house from? And is this beautiful woman coming? How did I get to this point? It was a beautiful moment.

On the title, number one walk

SM: Well, the original title is now the subtitle, My life in cinema and other entertainment, which means that there are cartoons, there are anecdotes and there are cartoons. But this sentence has always remained engraved in my head, “The number one walks”. It is used on a movie set when the call sheet comes in, the kind of lead actor, those with the most lines, is called number one. And then there is number two. And number three, people who actually buy lines.

And when the assistant director is on his walkie-talkie, they don’t want to say “Steve Martin walks to the set” because that can create a hubbub or something like that. So they changed it to “Number one walks, number two walks.” And it was always quite embarrassing, you know.

Steve Martin Tells His Career Story — Through Cartoons : NPR

An illustration by Martin of number one walk.

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC


hide caption

toggle caption

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

Steve Martin Tells His Career Story — Through Cartoons : NPR

An illustration by Martin of number one walk.

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

On the process of creating illustrations

HB: Well, the process, we sort of established it a bit in the first book we did together. But I’ll usually start Steve, in this case he’s talking to animals in the woods. There’s a bear, and there’s a deer, and a raccoon, and other animals. So he tells this anecdote to these animals. Part of the reason I do this, open it up this way, it’s kind of a shot, is that I like to draw animals and trees. It’s just fun for me.

And I love Steve’s kind of incongruity in the woods. So he talks to them. It’s a kind of thumbnail of the image. From there, it’s called “breakdown” in the comics. So I’m going to break down these panels. I will break down Steve’s words, which came to me in an email.

Steve Martin Tells His Career Story — Through Cartoons : NPR

An extract of number one walk.

Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC


hide caption

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Copyright (c) 2022 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

He’ll write them down and I’ll start breaking them down like a screenwriter might do a movie. Maybe the third panel is a backward shot and you just see the word balloon coming from the top of the mountain there. And it’s fun for me because I can draw these things and it’s always fun to draw Steve, his face. I can draw Steve in my sleep at this point.

Martin on the vulnerability involved in a memoir

SM: I guess there’s an assumption that at some point you’re just extremely confident. And I don’t think that’s probably true for anyone. And so I made this movie Kinship, and I went to watch it. I could tell it played very well. And when I got home, I thought, “Wow, everyone in this movie is fantastic except me.”

And I went home and went to bed, which is part of the story. And I’m just thinking about it and thinking about it. And I thought, “Wait a minute, they didn’t hire seven fantastic actors and one sucker. So I must be good too.” It’s just the thing of looking at you, because it’s just you. Or if you’re writing a book, at least you’re separate from the end product.

It is separate from you. But here it’s just actually is you. And so, you don’t look at yourself from afar, you look at yourself within. I don’t know how to describe it.

This interview was adapted for the web by Manuela Lopez Restrepo.


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