Illustration Alum Debuts Collaboration with Steve Martin
November 24, 2020
Steve Martin has done everything from standup to starring in comedy film classics and even banjo-playing, but it turns out he can only draw stick figures. According to The New York Times, when Martin told a friend about an idea for a collection of cartoons, his friend knew the perfect collaborator—Harry Bliss BFA ‘90 (Illustration). Bliss is a cartoonist and illustrator whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time and other publications. He has illustrated more than 20 New Yorker covers, numerous children’s books, including the Bug Diaries series, and his syndicated cartoon panels have appeared in publications internationally. The UArts alum collaborated with actor and comedian Steve Martin on his latest endeavor, A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection.
The surreal subject matter of A Wealth of Pigeons seems to reflect the essence of the world right now, while giving readers some much-needed, lighthearted humor. For example, one irreverent cartoon features two people on a cliff facing an adjacent cliff with one occupant, separated by water, and the caption reads, “Too crowded. Let’s go.” In another cartoon, parents debate whether to “encourage or discourage” their toddler, who is depicted juggling and riding a unicycle. The scenes speak to the current social climate, with people forced to find new forms of entertainment and new definitions of “too crowded.” Ironically, there are no pigeons featured in this collection. Martin and Bliss explained in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning that the pigeon comic idea was scrapped and instead became the book title.
The entire creative process happened during the pandemic, which meant Bliss and Martin’s collaboration took place over email. On CBS Sunday Morning, the two talked about their cartoon collection and discussed their creative—and socially distanced—approach. Martin said he would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a caption idea and send it to Bliss, who would reply with an accompanying illustration. They went back and forth until each cartoon was complete, and within a few months, they had compiled over a hundred cartoons to feature in A Wealth of Pigeons.
In their conversation with CBS, Martin described cartooning as comedy’s “last frontier,” citing the precision and unique comedic skill needed to execute the medium. Since there is no live audience, there is no immediate gratification from a cartoon, something Martin isn’t very used to as a comedian. Martin went on to say that this is his first comedy that didn’t depend on the audience. The collaborators enjoyed working together so much that they have hinted at a forthcoming narrative project.