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Cartoonist makes art of the First Amendment

Steve Lindbeck

Editor's Note: Peter Dunlap-Shohl has been an editorial cartoonist for the Anchorage Daily News since 1982, and on Saturday night he'll be honored with the Alaska Press Club's First Amendment Award. This nominating letter by former editorial page editor Steve Lindbeck, and these cartoons chosen by Pamela Dunlap-Shohl, Peter's wife, testify to how he's earned the award.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl is an Alaska original -- a leader, a dreamer, a thinker, a creator and a citizen in every bone. Most of all, he is a humorist unafraid to lampoon the small insanities of our era. For his work over three decades as editorial cartoonist at the Anchorage Daily News, I am pleased to nominate him for the Alaska Press Club First Amendment Award.

I met Peter in the early 1980s when I was editorial page editor at the Daily News and he was a new college grad paying the bills at a local paint store. He brought me arresting drawings and subtle cartoons. A visionary Daily News executive editor named Stan Abbott took a chance on this abundant young talent and a great career was launched.

I had the privilege of "supervising" Peter's work -- as if anyone else could truly oversee his vast creativity. Some days he brought two sketches for consideration. Some days he brought three or five or more. There was no stopping his fertile mind and hand. For a very long time he was astonishingly productive: four editorial cartoons per week (few in the industry produce more than three), daily strips on the comics pages, and regular attendance at editorial board deliberations. At other times he has used original music, video and Web media to make his points with both gentleness and force. Where the ideas came from I have no idea; I only know they never stopped flowing.

Nearly three decades later, they still do. When Parkinson's disease threatened his drawing capabilities, Peter learned new computer techniques and actually expanded his repertoire. When powerful politicians took issue with his commentary, he autographed and framed the drawings for their office walls. When school kids called to ask how he did it, he showed up in their classrooms and gave a demonstration.

We think of our individual First Amendment rights as under attack from outside -- from government, from corporate power, from special interests and special pleaders seeking to silence dissent. But the more insidious attack is from within, from self-censorship and disuse, from our own unwillingness to accept the discomfort of provocative truth. Peter Dunlap-Shohl has never given up that good fight against apathy. He gives us trenchant comment wrapped in light-hearted images. He insists that we consider the follies and hypocrisies around us -- even when it's less trouble to look away. Our freedoms have no better defender.

Want to guffaw and cry at the same time? Look up Peter's re-rendering of the Alaska Flag Song in the wake of our most recent spasm of political scandal and corruption trials. Then honor him -- and the exercise of our freedoms -- with this award. You will never regret it.

Steve Lindbeck is president and general manager of Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc. -- public radio and public television in Southcentral Alaska -- and former editorial page editor of the Daily News.