On a slow news day at the Anchorage Daily News back in 1987, Peter Dunlap-Shohl scoured his brain for ideas, his deadline looming.
The political cartoonist had long been irked by the escapades of some Alaska politicians, including a trip to Houston and Los Angeles by now-former state Sen. Jan Faiks to raise campaign cash from the oil industry. Dunlap-Shohl had long struggled to illustrate this all-too-cozy relationship.
Then the cartoon gods sprinkled some inspiration dust upon their mortal charge.
Dunlap-Shohl sketched a caricature of Faiks - a combative Republican who represented an upscale section of Anchorage - as a 15th century French heroine, and "Joan of ARCO" was born.
"I drew her in armor and thought it would be fitting to use an oil barrel for the helmet," Dunlap-Shohl remembers. "I ran my sketch by my editor. I could see by the look in her eye that this was going to be a hit."
Dunlap-Shohl would redeploy his "Joan of ARCO" character many more times to lampoon Faiks, who had once declared: "The rich need representation, too."
"It's one thing to represent the rich, but couldn't she at least stick to the rich in her own state?" Dunlap-Shohl mused.
Faiks' fundraisers Outside were deemed legal, but other in-state campaign contributions to her and others, from oil services firm Veco and its head Bill Allen, were ruled illegal.
But those 1980s violations were a bottle-fed bear cub of a scandal compared to the towering grizz of recent days: the political corruption and felony convictions involving the same Bill Allen but now accompanied by a whole new generation of sleazy Alaska politicos.
"This state crawls with fodder for political cartoonists," says Dunlap-Shohl, who slams Democrats too.
In the 1980s, a Dunlap-Shohl cartoon so incensed then Anchorage mayor Tony Knowles that "he wouldn't talk to our city hall reporter for days."
Other targeted Democrats have included former governors Steve Cowper and Bill Sheffield, Sheffield aide John Shively, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and rural state legislators.
Dunlap-Shohl says he'd satirize Democrats more often, but they wield so little power in Alaska, "it's not high on my list of priorities."
He's also praised politicians on occasion, including Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens and the late Gov. Jay Hammond.
But Dunlap-Shohl reserves few accolades for another Republican, Don Young, the colorful, confrontational long-time U.S. congressman who's in a tough re-election fight amid investigations that to date have cost him more than $1 million in legal fees.
"Don Young is a lifetime project in itself," the cartoonist said.
Dunlap-Shohl believes democracy's essence means "that somebody might be wrong, so we must let other voices emerge. Truth is way more likely to come out of a dialog than a monologue."
Those who speak out invariably accumulate adversaries. That's why many Alaskans respect Dunlap-Shohl as a spirited stalwart of free speech.
"Peter has never given up that good fight against apathy," says Steve Lindbeck, a former boss who now manages public broadcasting stations in Anchorage.
In recent years Dunlap-Shohl has been fighting a much more personal battle against apathy. In 2002 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a progressive nerve disease whose debilitating symptoms include lack of initiative.
"It's the pits," admits Dunlap-Shohl, who switched from hand-drawing to computer-drawing to continue his career. But he remains prolific, generating three editorial cartoons a week, managing his newspaper's weekly "Name that 'Toon" contest, and creating animations for his paper's website, among other projects.
He's also illustrated a DVD on Parkinson's and operates a local blog called "Off and On: The Alaskan Parkinson's Rag." When his meds are working, Dunlap-Shohl can toil non-stop for hours. Intense exercise also quells symptoms; he loves cycling the Coastal Trail. He is thankful for his loving wife Pam, his high-achieving teenage son, Wiley, a job that lets him speak his mind, and health insurance.
"I've certainly become more attuned to the uninsured," he said.
Dunlap-Shohl, 49, has advanced free speech in the Alaska press for more than a quarter-century. He will receive the Alaska Press Club's First Amendment Award in Anchorage on Saturday.
Susan Andrews and John Creed are journalism/humanities professors at Chukchi College, the Kotzebue branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Creed is an Alaska Press Club board member.
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