Living and Drawing with Parkinson’s Disease – The Peter Dunlap-Shohl Story

Political cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl, who splits his time between living in Coulee Dam, Okanogan County, [Washington] and Anchorage, Alaska, is one of three people living with Parkinson’s disease profiled in PBS’ one-hour “Independent Lens” film “Matter of Mind: My Parkinson’s” (April 8). [link added]

Rob Owens of The Seattle Times talks to Peter Dunlap-Shohl about his Parkinson’s disease.

… the film shows Dunlap-Shohl’s journey managing Parkinson’s, which he was diagnosed with at age 43 while working as political cartoonist for the Anchorage Daily News, a job he left in 2008 due to the disease.

“But he’s now adapted and is continuing to produce really meaningful work both about Parkinson’s and on other topics,” says Laura Green, who co-directed “Matter of Mind” with Anna Moot-Levin. “We see this as a tremendously hopeful story that people with Parkinson’s can adapt in ways to continue to pursue their passions and their life’s work.”

Dunlap-Shohl had deep brain stimulation surgery, a Parkinson’s treatment, in 2009 and since then he’s written and illustrated two books, “My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s” in 2015, about his efforts to accept the disease’s “malicious whimsy,” and “Nuking Alaska: Notes of an Atomic Fugitive” in 2023, about tragicomic threats Alaska faced during the Cold War. He found a new way to draw using computer programs that he previously despised. (“That was a massive failure of vision,” he says now.) Working on an iPad allowed him to rebuild his hand-drawn style that’s on display in his books and gets animated in “Matter of Mind.”

“To lose the ability to draw would be a catastrophic loss of myself,” Dunlap-Shohl says in the film. “In a sense, I’d be snuffed out while I was still alive.”

Green and Moot-Levin found Dunlap-Shohl through his blog in 2018 while doing research at the film’s outset.

“We were so excited about the way he uses humor to really draw people into the world of Parkinson’s,” Moot-Levin says. “He has this incredibly longitudinal perspective of living with Parkinson’s for 20 years now. He’s gone through a lot with the illness and really adapted to living with this illness while continuing his career now as a graphic novelist.”

Green says while people often speak about “fighting an illness” and working “to beat it,” neurodegenerative diseases are not illnesses that can be cured, so the emphasis needs to be on management and adaptation.

Peter’s blog is called Off and On: The Alaska Parkinson’s Rag.

Peter also did a cartoon column for titled PD Pundit.

3 thoughts on “Living and Drawing with Parkinson’s Disease – The Peter Dunlap-Shohl Story

  1. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Peter.
    You’re a big inspiration to me. I can’t wait to see this.

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