The Lowe Down

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Evolution of a cartoon

This cartoon should be pretty self-explanatory whether or not you read the Sun Sentinel story over the weekend. When asked to explain why customer rates continue to rise in spite of dramatically lower fuel costs, some FPL flack said that they could not release fuel price information for competitive reasons.

They're a monopoly, for crying out loud. Where are we going to go if we don't like their brand of electricity? Florida Flower and Blight? They have a non-answer for everything.

Anyway, I thought it would be instructive, and give you a behind-the-curtains view of the editing process, to show you how this cartoon evolved from the moment it sprang to life inside my twisted brain.

The color cartoon you see above is the final version, which will appear in black and white on the February 17 Sun Sentinel Opinion Page. Below is a sketch of the original idea, which I discarded out of hand without even drawing (I drew it afterward for the purposes of this discussion).

I tossed it because, while the Abu Ghraib image is powerful, it introduces an element that is not germane to the central idea.

"What's Abu Ghraib got to do with my FPL bill?" I can hear somebody saying. Also, by using such a shocking image, which could be thought of as overkill, I run the risk of actually turning my target, FPL, into a sympathetic figure. This is no mean feat, I assure you, but I didn't want to run the risk of my cartoon backfiring.

Which brings us to the sketch below. I showed this one, which I felt captured the atmosphere I wanted to create without all the extra baggage, to my editor, the estimable
Antonio Fins. Tony looked at it and said, "Ooh! That's harsh!"


This cartoon, ironically, reminded Tony of Abu Ghraib. He once toured our "facility" at Guantanamo Bay, and is particularly sensitive to the whole issue in a way one cannot be unless one has actually seen one of our prison camps firsthand. In his opinion, the sketch trivialized the suffering of the Abu Ghraib prisoners.

Tony asked if I could put clothes on the victim, and make the interrogator look less like an executioner and more like a mad scientist. I acquiesced, because in my mind, the essential idea had not been sacrificed, although I ultimately decided to use the image of an interrogation cop rather than a mad scientist in the final version.

Now that we've been through all that, I would be interested in knowing from readers which version they would have preferred to see as the final, finished product: the color one that ran, the Abu Ghraib image, or the regular, garden variety "harsh interrogation" scene? We'll call them "A," "B," and "C."

Feel free to tell us why you think so.

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I think 'A' is right on the money. Also,
the decision to clothe the two men adds some humor back into the cartoon--
particularly in the case of the "consumer"
seated in his polo shirt. I found your
commentary on the creative process
really very interesting.

even being a FPL stock holdwe I love it. I vote for A

Hi Chan,

I think you made the right choice. A seems to convey the proper image, B was too harsh and C too medieval.

All the best,


Definately A for all the obvious reasons you very eloquently explained. Thanks for the exposition of your creative evolution.

I thought the Abu Ghraib version was fine because right from the start it said to me that the customers were being tortured.

That 'hooded' image says to me "torture". Straight up. Nothing more.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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