His buddy Mike “Moby” Theobald walked around with a video camera asking people to “do a Duncan.” This request spawned impressions of their late friend’s deep gravely voice and stammering delivery, a bit like Jimmy Stewart. They imitated his gesticulating hands, and the way he always told people who stopped by the table where he sold his drawings, photos and comics to “feel free to look at anything you like” and “drop a little money in the cup.”
For 15 years, until 2004, Duncan and Ace Backwords produced the Telegraph Street Calendar, which featured homeless and naked people, artists and other street denizens. Even Mayor Tom Bates was featured in the calendar in 2004 when he spent the night on the streets and ate in a soup kitchen to get a feel for the homeless lifestyle.
Duncan died June 27 at an East Bay hospital, possibly of cancer, friends said. He was 65. The Alameda County coroner’s office did not have a report of his death, most likely because he died in a hospital of natural causes, a spokesman said Monday.
Friends said Duncan was one of a kind.
“He reminded me of a wizard with his long beard and beaklike nose and bushy eyebrows. All he lacked was the conical hat. … Across his table were other local artists and musicians (works) too shy to hawk their own wares. Nobody called him by his first name, which he hated. To everybody, he was simply Duncan,” said Theobald, who knew Duncan for 17 years.
Duncan loved animals and went to a zoo monthly, said his friend Richard Weaver, who was Duncan’s roommate in San Leandro.
“Duncan was really into animals, especially big apes and gorillas. He’d sit there and sketch gorillas for four, five hours at a time,” Weaver said.
Theobald said he remembers conversations about zoology, especially a lively discourse about the duck-billed platypus.
In addition to his love of animals, he was a man who loved routine. When he wasn’t at his Telegraph Avenue table, he could be seen hauling around his wares in a box. Day or night, rain or shine, he had that old box. That wasn’t his only routine.
“His favorite food was two bologna sandwiches, four deviled eggs, spaghetti and meatballs and a small cottage cheese. He ate that meal all the time,” Weaver said.
In addition to the street calendar, Duncan produced a comic called “Hank and Hannah” and the comic strip Beserkeley Blues for the Daily Gazette, friends said. He also worked on The Tele Times from 1978 to 1982, according to an obituary about him in the Comics Reporter. He also enjoyed photography, especially documenting the Telegraph Avenue and People’s Park scene.
Born in 1943 in Rochester, N.Y., Duncan and his mother relocated to Berkeley. Later, his family moved to Pasadena, where he attended Pasadena Community College, according to the Comics Reporter. He moved back to Berkeley in 1966.
A heavy smoker, he had been trying to quit for years. “He’d been trying to cut down on smoking by drawing a line on the cigarette and only smoking half of it,” said Theobald. What’s more, his health had been declining for the past two years, including a fractured hip that left him hospitalized, yet he maintained his wit, Weaver said.
“I went to the hospital where they had him on a morphine drip and he said, ‘Richard, they say I can have any drugs I want,'” Weaver recalled. “So I asked him what he wanted, and he said, ‘Could you get me a cup of coffee?'”‰”