Biographical note from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
B.N. Duncan was born in Rochester New York in 1943. His mother left his father when Duncan was an infant and moved to Berkeley and later, when Duncan was 14, to Pasadena. After graduation he attended Pasadena Community College but suffered several mental breakdowns. He returned to Berkeley in 1966 a diagnosed schizophrenic. Encouraged by his art teacher, Dick Warner at Vista Community College, he began cartooning in the early 1970s. Around this time he was briefly married. He lived most of his life on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue working as a cartoonist, editor and publisher. His full name was Bruce Nicholson Duncan but he preferred to be known as B. N. Duncan or just Duncan.
His first strip ‘Hank and Hannah’ about a couple and their relationship and ran in porn newspapers and new wave zines. Another strip ‘Berserkeley Blues’ was published by the Berkeley Daily Gazette and it was through it he met Telegraph Avenue street person Wild Billy Wolf. Wolf was working on a zine called ‘The Tele Times’. Duncan provided art for its first cover in 1978 and he collaborated with Wolf on early issues. Duncan eventually took over the publication, making it his own, a vehicle to share his passions and interests and a way to celebrate the outsider art and writing he enjoyed. He produced over 30 issues of ‘The Tele Times’ until it ceased publication in 1982.
He drew for the underground comics ‘Weirdo’ and ‘Mineshaft’ and he corresponded with a wide range of other underground cartoonists and comics people including Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb and Kim Deitch.
He had a strong interest in sadomasochistic sex and drew for ‘Growing Pains’ the publication of the San Francisco ‘Society of Janus’ as well as other S/M publications. He self-published the titles ‘Top Comedy and Bottom Burlesque’, ‘So be it’ and ‘Buttock’s Blasting’ and in 1995 he published a collection of SM cartoons through Greenery Press called ‘Mercy??’’No!!’. Much of the S/M material he produced is graphic but commentators have noted how the drawings ‘have a humane approach to the situations presented’.
In the early 1990s with the encouragement of the Berkley Friends Church he published two collections of spiritual cartoons called ‘Nature and Spirit’ and ‘Seeking Vision. His lifelong interests in anthropology, paleontology and zoology, are evident in both these and in his experiments with clay sculpture.
From 1990-2004 Duncan collaborated with cartoonist Ace Backwords to create an annual calendar called the ‘Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar’. It featured Berkeley street people and the stories of the socially marginalized in and around Telegraph Avenue. Duncan took thousands of photographs of street people for the calendar and taped many interviews with the homeless, work he considered ‘street anthropology’. Through both ‘The Tele Times’ and the ‘Telegraph Avenue Calendar’ he made enormous efforts to promote the art of outsider and street artists living in and around Berkeley. He believed that ‘even people on a society’s margin have something to contribute to its sensibility and spirituality’.
Duncan’s suffered ill health in his final years and he died in 2009 aged 65.
All of Duncan’s publications, his original art, his photos, his correspondences, and much much more are now available to the public at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library.