The B.N. Duncan archives are now available at the Ohio State Cartoon Museum & Library

Biographical note from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum 

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Biographical description written by Ann Lennon and will accompany the Duncan archives. . . . .Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum <cartoonevents@osu.edu>

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.

Some photos by Paul “Blue” Nicoloff from the Telegraph Street Calendar 1999

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Wizard was a Berkeley Tarot Card reader for several decades. He always set up his vending table on the corner of Telegraph & Channing. Then last year I heard he won over a million in the Lottery. Last I heard he bought some land up north, and nobody’s seen him since. He won’t be setting up a vending table on Telegraph and asking for donations any time soon, that’s for sure.

In all these years, Wizard is the only person I’ve ever known who actually won real money on the Lottery. But I guess it shows, it can happen.

The other thing about Wizard, he was an incredible drummer. Most of us at the Hate Man’s drum circle would just sort of bash away. But Wizard set up the buckets and metal objects to simulate a real drum set, with a snare drum, bass drum, cymbal, etc. And he would wail away on his make-shift kit like Ginger Baker or Buddy Rich.

I hope Wizard is enjoying his newfound wealth. Money won’t buy you happiness, of course. But then, neither will poverty, either.

(P.S. I just heard from an acquaintance of Wizard that he actually won an SSI settlement, which sounds more plausible.)

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Koko and Pork Chop were a cute young homeless couple who were on the Telegraph street scene for a couple of years back in the late 1990s. I always loved their names: Koko and Pork Chop.

Koko and Pork Chop stood out on the street scene because they always seemed happy and contented and relaxed — this just-happy-to-be-here demeanor. And they never caused and trouble or disturbances. That alone will make you stand out on the street scene.

The guy on the left is Shroom. He hung out at Hate Camp for many years, and then disappeared without a trace. Several of his friends have tried to track him down, to no avail. About 10 years ago he was squatting on a boat on a lake in Oakland with a bunch of other homeless people. But that’s the last we’ve heard from Shroom.

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I didn’t know these two. They were just a couple of youngsters who hung out on Telegraph for a couple of months in 1998, and then moved on. Like so many others who have come and gone. Faces in the crowd.

The guy was sort of the archetypal character that all the high school girls thought was cute and had crushes on. And he cut a dashing figure riding up and down the Ave on his skateboard with a distinctive bad boy swagger. . . All I knew about the girl was that she was really, really cute.

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TELEGRAPH AVENUE STREET CALENDAR 1995: “Women of the Avenue”

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After the “Naked Guy” calendar in 1994 I felt we couldn’t top the zaniness of that one. So I decided to go the opposite direction in 1995 with “The Women of the Avenue” calendar. It was much more sedate and sober and even dignified than its predecessor. Instead of focusing on the “crazy, whacky, colorful” Telegraph street characters we just focused on the diverse types of women that were part of the scene back then. Predictably it sold only half as many copies as the Naked Guy calendar. But it always had a special place in my heart among the pantheon of the 15 issues.

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Katie was the January calendar girl. A flower child for the ’90s. 16-years-old when she hit the scene, it wouldn’t be accurate to call her a “runaway.” She was more like a “run-to.” She was bored with high school and living with her parents, and eager to kick-start her adult life, so she jumped into the ’90s hippie street scene with an innocent enthusiasm. Going from the Grateful Dead tours to the Rainbow Gatherings and to Telegraph Avenue — which was a must-see stop on the circuit back then.

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Tragic little Robin hanging out with her boyfriend Paul.

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For several years I thought Nora was a homeless bag lady, because she was often pushing a shopping cart full of junk. And i would sometimes give her a couple bucks. Later I found out she actually owned several homes and was a pack-rat who obsessively collected junk. Every inch of her front and backyard, and every room in her house was packed from floor-to-ceiling with piles of stuff.

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Another tragic one, Pam, hanging out with Duncan at our vending table. A victim of the psychiatric industry who ruined her mind by over-prescribing psychiatric drugs.

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The Hat Lady, a Telegraph street vendor who sold beautiful hand-knitted hats. She was a nice, friendly person. But I never met anybody who could talk like her. She would literally talk at you for HOURS. And non-stop. One long run-on sentence, with no pauses in between the sentences. Just one long endless sentence. Which made it very difficult to get away from her once she corralled you. Finally you’d just have to be “rude” and walk away mid-sentence. You had no choice. It was impossible to get in an word edge-wise.

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The ladies of People’s Park, the activists Lisa Stevens and Terri Compost.

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The Two Amys. Two UC Berkeley college students who were part of the street scene back then, hanging out at our vending table in front of Codys Books.

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The Hair-Wrap Girls (and Freedom Fighter Jim). Some adorable high school girls who made some money on the Ave doing hair-wraps.

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Beautiful and mysterious Asian Kim, hanging out with her friend Skye on the Berkeley campus.

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Debby “Slash” Lang, pushing shoulders with Hate Man. Slash was a fearsome, self-described “gangster chick from Hell! I’m from Oak-town, fool!! REPRESENT!! REPRESENT!!” She hung out with a rough crowd and could put the fear of God into the Hate Campers whenever she showed up. One night she actually challenged Hate Man to a fist fight, and they’re sparring back and forth on Sproul Plaza, throwing and dodging punches like Ali vs Frazier. One more surreal night at Hate Camp.

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Punkers on the Ave.

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Vicki — Craig’s beautiful blonde girlfriend at the time — hanging out with English Davey at his jewelry vending stand.

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The enigmatic cosmic cowboy Wrong Tree, hanging out late at night with his beautiful girlfriend.

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And of course we had to end “The Women of the Avenue” issue of the TELEGRAPH AVENUE STREET CALENDAR 1995 with Julia “the Bubble Lady” Vinograd, the grande dame of Telegraph Avenue. When the CBS News interviewed Julia for a feature on the calendar, they asked her “Did you ever think you’d end up a calendar pin-up girl?” To which she quipped, “Why NOT, buddy??” Ha ha.

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Gypsy Catano

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Gypsy Catano was a legendary Berkeley street person in the 1970s and 1980s. “Gypsy always reminded me of Charles Manson,” said my friend Vince. Gypsy was a cocky, swashbuckling little guy who walked with a swagger and the air of a charming rogue.

Gypsy was homeless back in the day when there was plenty of available housing in the Bay Area. “Gypsy was homeless because he wasn’t housebroken,” explained a girlfriend.

“I never dropped out,” said Gypsy. “I was never in.” Gypsy was born on the streets. And the street scene was his natural milieu.

One of Gypsy’s favorite panhandling routines was to have one of his friends stand on their hands while Gypsy worked the crowd like a carnival barker. “Help me get my down-and-out friend back on his feet!!”

Gypsy’s favorite thing to do was to drink and to fight. And when he was in a bad mood he could be a holy terror. And Gypsy was a natural leader who was usually surrounded by a gang of buddies. Some of whom were hulking lunatics who would crack your head open for kicks. So Gypsy could be a formidable force.

But he could also be very charming. And he often charmed normal, straight mainstream people who enjoyed Gypsy like an exotic pet. While Gypsy — ever the hustler — angled them as marks.

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Illustration by R. Crumb, from a photo by B.N. Duncan.

 

 

The first time I met Gypsy Catano in 1982 in People’s Park (his natural habitat) as he swaggered up to me I was struck by the malevolent, mischievous leer in his eye. And the home-made necklace around his neck that was made from the teeth of some wild animal. And he also had a fur stole wrapped around his neck. Gypsy suddenly grabbed the head of the fur stole and waved it in my face. It was the head of a dead dog. “I skinned the dog myself,” said Gypsy proudly. Then he did a puppet show pantimine with the dogs head for my amusement. “ARF ARF!!” he said, opening and closing the dog’s mouth.

Naturally, Gypsy Catano died a sudden and electrifying death. As befitting “as ye live so ye shall die.” If I remember right he choked on a chicken bone and had an epileptic seizure. Hundreds of people showed up for the memorial on Telegraph Avenue. A local newspaper covered the story and they were amazed that so many people, from all different walks of life,  would show up to pay tribute to a guy who was basically a “homeless bum.”

Go figure.

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The end of the Koerber Building era

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On this date in 2007 I was just on the verge of getting kicked out of this office building that I had been secretly living in for 9 years. The Koerber Building on University Avenue. It had been a great run. I had been paying $125 a month to rent out this little 6-foot-by-13-foot office. It was about the size of a big walk-in closet. But it was ideal for my purposes. It had a high ceiling. So I could stack boxes with all my stuff against the walls. And, best of all, it had a bunk-bed that I could sleep in. And it was hidden in the back of the building. So almost nobody even noticed that I was there.

That 9-year run was a productive period for me. I produced some of my best work. I wrote my SURVIVING ON THE STREETS book. And the first drafts of ACID HEROES. I co-published the last 6 issues of the TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR. And I recorded hundreds of hours of original music on my mighty Fostex four-track recorder. Among many other projects.

And then a new owner bought the building in 2006. He immediately sent out a letter to all the tenants telling us how much he looked forward to working with all of us. Then he started throwing us out, one by one. He was renovating the building floor-by-floor starting with the top floor. So he kicked all the tenants in the top floor out first, and worked his way down from there. I was on the second floor (the last floor with tenants). So I was among the last to go. The last man standing. For that last year I pretty much had the whole building to myself. Which was a good deal for $125 a month.

But it was also depressing. The building had once been this dynamic place, bustling with creative and hard-working people. And then I watched as it gradually was reduced to this dark, empty shell.

And it was a metaphor for my life during that period. Everything seemed like it was dying. At the same time, Cody’s Books (my main hang-out), also went out of business. And  that once-dynamic scene was replaced by a boarded-up, burned-out, shell of a  building.

My main publisher, Loompanics, also went out of business during that period. So it was like, “Three strikes and I’m out.” I remember I kept thinking back then: “”Everything in my life is CONTRACTING.”

On August 1, 2007, I packed up all my stuff into a storage locker, handed in my keys, and left the Koerber building for the last time. I had turned 50. So it was one of those moments when you knew quite clearly that one part of your life was ending, and another part of my life was beginning.

Up to that point, my life, and my artistic career, had pretty much been on a constant upward spiral. But now it was like the arrow had pointed downward.  And everything kept getting worse and worse. And that was pretty much how it would go for the next 10 years. And, well, here I am.

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The Telegraph Street Calendar 2004

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JOHN D. An archetypal street bro’. Hit the Tele scene in the late 1970s and made the scene for decades.

ELIZABETH and ANNIE. Quintessential grand dames of the streets. Elizabeth goes all the way back to the late ’60s Telegraph street scene, one of the first of the Berkeley street hippies.

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B.N. DUNCAN. Hamming it up for the camera. He saw himself largely as an alienated loner on the fringe of society who couldn’t really relate normally to other people. . . He would have been shocked and surprised at how many people — from all walks of life — showed up for his memorial and all the heart-felt tributes.. . .As well as all the people imitating his endlessly repeated catch phrase: “Ahh! You couldn’t loan me a couple bucks until the first, could you?”

 

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CRAIG — aka “Sic Pup” and “Isy Jones” — was a sweet guy, but a tormented guy. His idol and role model was Keith Richards. And he lived out many of the same excesses. Was a romantic poet at heart. And fell hard for several women. Jumped in front of a train in 2006. And is still missed.

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Duncan came up with the caption, not me.

 

 

SOPHIE CRUMB at the Caffe Med, during a brief period when she lived in Berkeley around 2003. She was very sweet and very friendly to me. But she scared the hell out of me. A cute young chick AND R. Crumb’s daughter. Holy gee-ziz!!

 

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The Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar 1991

 

“How do you like it? RARE!!!”

This is the second issue of the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar.  It was actually a surprise local hit. It was certainly a surprise to me and Duncan.  When we published the first issue, I figured: “Well, I’ll print up 100 copies.  And if nobody buys it, I can still give it out as a Christmas present to all my family and friends.”  (cheaper than shopping)

So it was a surprise when we ended up with our pictures on the front pages of the newspapers.  And radio and TV stations were clamoring to interview us.  Even Dan Rather (anybody remember him?) and the CBS News did a national feature on it.

A lot of it was simply the timing.  This was 1990.  And “homelessness” was an issue that the media, and the nation, was just beginning to grapple with.  So people were curious as to who these homeless people were, and what the solution to homelessness was (people actually talked in terms of “solutions” back then, ha ha).  And there was me and Duncan with our humble little calendar from the streets.  I guess it was an idea that was just stupid enough, and just absurd enough, to catch on.  “A homeless pin-up calendar,” as all the press wryly referred to it.

It was like “the heart-warming media Christmas story” of that year.  And I provided the press with the line with the appropriate amount of bathos that they used to end all of their award-winning news stories:  “It’s a calendar for people who don’t even have a wall to put it up on.”

AWWW!!

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More pathetic whining about The Good Old Days from good ole’ Ace Backwords

 

Dan McMullan's photo.When I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s I burned, burned, burned.  I had this relentless drive within me.  To produce the absolute best writing and artwork that I could.  To push whatever God-given talents I had to their absolute limits.

Every time I sat down at my drawing table, or sat behind a typewriter, I felt like I was strapping myself into the cock-pit of the pilot’s seat of the most powerful jet airplane.  And I aspired towards nothing less than soaring into the uncharted Heavens.  Or Hells.  Depending on which direction the goddamn plane was headed for.

I never questioned this drive.  Considered it both a blessing and a curse.  It was just something in my wiring.  I suppose you could call it a “calling.”  Even as the relentlessness of it had a demented aspect to it. Like I was a junkie for my art.  Like Gollum, feverishly lusting after his precious Ring.  Or Don Quixote, launching mad crusades against imaginary windmills.

I had my own personal and peculiar “standard of excellence” that I aspired to.  Which had little to do with the applause of the crowd, or monetary rewards.  I hesitate to say that I aspired towards “genius.”  For that’s such a loaded word.  But I had my own personal standard of 100% perfection that I aspired towards.  And after completing a piece of artwork (after much toil, struggle, sweat and usually about 10 cups of strong coffee) I would initially admire my latest creation with great pride.   But all too soon I’d be ruefully saying:  “Nah. Only 92%.”   Or:  “Damn.  Only 70%.”  As I would notice the flaws.  The things that could have been better.  “If only . . .”   But the NEXT time I was REALLY going to nail it.

And that relentless drive for this unattainable artistic perfection drove me for decades.  Non-stop.  I never took a vacation.  Simply because I could never turn it off.  Even when I wasn’t specifically working on a project, my mind was constantly buzzing anyways.  Feverishly looking for the next hit.

Now that I’m pushing towards 60 I guess I’ve lost that drive.    I suppose you could say I’m burned-out.  And, of course, I miss it.

It’s somewhat typical within the field of artists and writers, I guess.  Where you burn, burn, burn until you burn up from the fire you generate.  Shooting stars and all that.  Jack Kerouac was pretty much creatively burned-out by 45.  I don’t think J.D. Salinger produced anything of worth after 40.  Hunter S. Thompson produced three classic books in his 20s and 30s, and that was pretty much it for him.  Jerry Garcia was a burned-out shell by 50.  Like I said, it’s more the rule than the exception with artists.  Genius is something that the gods give out only rarely.  And take away in a blink of an eye.

Sometimes I’ll think of some kid at the playground with a basketball, aspiring to be “the next Michael Jordan.”  Burning, burning, burning.  “To be somebody!!”  Aspiring towards greatness.  And maybe, with hard work, God-given talent and some luck, they actually make it.  Become a professional athlete.  A star even. . .  But all too soon, they find that they’re pushing 35. And the bodies that they’ve pushed to the limits in their quest for greatness have finally worn out.  And suddenly they’re “retired.”  And all the great battles in the arenas, and all the glorious cheers of the crowd are like a fading memory of a long-lost dream.

Longing for a “second act.”  That usually isn’t there.

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