In The Beginning There was Sad Sack
Through the course of my research, I learned of Duncan’s widow, Janice Duncan Goodhue, and how she had met him in Naples, Italy just weeks before he was killed in action. I found that Janice had wound up in Nevada, where she had been interviewed for a repository of audio recollections by WWII veterans. She was last listed as living in Reno, so I decided to see if she was still with us. She was indeed! Janice was in her mid-90s and sharper than most tacks. We exchanged a few letters and chatted on the phone a couple of times. At this point, I was invested enough in my research that I could envision an article coming out of the process. I arranged to interview Janice, so in June of 2009 I met her at her home in Reno, Nevada and spent a couple of hours enthralled by her stories, as well as her undying love for her husband. She was thrilled that someone wanted to shine a light on Gregor’s life and work, and I felt honored to do so. Janice was elated with the resulting article and told me that she thought I had become friends with Gregor during the process.
This ink portrait of George Baker, the creator of the Sad Sack comic strip for Yank magazine during WWII, was my introduction to Gregor Duncan’s work. I picked the book up in the early 1980s and was struck by the beautiful active pen work in the portrait. The book’s paper is wartime grade material, so ghostly images of a Sad Sack comic strip come through slightly from the reverse of the page. Opposite the drawing, on the page to the right, is the About the Author page in the book. Baker shares a bit of his autobiography before ending with this paragraph:
“The drawing opposite was done by a very good friend, Sergeant Gregor Duncan, of the European Stars and Stripes, a short time before he was killed in the Allied advance on Rome.”
Sometime in the mid-1980s, I acquired a nice group of WWII cartoons by the great British cartoonist Carl Giles. Also included the group of material were two ink drawings by Gregor Duncan. These were courtroom drawings from the Vichy Government trials during WWII. The facility in the work was clear, as was Duncan’s beautiful, lively pen line. These pieces remained in my collection, though Duncan himself was still an unknown quantity to me. Fast-forward to December 2008, when I ran across four beautiful WWII drawings by Duncan, from when he was doing publicity work for the Army Air Force (AAF) at Chanute Field in Illinois. As before, I was struck by Duncan’s draftsmanship, as well as his ability to work as a reportage artist. I was smitten and decided to begin doing research on Duncan.
Gregor Duncan died way before his time, at the age of 34. He was involved in left-wing causes of the day, such as the formation of unions and the integration of a jazz club like Café Society. He was in the building when Billie Holiday introduced “Strange Fruit” to the world. Duncan was a part of the fledgling comic book industry, with stories alongside the “Big Red Cheese”, Captain Marvel, in Whiz Comics #1. He was also a truly terrific illustrator, on the cusp of greatness before his life was snuffed out.
My full article about Gregor Duncan can be found at the Hogan’s Alley website at: https://www.hoganmag.com/blog/gregor-duncan-pictures-of-life
I intend on using this blog to showcase Duncan’s work and life, especially as new images and information are uncovered. If you have any material to share with me, please do consider doing so. Thanks.