Matt Baker (artist)
|Born||Clarence Matthew Baker
December 10, 1921
Forsyth County, North Carolina
|Died||August 11, 1959(aged 37)|
Clarence Matthew Baker (December 10, 1921 – August 11, 1959) was an American comic book artist who drew the costumed crimefighter Phantom Lady, among many other characters. Active in the 1940s and 1950s Golden Age of comic books, he is the first known African-American artist to find success in the comic-book industry. He also penciled an early form of graphic novel, St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950).
Baker was born in Forsyth County, North Carolina. At a young age he relocated with his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and after graduating high school circa 1940, moved to Washington, D.C.. Prevented by a heart condition from being drafted into the U.S. military in World War II era, he began studying art at Cooper Union, in New York City. He entered comics through the Jerry Iger Studio, one of the 1930s to 1940s "packagers" that provided outsourced comics to publishers entering the new medium. Baker's first confirmed comics work is penciling and inking the women in the 12-page "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" story in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics #69 (cover-dated Nov. 1944), otherwise penciled by Robert Webb and Alex Blum.
During this period, known to historians and fans as the Golden Age of Comic Books, Baker did work for publishers including Fiction House, Fox Comics, Quality Comics and St. John Publications. In later years, he independently teamed with inker Jon D'Agostino under the pseudonym Matt Bakerino at Charlton Comics.
The character Phantom Lady, created by Arthur Peddy, had originated in 1941 as a Quality Comics feature supplied by the Iger Studio. Cartoonist Frank Borth later took over the art. After Quality dropped the feature, which had appeared in Police Comics #1-23 (Aug. 1941 – Oct. 1943), Iger supplied it to Fox Comics, which had requested a sexy costumed adventuress. Baker redesigned the character into her best-known incarnation (see image above). This version (generally but unconfirmably credited to writer Ruth Roche) debuted in Fox's Phantom Lady #13 (August 1947), the premiere issue after taking over the numbering of the canceled comic Wotalife; the title ran through issue #23 (April 1949). Baker's Phantom Lady also appeared as a backup feature in All Top Comics #9-16 (Jan. 1948 – March 1949).
His other artwork for comic books includes the light-humor military title Canteen Kate, for which Baker drew all 22 installments, as well as stories in the suspense anthology Tales of The Mysterious Traveler; the comedic-adventure feature "Sky Girl" in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, with originals and later reprints running from #69-139 (November 1944 - December 1952); the jungle adventure "Tiger Girl"; "Flamingo", "South Sea Girl", "Glory Forbes", "Kayo Kirby"; and "Risks Unlimited". Baker illustrated Lorna Doone for Classic Comics in December 1946, his one and only contribution to the well-known series. He is the generally credited but unconfirmed artist for Fox's Rulah, Jungle Goddess #17–27 (Aug. 1948 - June 1949, the title's complete run after having taken over the numbering of the defunct Zoot Comics). He also produced Flamingo as a syndicated comic strip from 1952 through 1954. His pen names include Curt Davis.
In additional to several romance comics and other titles for St. John Publications, Baker penciled an early form of graphic novel, St. John's digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950), with writers Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller, writing under the pseudonym "Drake Waller."
Later work and death
Later in the decade, Baker freelanced for Atlas Comics, the 1950s forerunner of Marvel Comics, beginning with a five-page anthological story generally if unconfirmably credited to writer-editor Stan Lee, in the omnibus title Gunsmoke Western #32 (Dec. 1955). At some point during this period, working through artist Vince Colletta's studio, Baker went on to draw stories for Atlas' Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action, Frontier Western, and Wild Western; more prolifically for the company's romance comics Love Romances, My Own Romance, and Teen-Age Romance; and one story each for the supernatural/science fiction anthologies Strange Tales, World of Fantasy, and Tales to Astonish ("I Fell to the Center of the Earth!" in issue #2, March 1959). Baker also supplied artwork for the Dell Movie Classic edition of King Richard and the Crusaders.
His last known work, as generally credited but unconfirmed, is the first page of the six-page story "Happily Ever After" in Atlas/Marvel's Love Romances #90 (Nov. 1960). His last known confirmed work is the six-page "I Gave Up the Man I Love!" in the company's My Own Romance #73 (Jan. 1960).
- Matt Baker at the Lambiek Comiclopedia
- Amash, Jim; Nolen-Weathngton, Eric, eds. (2012). "Part One: Meet Matt Baker: Baker of Cheesecake: An Appreciation of Matt Baker, Good Girl Artist Supreme". Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour (PDF). TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-1605490328. Note: Artist credits were not routinely given in comic books in the 1940s, so comprehensive credits are difficult if not impossible to ascertain.
- "2009 Eisner Award winners". Comic-Con.org. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
- M. Keith Booker. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO (2010), Pg. 45.
- Becattini, Alberto, in Amash, Jim; Nolen-Weathngton, Eric, eds. (2012). "Part One: Meet Matt Baker: Baker of Cheesecake: An Appreciation of Matt Baker, Good Girl Artist Supreme". Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour (PDF). TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-1605490328.
- Becattini, p. 37
- Matt Baker at the Grand Comics Database
- Phantom Lady at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
- Ringgenberg, Steven; Procopio, Joseph V. (2013). The Lost Art of Matt Baker: The Complete Canteen Kate. Silver Spring, Maryland: Picture This Press. ISBN 978-0-9829276-6-3.
- William B. Jones, Jr., Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, with Illustrations (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002), p. 44.
- As in, for example, the feature "Stuart Taylor in Weird Stories of the Supernatural" in Jumbo Comics #105 (Nov. 1947)
- Jones, Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, p. 45.
- Duin, Steve, and Mike Richardson. Comics Between the Panels, Dark Horse Comics, 1998. page ?
- Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, California: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1
- Black Superhero Hype: Matt Baker
- Matt Baker artwork at American Art Archives web site
- Matt Baker Canteen Kate video