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 and illustrator, best known for drawing early comics heroines such as the costumed crimefighter Phantom Lady, and romance comics. 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 St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950).
Baker was born December 10, 1921, 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 during World War II, 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. Iger recalled that Baker came into his studio with a single sample of a color sketch in his portfolio; he thought the woman was so naturally beautiful that he hired Baker on the spot, as a background artist before he was given his first scripts. 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.
Much of Baker's work was originally penciled backgrounds as well as female figures for other artists, and most of his work has been inked over, with the inker credited for his work. He quickly developed a reputation as one of the best "Good Girl" artists in the business for his attention to detail when drawing women.
During this period, known 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.
Baker's friend Frank Giusto and artist Lee J. Ames have said that Baker was gay. Baker's brother Fred Robinson added of Baker and St. John Publications publisher Archer St. John, "They had a very close relationship. I don't know exactly what it was."
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. Baker redesigned the character into her best-known incarnation. 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).
When psychiatrist Frederick Wertham claimed comics had ill effects on a child's psychological development, he used Baker's Phantom Lady #17 as a key sample. These criticisms led to the 1954 foundation for the Comics Code Authority and decades of industry-controlled censorship.
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. Baker shaped women into classy, realistic beauties, full of character in their own stories as opposed to the ways women were portrayed in other comics of the time.
In addition 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."
Baker also created or co-created what writer John Arcudi calls "the first known black hero in American comics." The Tarzan-like jungle hero Voodah, drawn by Baker and scripted by an unknown writer, debuted in the publisher McCombs' Crown Comics #3 (cover-date Fall 1945, on-sale date Sept. 19, 1945). As the Grand Comics Database states, based on art credits from "The Matt Baker Checklist" by Alberto Becattini and Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr. in Matt Baker: The Art of Glamor (cited under References), "Voodah is colored like a native African in this comic, but after this issue he is colored like a Caucasian." He additionally is Caucasian on the cover.
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 confirmed work is the six-page "I Gave Up the Man I Love!" in the company's My Own Romance #73 (Jan. 1960). His last known work as generally credited but unconfirmed is the first page of the six-page story "Happily Ever After" in Marvel's Love Romances #90 (Nov. 1960).
- 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) 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. Archived from the original on 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
- Hignite, Todd. The Art of Jaime Hernandez. Abrams, 2010, p. 192.
- Baker, Matt. Phantom Lady, Verotik, 1994, cover.
- Becattini, p. 37
- "Matt Baker - First Black Comic Artist | Great Black Heroes". www.greatblackheroes.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Schelly, William (2013). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1950s. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 9781605490540.
- Matt Baker at the Grand Comics Database
- Amash, Jim; Nolen-Weathington, Eric, eds. (2012). Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows. p. 128. ISBN 9781605490328.
- Amash, Nolen-Weathington, p. 153.
- Amash, Nolen-Weathington, p. 119.
- Phantom Lady at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
- "Comic Book DB - The Comic Book Database". comicbookdb.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- 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)
- "Profiles in Black Cartooning: Matt Baker | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund". cbldf.org. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Arcudi, John (July 17, 2019). "African American Comic Artists Through History, Part 4". Rumble (14). Image Comics. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
- Crown Comics #3 at the Grand Comics Database.
- Jones, Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, p. 45.
- Duin, Steve; Richardson, Mike (1998). Comics Between the Panels. Dark Horse Books. p. 39. ISBN 978-1569713440.
- Chamberlain, Gaius (2016-01-14). "Matt Baker". Great Black Heroes. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
- 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
- Booker, M. Keith (2010). Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 45.