Matt Baker (artist)

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Matt Baker
Baker (left) and publisher Archer St. John at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (undated)
BornClarence Matthew Baker
(1921-12-10)December 10, 1921
Forsyth County, North Carolina
DiedAugust 11, 1959(1959-08-11) (aged 37)
Pseudonym(s)Matt Barkerino
Notable works
Phantom Lady

Clarence Matthew Baker[1] (December 10, 1921 – August 11, 1959)[2] was an American comic book artist and illustrator who is best known for drawing early comics heroines like 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,[3] he also penciled the very first graphic novel, St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950).

Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009,[4] his influence can be seen in artists like Jaime Hernandez[5], Dave Stevens and Adam Hughes[6].


Early years[edit]

Baker was born December 10, 1921, in Forsyth County, North Carolina.[1] At a young age he relocated with his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[1] and after graduating high school circa 1940, moved to Washington, D.C..[1] 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.[1] 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.[7] 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 originally as a background artist before he was given his first scripts.[8] 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.[9]

Much of Baker's work was originally penciled backgrounds as well as the female form for other artist and most of his work has been inked over with the inker receiving credit 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.[8]

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.[9] In later years, he independently teamed with inker Jon D'Agostino under the pseudonym Matt Bakerino[citation needed] at Charlton Comics.

Personal life[edit]

Some friends and family members speculated about his sexual orientation as he had many female friends, but was never committed to any of them. Artist Frank Guisto, who worked with Baker for years and was one of his closest friends, recounted that Baker was gay, provided several anecdotes about how he dealt with it, and explained that his women friends were simply friends. Jim Amash a "Baker Scholar" confirmed this with Baker's half brother Fred Robinson to include in his book [10]. Artist Lee J. Ames also confirmed that Baker was gay [11]. Baker's other close friend Ray Orsin mentioned that there were rumors of him being gay, but that he could not say one way or the other [12]. In the early 1950's publisher Archer St. John became very close to Baker. Fred Robinson said that "They had a very close relationship. I don't know exactly what it was."[13]

Phantom Lady[edit]

Phantom Lady #17 (April 1948). This Baker cover appeared in the book Seduction of the Innocent.

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).[14]

During the time of the Comics Code Authority (1954) when Dr. Frederick Wertham claimed comics had ill effects on a child's psychological development; Wertham used Bakers Phantom Lady #17 as a key sample that became the foundation for the CCA and decades of mandated censorship.[15]

Other work[edit]

Page from Fight Comics # 40, Oct. 1945, Fiction House.

His other artwork for comic books includes the light-humor military title Canteen Kate, for which Baker drew all 22 installments,[16] 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,[17] 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.[citation needed] His pen names include Curt Davis.[18] 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.[19]

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 the first known black hero in American comics. Voodah debuted in Crown Comics #3 in 1945. Although the character was black in the first story, they colored the character as Caucasian on its first cover (Crown Comics #5, also by Baker) and after that he remained Caucasian.[20]

Later work and death[edit]

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.[21]

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).[9] 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).

He died in 1959 of a heart attack.[22]


Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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)
  2. ^ Matt Baker at the Lambiek Comiclopedia
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b "2009 Eisner Award winners". Archived from the original on 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  5. ^ Hignite, Todd. The Art of Jaime Hernandez. Abrams, 2010, p. 192.
  6. ^ Baker, Matt. Phantom Lady, Verotik, 1994, cover.
  7. ^ Becattini, p. 37
  8. ^ a b "Matt Baker - First Black Comic Artist | Great Black Heroes". Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  9. ^ a b c Matt Baker at the Grand Comics Database
  10. ^ Amash, Jim (2012). Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. TwoMorrows. p. 128. ISBN 9781605490328.
  11. ^ Amash, Jim (2012). Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. TwoMorrows. p. 153. ISBN 9781605490328.
  12. ^ Amash, Jim (2012). Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. TwoMorrows. p. 142. ISBN 9781605490328.
  13. ^ Amash, Jim (2012). Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. TwoMorrows. p. 119. ISBN 9781605490328.
  14. ^ Phantom Lady at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
  15. ^ "Comic Book DB - The Comic Book Database". Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ William B. Jones, Jr., Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, with Illustrations (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002), p. 44.
  18. ^ As in, for example, the feature "Stuart Taylor in Weird Stories of the Supernatural" in Jumbo Comics #105 (Nov. 1947)
  19. ^ "Profiles in Black Cartooning: Matt Baker | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund". Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  20. ^ McDowell, Ian (May 29, 2017). "Black Man's Bombeshells: Piedmont-Born Comic Book Pioneer Matt Baker". Yesweekly.
  21. ^ Jones, Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, p. 45.
  22. ^ Duin, Steve, and Mike Richardson. Comics Between the Panels, Dark Horse Comics, p. 39.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Booker, M. Keith (2010). Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 45.