Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Creator profile: Matt Baker

Clarence Matthew Baker (1921 - 1959) was a comic book artist best remembered for the costumed crime-fighter Phantom Lady and as the medium's first known African-American artist; he was active as early as the 1930s-40s Golden Age of comic books. Baker penciled what is arguably the first graphic novel, St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950). His speciality was drawing "good girl art", a comics sub-genre for which his available work is in high demand with collectors. Baker's career was launched at the Iger Studio, one of many 1940s "packagers" who provided outsourced comics on demand for eager publishers entering the new medium. Through Iger, Baker produced work for various publishers including St. John, Fiction House, Fox, and Quality Comics.

The Phantom Lady (created by Arthur Peddy in 1941) was a Quality Comics feature supplied by the Iger Studio. After Quality dropped her feature in Police Comics, Iger supplied her to Fox Comics, which had also requested a sexy costumed adventuress. Matt Baker redesigned the character into her best-known incarnation, and she debuted in Fox's Phantom Lady #13 (Aug. 1947), the premiere issue after taking over the numbering of the canceled comic Wotalife. Baker's Phantom Lady also appeared as a backup feature in All Top Comics #9-16.
His other notable work includes military-humor title Canteen Kate, Tales of The Mysterious Traveler; the feature "Sky Girl" in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, the jungle adventures of "Tiger Girl"; "Flamingo", "South Sea Girl", "Glory Forbes", "Kayo Kirby"; and "Risks Unlimited". He also produced Flamingo [above, right] as a syndicated comic strip from 1952 through 1954.

He really hit his stride drawing romance titles prolifically for St. John Publications in the 1950’s. Love Romances, My Own Romance, and Teen-Age Romance; and Wartime Romances. His untimely passing in 1959 cut short what might have been a very lucrative period for Baker as the silver age of comics was really getting underway.

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