web stats

CSBG Archive

Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: Matt Baker Covers

With Barack Obama in the White House and Black History Month just around the corner, I thought that it would be a great time to take a quick look at some of the fine covers by comicdom’s first African-American artist of note: Matt Baker.

Many of you are likely familiar with the comic book art of Matt Baker, but for those of you who have not yet heard that name, you are in for a treat. Matt Baker had a relatively short career in the four color world, as he passed away before his 40th birthday, but his work is held in very high regard and sought out by collectors worldwide. Two of his best known works (Phantom Lady and the digest sized graphic novel prototype It Rhymes With Lust) trigger bidding wars whenever they appear at auction. By the time of his death, he had work for numerous publishers and had risen from being one of the nameless artists huddled at tables at the Iger Studio to become a well known artist, signing his name on covers.

Photobucket

Let’s start with Phantom Lady, and other Baker femme fatales. With all due respect to everyone who has drawn Power Girl since Wally Wood, no one draws the female form as well as Matt Baker. Along with the likes of Bill Ward, Jack Kamen and a handful of other artists, Baker was responsible for the look we’ve come to know as Good Girl Art. From superheroines to gun molls to damsels in distress, Baker could draw them all. His women are both strong and sexy, exaggerated without being ridiculous, curvy but not pneumatic. The 3 covers I’ve posted above should give you a good idea of Baker’s capabilities.

Photobucket

The 1950s were a time when Romance was a the top selling genre. St. John Publishing invested heavily in Romance books and brought in Matt Baker to anchor the entire line. The result was a string of romance titles of exceptional quality. To this day, certain issues of Teen Age Romances and Teen Age Temptations (especially those with particularly lurid covers) commanded multiples of Guide. Baker was able to infuse each cover with so much drama that even charter members of the Woman Haters Club likely too a peek between the covers. Some of Baker’s work has been reprinted over the years (I thinking of Eternity Comics My Torrid Affairs, in particular) and those are worth tracking down for some inexpensive Matt Baker.

Photobucket

Along with Romance, Crime was another popular genre during the peak of Baker’s career. Although he is not as well known for his Crime work as he is for his Romance and GGA work, I think that he truly excelled in this area, where his cover designs helped to separate his books from the rest. At a time when multi-paneled covers were in vogue, it took a very special artist to convey 3 or 4 different stories in a coherent way. These are true works of art and those in the know are fully aware of it. Just try getting your hands on an affordable copy of one of those 100 Page 25 Cent Giants.

Photobucket

Of course, Baker contributed in many other genres, from Adventure to Horror and excelled in each of them. As you may have guessed, I’m a big western fan and Baker really thrived in that genre. Sadly, his life was cut short just before the launch of the second Super Heroic Age. It would have been interesting to see if Baker would have landed with either Marvel or DC during this period (he had actually done a handful of western and horror back-ups for Stan Lee in the late 50s). Could you imagine Baker on Wonder Woman or perhaps Hawkman? I think he could have added extra spice to Tony Stark life by drawing Pepper Potts. I could also see him sticking with Charlton, and providing the Action Heroes line with even more punch. It’s all speculation and daydreaming, but that’s always a lot of fun, isn’t it?

For more random comic book talk, please feel free to visit me at Seduction of the Indifferent , or drop me a line at scottshouldbegood at yahoo.ca

26 Comments

Scott, I feel ashamed to say I’d never heard of him. But, wow…those covers are amazing.

Don’t feel ashamed – he’s been dead for 50 years and worked primarily in genres that are long gone. There are plenty of creators that about whom I’ve never heard!

Glad you liked the covers I selected – he was an unbelievably talented artist. One of the comic book mags (Alter Ego?) had an interview with his younger (half?) brother quite some time ago. I can’t recall any of the specifics. Beyond that, very little is known about Baker.

Thanks so much for discussing Matt Baker. Comic books, comic strips, pulps and paperback novels, radio and film serials and early TV. I love everything about the early days of the etertainment art form and it’s always a real treat to get to learn even more.

Besed upon what you’ve shown, Matt Baker was an outstanding artist.

It’s always great to see Matt Baker in any format. One of the best good girl artists of all time. While mostly everone knows the Seduction of the Innocent works of Baker, I’m happy you showed a variety of the genres he covered. I used to own a beat up copy of Zoot Comics #11 but traded it (remember doing that with comics?) for 4 Three Stooges comics. Kicking myself for giving it up, but Baker’s work will live on.

Are there any pictures of him around? I’d love to see what he looked like. I didn’t know there were any African-American artists active that early in the industry.

Any idea how he died? 37 is such a surprisingly young age to pass on, yet I wasn’t able to find any details about his death online…

Richard: I believe he died of heart failure.

Craig

I think there was at least one photo in that Alter Ego issue (#47?), I’d have to check – but my mags are all in a box somewhere.

As far as I can remember – he was a slim, good looking guy – kind of like Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead.

Dub – glad you liked the variety. I was trying to show that this man could draw anything. I’ve got that issue of The Hawk – and it’s really gorgeous in person.

Yeah, if I recall correctly, Baker was a handsome man.

Great artist.

Great show today Scott. Let me just pitch in a word for Sky Girl (later Sky Gal) a staple feature in Fiction House’s Jumbo Comics for years. She was not the smartest gal, but she always succeeded in spite of herself. She was a lot of fun. Here’s a nice website to go along with the great covers you provide. http://www.americanartarchives.com/baker,matt.htm.

Picture’s of MB are scarce online. This Fiction House website draws (!) a reasonably accurate portrait of the man http://terrororstralis.com/sheena/comics/FH-comics.htm. Yes, his pic is in that Alter Ego #47. If I knew how to scan it in your blog I would. The mag’s sitting right beside me. Thanks!

King of the Good Girl… Always loved his work!

Wow, those covers are fantastic. I’m surprised, and pleased, to hear that there was such a prominent African American artist working in comic books that far back. Other than the Torrid Affairs book you mentioned, are there any readily available reprints of his stuff?

Matt Baker truly was an unheralded giant. No one in comics before or since drew more beautiful women, but as shown here, the man could draw anything and make it look amazing.

Thanks, Scott, for throwing a much-deserved spotlight on Baker’s brilliant oeuvre.

I have long been familiar with his work, but never knew much about him, nor that he was an african-american. Thanks for this informative article. While he is so well known as a “good girl” artist, the examples you provided really demonstrate that he was really a master of the human form and had such a good sense of human drama. His compositions are fantastic. He ranks up there with Lou Fine, in my opinion, as a one of the classic cover artists.

Thanks for all the input – it’s great to hear this kind of chat about such a fine creator.

I finally found a website with a pic of Matt Baker – I think it’s the same photo from that issue of Alter Ego, as the column discussed that mag.

http://www.comictreadmill.com/CTMBlogarchives/2008/2008_Individual/2008_02/001663.php

I believe Dark Horse reprinted It Rhymes With Lust – and I’d love to get a copy of that.

I think the Fantagraphics book ‘Romance Without Tears’ from a few years back would also have some Baker art, but I’ve never seen it.

I also think some of his Fiction House work has been reprinted here and there, but I can’t say for sure.

Maybe I should ask my friend Chris Marshall at Collected Comics Library to do a Matt Baker episode of his podcast!

Steve Duin, newspaper columnist and co-author of “Comics:Between the Panels”, posts a Matt Baker cover in his blog every Monday:

http://blog.oregonlive.com/steveduin/

Look for the “Matt Baker Monday” and “Fiction House Friday” posts.

Also, I played a role in setting up that interview with Matt Baker’s family members in AE #47. It was the coolest thing that happened to me that year. It started when Matt’s nephew and namesake, Matt D. Baker, inherited some of his uncle’s stuff and went online to see if he could find any information about Matt’s comic art career. When he started he had no idea if anyone remembered that his uncle existed, much less that he drew comics. Matt D. found a website devoted to romance comics and emailed the site’s owner, who then posted to CBR looking for Matt Baker experts. I saw the post there and knew where to go – I posted to the Timely-Atlas list, and within 24 hours I had emails from Roy Thomas, Jim Amash, Jerry Bails, Roger Hill, Doc Vassallo, Ken Quattro, and other comics historians. I forwarded their messages to Matt D., and the AE interview was the result. It was quite a thrill to be in a position to explain to Matt D. that his uncle was not just remembered but revered.

[...] Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: Matt Baker Covers Diesen Artikel bookmarken? Bedenklichen Inhalt melden? [...]

Matt Baker was an outstanding artist during his time. He is the only known African American comic book artist of the Golden Age. Yes, the Alter Ego issue 47 does shed light on Matt for the fans and sets the record straight of his birth and death. There are also a couple of books by author John Benson that covers Matt Baker, St. John Publishing and romance comics as well (you may be able to find them through Amazon).

Rob Allen was the one who got us the contact info with Matt Baker’s family, and through omission, I forgot to thank him for it (though I believe Roy Thomas did). My interview with Baker’s nephew and half-brother, along with other Baker related material, was in Alter Ego #47. The Baker family supplied us with several photos of Matt Baker and his family, including his brother John, who also worked in comics.

Btw, Matt Baker was not the first African-American to work in comics: Elmer Stoner was before him, and he may have been the first. There were others in the 1940s also, including Alphonso Greene, John Baker, and A.C. Hollingsworth.

I’ve read the Alter Ego article and found it really informative and fascinating. I wonder if the family has a lot of other Matt Baker art work that has never been seen? It would be nice to see a book with his artwork compiled together including his non-comic illustrations as well.

Thanks for this Scott, I too sadly was unaware of this great comics pioneer and am really grateful to have been enlightened…just wish I could afford some of those originals!

Definitely see some Dave Stevens in some of those St Johns covers…I´ll assume he was an influence?

I think Joanna’s right on the money. There definitely is a market for a Matt Baker sketch/illustration book. The problem is acquiring copies of his many illustrations. I think most of his work is now in private collections who’s caretakers horde this gorgeous artwork for themselves.

Thank you SO MUCH for this story. I consider myself a student of the medium, but never heard of this amazing artist until reading this.

lionel leroutier

August 10, 2010 at 10:28 am

bonjour

je suis un éditeur de bd français et ma société va éditer une quarantaine d’albums des oeuvre de Matt Baker,
j’ espère ainsi faire découvrir au public francophone l’immense talent de Matt Baker.

Hello

I am a publisher(editor) of French boulevard and my company(society) is going to publish(edit) about forty albums of Matt Baker’s work,
J ‘ so hopes to make discover to the public French speaker Matt Baker’s immense talent.

looking for reprint of manhunt digest with Mickey Spillane/author and Matt Baker.artist. publish unknown (perhaps Dark Horse). will appreciate any help!

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives