Profile: Matt Baker (1921-1959)

Clarence Matthew Baker 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.

Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009. His influence can be seen in artists such as Jaime Hernandez, Dave Stevens, and Adam Hughes.

Biography

Early years

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.

Personal life

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.”

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