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Comic Hall of Fame: Matt Baker
Comic Hall of Fame: Matt Baker

February 9, 2013 Comic Hall of Fame: Matt Baker

Clarence Matthew Baker (December 10, 1921 August 11, 1959) was a Black American comic book artist best known for the costumed crimefighter Phantom Lady. Baker was active as early as the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age of comic books. He also penciled an early form of graphic novel, St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950). His specialty was good girl art, a comics and cartooning subgenre.

Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009

Baker was born in Forsyth County, North Carolina, and raised in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a steel mill town on the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh. He was educated at Cooper Union in New York City, and was later hired by the Iger Studio. Eisner & Inger was one of the 1940s packagers who provided outsourced comics on demand for publishers entering the new medium. Through Iger, Baker did work for publishers including St. John, Fiction House, Fox Comics and Quality Comics. In later years, he independently teamed with inker Jon D'Agostino under the pseudonym Matt Bakerino at Charlton Comics.

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 (August 1941 October 1943), Iger supplied it to Fox Comics, which had requested a sexy costumed adventuress.[citation needed] Baker redesigned the character into her best-known incarnation (see image above). 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 (January 1948 March 1949).

His other artwork for comic books includes the light-humor military title Canteen Kate, 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.[5] In 1948, Matt Baker contributed the cover art to The Saint #4 published by Avon. He is the generally credited but unconfirmed artist for Fox's Rulah, Jungle Goddess #1727 (August 1948 - June 1949, 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.

Baker later did several romance and other titles for St. John Publications, and afterward 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 (December 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, reprinted in the book Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales to Astonish) Baker also supplied artwork for the Dell Movie Classic edition of King Richard and the Crusaders.

His last known work (generally credited but unconfirmed) is the first page of the six-page story "Happily Ever After" in Atlas/Marvel's Love Romances #90 (November 1960). His last known confirmed work is the six-page "I Gave Up the Man I Love!" in the company's My Own Romance #73 (January 1960).

He died in August 1959 of a heart attack.

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