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.
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.
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.
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.
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