Saturday, February 2, 2013

Matt Baker (1921 - 1959)

Die-hard DC Comics fans may know Phantom Lady mostly through various crossovers with her team, the Freedom Fighters or her current title, but many don’t know that her iconic look was created by a cartoonist who not only stood out with his beautiful women and tough guys, but also a man who drew one of the first books that are commonly known as a “graphic novel.”

 Clarence Matthew Baker was born in North Carolina and raised in Pennsylvania. He went to college at Cooper Union in New York City before getting hired by the legendary comic house Eisner & Iger Studio. a collective of artists and writers who churned out titles for publishers wanting to enter the then-new medium. Baker drew titles for various publishers including Fiction House, Fox, Quality, Charlton, St. John Publications, and Atlas.

Mr. Baker had this flair for drawing the female form. Strong, beautiful, curvy, slightly exaggerated but with a working knowledge of the human anatomy (these ladies actually have a backbone literally and figuratively). In fact, it was this quality that inspired Iger Studio to put him on a revival of Quality’s Phantom Lady from Fox Publications. Mr. Baker redesigned the heroine into the character that has been adapted throughout the decades, including at the character’s current home, DC Comics.

Over the next two decades. Mr. Baker worked on characters like Sky Girl, Canteen Kate, Tiger Girl, Rulah the Tiger Goddess, Glory Forbes, and many other Golden Age heroines. He also drew several romance titles and western anthologies as well as the adaptation of Lorna Doone for the iconic comic series Classic Illustrated  

Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller co-wrote a “picture novel” for St. John Publications in 1949. Drake referred to this endeavor as a cross between a comic book and a “book book.” With illustrations by Matt Baker, this “picture novel,” It Rhymes with Lust, was published in 1950 and is considered by many comic historians as the very first graphic novel.

Mr. Baker worked at Atlas (the precursor company to what is now known today as Marvel Comics) in the last years of his life working on anthology series including Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, and World of Fantasy. 

Matt Baker died of heart failure on August 11, 1959 at the rather young age of 37. 

Notes

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    In case you’re like me, and wondering what exactly it is that “Rhymes with Lust”, the lady’s name is Rust. So…there you...
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    Love.
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