Black History—Matt Baker

Clarence Matthew Baker, commonly known as Matt Baker, was one of the first successful black comic book artists. He was active during the Golden Age of Comics Books, roughly the 1930s to 1950s. During his career he drew more than 1,000 pages of comics and over 200 covers. These works included possibly the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust (1950), Phantom Lady, and Canteen Kate.

Baker was born in Forsyth County, North Carolina on December 10, 1921 to Clarence and Ethel Baker, and had two brothers, Robert and John. His family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where during this time, young Baker suffered a case of rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart, and led to his being exempt from the draft during World War II. Baker graduated from high school around 1940 and afterwards moved to Washington D.C. where he began working for the government. By 1943, however, he enrolled at the Cooper Union School of Engineering and Design in Manhattan, New York.

Baker, an admirer of the works of artists such as Reed Crandall and Will Eisner, joined S. M. Iger Studios in 1944 as a background artist. His first work came in 1944’s Jumbo Comics#69 where he penciled and inked a Sheena, Queen of the Jungle story. In 1945 Baker drew the first black hero in comics, Voodah, in Crown Comics #3, though the character was made white not long after. In 1947 Baker began working on one of his most well-known projects, Phantom Lady. Baker redesigned the character, and was on the series from 1947 to 1949. Phantom Lady and his other works during the 1940s showed Baker’s skill at the “Good Girl” art style, depicting traditionally beautiful women dressed in little clothing.

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(Click on video below to get an overall view of Mr. Baker)

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