Today we honor and celebrate a man who broke through the color barrier in publishing, artist and cartoonist Matt Baker. Born in 1921, some of Baker’s early work was published in the 30s. He was hired by Eisner and Iger, a company that created work for a variety of comic book publishers. Baker’s work for the studio was published by Fox Comics and Quality comics in 1944, the first known published comic book art by an African-American.
Baker was a master of “good girl art” a style that focused on female beauty and glamor across all genres of comics. He worked in all genres as well, publishing work at several companies in romance, western, science fiction, and supernatural. His most lasting contribution to comics was the reinvention of Phantom Lady. This super-hero was created by Iger employees for Quality Comics, who dropped her after a few issues. Fox Comics picked up the feature but asked for a complete redesign. Baker created a whole new look for Phantom Lady which ran for a few years. The hero has been absorbed by DC Comics and worked into their historical cannon of WWII heroes.
Matt Baker was also the artist on one of the first known graphic novels. Called a “picture novel”, It Rhymes With Lust was published by St. John’s Publications in 1950. It was a clear forerunner of the long-format comic that became a staple of the industry 30 years later. Matt Baker died at the very young age of 37 of a heart attack. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009.