This year, cartoonist Matt Baker was inducted into to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame. I can’t help but feel a small bit of pride, since our students nominated Baker. For the past two years, CCS students have submitted Hall of Fame suggestions to the Eisner award committee. This is required course work in Steve Bissette’s comics history class, Survey of the Drawn Story.
Although Matt Baker’s comics career was cut tragically short (reportedly due to hear failure) he made a significant impact on the medium between 1944 and 1959. Baker was one of the first know African-American cartoonist, and arguable one of the most prominent in his day.
After attending the prestigious Cooper Union, Baker began his comics career at the Iger Studio at the age of 23. Through the studio Baker worked for such publisher’s as Fiction House, Fox and Quality. Baker’s redesign of the Fox character Phantom Lady made her popular among the “good girl” comics genre. Baker’s cover for Phantom Lady #17 is his most famous, and notorious, contribution to comics.
Baker briefly drew his own his syndicated comic strip (Flamingo), contributing to the western genre (Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action and Frontier Western) and illustrating an adaptation of Lorna Doone for Classic Comics. In all these works, it was Baker’s masterfully rendering of the female form that set him apart.
My first introduction to Baker’s work was through the romance comics of St. John Publications, where he was the primary penciler and cover artist. In my opinion, Baker’s romance work is without rival. I’m a big fan of his his high drama romance covers, which were always carefully composed and rendered. In a genre that was overwrought by cliche, Baker’s covers were not generic, and they certainly weren’t boring.
In 1950 Baker broke new ground by penciling Rhymes with Lust. Called a “picture novel” by its authors, Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller, Rhymes with Lust is one of the most noteworthy precursors to the modern graphic novel.
The Schulz Library has in its collection the Dark Horse reprint of Rhymes With Lust, though sadly we are lacking Fantagraphic’s Romance Without Tears. Romance Without Tears is a collection of St. John’s best romance comics, and features many Matt Baker’s comics and cover illustrations. Do you have a copy you’d like to donate?