Mention the name Matt Baker to most generations of comic book fans, and chances are you’ll only get a blank stare. But to those readers enamored with what has become somewhat condescendingly known as Good Girl Art, Baker is the Man. Matt Baker:The Art of Glamour (TwoMorrows Publishing) is a fannish attempt to bring this unduly neglected artist back into the spotlight.
Good Girl Art flourished in the late forties/early fifties and focused on heroines who were strong but also gorgeous in the manner of WWII pin-ups. Two of the foremost practitioners of this art were Baker and Bill Ward (who would later go on doing his distinctive penwork for men’s magazines and Cracked). Baker, initially working for a comics shop known as the Iger Studio, drew a variety of spunky heroines, some with “girl” affixed to their title (Sky Girl, Tiger Girl). The Art of Glamour includes sample stories from this period, including two featuring a scantily clad crime-fighter known as the Phantom Lady. If the stories ultimately prove slight, the art is anything but. Baker had a knack for rendering his leggy characters with a sensual naturalness that was unmatched by any other artist of his day.
That the man isn’t better known today can be attributed to several factors: the studios he worked for typically peppered their stories with pseudonyms in place of legitimate credits, while the comics fandom that would work at unearthing so many uncredited artists didn’t really burst in full-blown action until after his untimely death from a heart attack in 1959. Too, much of the work that he did in the early fifties was for comic book genres – romance titles and westerns – that wouldn’t receive much fannish attention for years. An anthology of fifties romance comics, Romance Without Tears, which featured a hefty selection of Baker art, is unfortunately out of print.
Baker himself also had several personal strikes against him in the early days of the industry: an introvert who was one of the few black artists in early comics, he also (though The Art of Glamour soft-pedals this suggestion) appears to have been gay. Whether any of these factors kept him from working more high-profile projects, one thing is clear: he inspired an army of imitators even as he was still working. Baker’s natural way of draping clothes on his voluptuous femmes was especially noteworthy.