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MATT BAKER: THE ART OF GLAMOUR

Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour
Edited by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weathington
192 8.5x11-inch pages, 96 in color
TwoMorrows
hardcover
$39.95

Matt Baker is the Golden Age artist everyone’s heard about but no one knows about: everyone knows that he was one of the few African Americans working in comics in the 1940s and 1950s and that he drew gorgeous women in a surpassing style, but no one knows much more. A long-awaited and expertly accomplished treatment of an admired but mysterious master comic book maker, this volume delves into both his artistry and his biography. Unconventionally, the book begins at once with Baker’s pin-up heroines: no preamble, no title page — nothing bookish or bibliographic — the first page reproduces the Baker0001-2most famous Good Girl Art of all time, that cover rendering of Phantom Lady whose battle togs are designed to plunge from her clavicle to her navel in order to display her nearly naked chest. This titillating spectacle is followed by a Phantom Lady story, another of her covers, another story and cover, then a Sky Girl story (she wears conventional waitress garb, but her dress is always blowing up to reveal shapely legs).

Then comes the text, amply illustrated with Baker drawings and photographs of a gorgeous black man (all obtained from Baker family members, who have carefully prohibited their reproduction elsewhere). Alberto Becattini supplies the basic biographical text, culled from sources scattered hither and yon, and amplified elsewhere in the volume by a 2004 Jim Amish interview with artist’s nephew, Matt D. Baker, and his half-brother, Fred Robinson, and interviews with Baker’s friends and co-workers, accompanied by numerous drawings, many previously unpublished. Becattini and Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. provide an annotated index of Baker’s professional work, arranged alphabetically by comic book title and amply illustrated with cover art and interior pages.

The book includes several samples of the syndicated comic strip that Baker drew for a short time, Flamingo, about an exotic dancer (no, not a stripper) and concludes as unconventionally as it began, this time with a Canteen Kate reprint in color and two stories shot from original art — Kayo Kirby (manager of a female wrestler) and Tiger Girl.

More than seductive, his pictures of girls revealed a sense of humor — with a turned ankle, or raised chin.

Born in 1921 in North Carolina, Baker became a professional comic book artist at the tender age of 23 — an extraordinary achievement for an African American in those days of aggressive segregation (and therewith, a ringing testimony to his talent early on). He joined the Iger Studio on the strength of a single sample of his art, Jerry Iger said — a color sketch of “naturally, a beautiful gal!”; his first published art appearing in Jumbo Comics No.69 (November 1944). Once established as a good girl art practitioner, Baker took assignments illustrating stories in pulp magazines, and in 1955, became art director of an early Playboy imitator, Nugget. Afflicted as a boy with rheumatic fever that weakened his heart, Baker died in 1959 of a heart attack — just a short 15 years into a career that might have been even more stunning than it was.

This volume, with its insights and careful documentation, is a thorough treatment of one of the industry’s most remarkable artists. We’ve longed for it for a long time, and we recommend it highly, without reservation or quibble. Lots of pictures, ample demonstration of Baker’s mastery of his medium. A well-designed book that seems to spare no expense to capture and convey the essence of the artist. The color pages are shot from comic books and are not noticeably retouched or reconstructed: this is Baker’s work as we saw it when it first hit the newsstands.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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