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The Importance Of Matt Baker

Yesterday over at Comics Alliance, J A Micheline wrote a thoughtful piece about the place of artists of color and by extension all comics creators in comics history, as a tribute to Golden Age artist Matt Baker on what would have been his 94th birthday. Matt Baker’s style became synonymous with good girl art of the time period and much of his work appeared in romance comics from St John Publishing. His take on Phantom Lady made the character incredibly appealing to many while also attracting the unwanted attention of the notorious Frederic Wertham. Micheline’s point is that while today we refer to Baker as the first African American artist working in the comics industry that we simply don’t know for certain if Baker was the first or if others preceded him and their work attributed to white artists or they were forced to remain anonymous or if their identities were erased from records.

The same holds true for any LGBT people who would have been faced with a similar predicament while working in comics from their infancy in the mid 1930s to more recent times. For many readers, myself included, Phil Jimenez is the first artist who came out as gay wwhen in the pages of his Tempest mini series he told a very moving story about he and boyfriend Neal Pozner. Until recently, the comics world wasn’t aware that Golden Age comics writer Lee Goldsmith is gay until the matter came up in an interview with the Miami Herald. You can read an interview Lee did with Gay League here.

And so I come back to Matt Baker. It may be time to re-think of Baker as solely a good girl artist and pay attention to the hunky men he drew as love interests and leads in comics. An interview conducted by Shaun Clancy with fellow Golden Age artist and Baker friend Frank Giusto in TwoMorrow’s Matt Baker – The Art Of Glamour indicates that Baker was gay. Giusto friendship and working relationship dated back to just after Giusto graduated high school and worked briefly at Jerry Iger’s studio Baker was already working. That September Giusto went in to the Navy. After discharge two years later Giusto looked up Baker and freelanced with him for about two years and Baker helped Giusto get a job drawing stories for Ace Publications.

As you’ll see from the page scans here Giusto was very forthcoming in sharing information and stories about Baker. Giusto must have been a very accepting and trustworthy person in Baker’s eyes. The social climate during the 1940s and 1950s for working class LGBT people outside of their own individual enclaves even in large cities was usually hostile. That hostility led the average LGBT person to lead a double life out of real concern over their employers and landlords discover their sexuality and consequently being fired or thrown out of apartments. Art Of Glamour editor Jim Amash interviewed two of Baker’s surviving relatives, brother Fred Robinson and nephew Matt D. Baker. Both men thought of Baker as a lady’s man which isn’t a surprise considering that LGBT people at the time like many still today didn’t want their families to know their secrets. Until other sources confirming Baker’s sexuality are made public – if such sources exist – the claim that Baker was gay rests solely on Frank Giusto.

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Thanks to Dale Lazarov for pointing out this information. The Baker photo used above is a cropped version of a photo postcard the artist sent to Giusto. The uncropped version appears in the Baker book.

Matt Baker The Art Of Glamour is available for purchase at Amazon and Twomorrows.com. Buying this book from Amazon or any item at all using the link below will benefit Gay League.

Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour

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