There's a lot one could say about artist Matt Baker. He is absolutely a pioneer in the comic industry, being the first known African American comic book artist to find success in the industry. Born December 10, 1921 in North Carolina, he moved to Pittsburgh, PA with his family at a young age. After high school he moved to Washington DC and landed a job with the government. Unable to serve in the military due to a heart condition, he then moved to New York City to study art at the Cooper Union School of Engineering, Art and Design. It was here that he would find his calling, drawing inspiration from such artists as Will Eisner, Reed Crandall and Alex Blum.
His first job was with S.M. Igor Studio in 1944, bringing in only a picture of a beautiful woman he had drawn. That was enough to convince Igor to hire him on as a background artist. But Baker flourished with his jobs. His art was stunning, and his women was other worldly. His first known work was penciling and inking the women in a "Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle" story in Jumbo Comics #69. This gave him the reputation of being one of the industry's best Good Girl Artists, a title that still sticks today! His most famous character would have to be Phantom Lady. While he didn't come up with the character (the Igor Studio–specifically Arthur Peddy created her) he gave her the look we all know and recognize. His interpretation of Phantom Lady is the most recognizable and popular, and Baker penciled Phantom Lady until 1949.
In 1948 he became to lead artist at St. John Publication, and created possibly the first graphic novel while there. It Rhymes With Lust was published in 1950 and touted itself as a "picture novel". He also created a number of other creations in his time, such as Canteen Kate, Teen-Age Romance, Diary Secrets, Pictoral Romance and a number of other comics as well. If you collect Golden Age comics, chances are high you have a number of Baker stories in your collection. He also did freelance work for Atlas Comics (which would eventually become Marvel), penciling such comics as Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action, Frontier Woman and Wild Western.
Unfortunately for the industry his genius would come to an end not too long after it started. Baker suffered a stroke in 1957 which affected his artistic abilities. On August 11, 1959 Baker passed away in New York City. While he may have passed at an early age, his legacy lives on. His diverse and prolific works speak for themselves. In 2009 he was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.