The name Matt Baker has become synonymous with beautiful women in comic book art, so it's fitting that his likely first work was on iconic jungle girl Sheena in Jumbo Comics from Fiction House. Between the period in 1944 that he worked on that 12-page Shenna, Queen of the Jungle story for Jumbo Comics #69 and his untimely death in 1959, Baker would become a prolific artist whose work appeared from a wide range of publishers including St. John Publications, Fiction House, Marvel and Charlton among others. Over the course of that nearly 15-year career, Matt Baker contributed to the creation of perhaps over 6,100 pages of interior comic book artwork and over 290 comic book covers, as penciler and/or inker, according to current GCD data and including tentative attributions. The general consensus is that it all started with Jumbo Comics #69, and there's a Jumbo Comics #69 (Fiction House, 1944) Condition: FN- up for auction in the 2022 August 11 The Matt Baker Showcase Auction #40190 at Heritage Auctions.
According to Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Ken Quattro, after high school, Baker worked for the Department of the Navy in Washington in an as-yet unknown capacity, and moved to New York City in 1943, taking an art class at the Cooper Union for the Fall semester that year. A number of important comic book creators have attended Cooper Union over the decades, including Bob Kane and Harvey Kurtzman, among many others. It appears that Baker began working for Samuel "Jerry" Iger's comic production shop Iger Studio sometime in 1944. GCD data for Jumbo Comics #69 credits the Sheena story of that issue, Slaves for the White Sheik, as a collaborative effort that included artwork by Robert Webb, Alex Blum, and with Matt Baker's work on the female figures. Additionally, the inks for the Sky Girl story in this issue are attributed at least in part to Baker, and he is also tentatively credited for the inks on the Ghost Gallery story.
As we'll be discussing Baker's work a lot over the coming weeks, it should be noted that identifying Baker's art in comic books can sometimes be an inexact science. This is true of the work of many comic book artists of the Golden Age (and beyond). Unsigned work was commonplace and working in a studio/shop setting meant that multiple artists could sometimes have a hand in a given page of comic book art. In Baker's case, he also passed away in 1959, before the rise of modern comic book fandom in the 1960s and 70s, and the historical attention that brought with it. While the style Baker developed is very distinctive, other artists inking his pencils can also make definitive attributions more difficult.
By current calculations, with (identified) reprinted work removed, GCD presently attributes over 6100 pages of interior art as containing Baker contributions (pencils and/or inks) along with over 290 covers. Including vintage comics that reprinted earlier work, this material was used in just over 680 comic books 1944-1985 (counting U.S. publishers only, and excluding late Bronze Age entries from the likes of Pacific Comics and Blackthorne). The actual numbers are probably somewhat less than this, due to tentative attributions. It's likely that further scrutiny and research will continue to evolve our understanding of Baker's body of work. Notably, this body of work also included a range of publications outside of comic books about which more research and awareness is also needed.
All this said, there is a significant consensus among Baker collectors that Jumbo Comics #69 contains his first-published comic book work, and the first work of a comic book artist is always considered important and collectible. The first work of a pioneering Black artist and a historically important comic book creator, there's a Jumbo Comics #69 (Fiction House, 1944) Condition: FN- up for auction in the 2022 August 11 The Matt Baker Showcase Auction #40190 at Heritage Auctions.
Jumbo Comics #69 (Fiction House, 1944) Condition: FN-. Inside the Joe Doolin bondage cover is Matt Baker's first comic book art. This is where it all began folks! Overstreet 2021 FN 6.0 value = $109.