Matt Baker's St. John Era and the Crime Reporter Switch, at Auction

Matt Baker embarked on what is perhaps the most important part of his career in mid-1948 with St. John Publications.  The cover of Crime Reporter #2 was the first St. John work by Baker to hit the newsstand, with a June 26, 1948, on sale date (per Library of Congress copyright records).  This was followed by a six-page interior story in Northwest Mounties #1 (on sale August 1, 1948) and then the cover of Crime Reporter #3 (on sale September 22, 1948).  Notably, all three of those releases are designated as October 1948 issues in their indicia (edit: oddly, Authentic Police Cases #6 has an on-sale date before Crime Reporter #3 despite having a November 1948 issue designation, so it's hard to know how to place that on the timeline).  The Crime Reporter covers, along with Authentic Police Cases #6, are also the first covers signed by Baker.  While the series is superficially a crime comic book designed to take advantage of the rising tide of the genre on the newsstands of the period, it is also, of all things, a Jane Arden title reboot positioned to create a new series without its former star. A pair of gorgeous Baker covers and his first two covers for St. John, there is a Crime Reporter #2 (St. John, 1948) Condition: VG+ and a Crime Reporter #3 (St. John, 1948) Condition: VG+ up for auction in the 2022 August 11 The Matt Baker Showcase Auction #40190 at Heritage Auctions.

Crime Reporter #2, 3 (St. John, 1948) featuring Matt Baker covers.
Crime Reporter #2, 3 (St. John, 1948) featuring Matt Baker covers.

Archer St. John entered the magazine publishing business in 1941 with wartime aviation magazine Air News, and later with Flying CadetFlying Cadet is notable for ocassionally containing some comic material.  St. John got into the comic book business proper with two different newspaper strip reprint titles, Comics Review and Treasury of Comics which both hit the newsstand in April 1947.  In September 1947, St. John took over the Terry-Toons Comics license from Marvel, which featured the comic book adventures of Mighty Mouse and other Terry-Toons characters.  That same month, St. John added a third newspaper comic strip reprint title, Pageant of Comics.

As the publisher began to steadily add titles, the sporadically-published strip reprint titles began to spin off their own strip-focused reprint series, and these included Jane Arden, which had debuted with Pageant of Comics #2 at St. John with the cover title Jane Arden, Crime Reporter. The series Jane Arden, Crime Reporter (again as it was titled on the covers) then lasted two issues at St. John, and the second issue was followed directly by Crime Reporter #1 the very next month.  That debut issue has a cover by Bob Lubbers which looks a lot like a repurposed Jane Arden cover.

Despite the absence of Jane Arden strip reprints on the insides, the new Crime Reporter still didn't feature original stories. The series is composed entirely of reprints from Chesler comic book material with some of the better-known characters renamed.  The infamous Black Dwarf from Red Seal Comics stories became Blue Monk in Crime Reporter, and  Lucky Coyne from Red Seal Comics and Dynamic Comics became the titular crime reporter character Jinx Jordan in Crime Reporter. And so it was that Jane Arden, Crime Reporter became Crime Reporter featuring the crime-reporting exploits of Jinx Jordan and company.

And while the issue #1 cover looks for all the world like a Jane Arden leftover, the covers of the rest of this short-lived series are another matter entirely.  Of course, there's no Jinx Jordan in sight on these covers, but rather Matt Baker's beautiful women rendered as he was entering the peak of his artistic abilities.  St. John seemed to go to a lot of effort to retain what little brand equity they had built up with the Crime Reporter title, and it still didn't work out, as the series ended with issue #3.  The young company had been publishing comic books for around a year as that issue hit the newsstand, and they were still finding their way.  Baker's arrival would certainly help them along that path.

Notably, in his book Seduction of the InnocentFredric Wertham singled out what was originally a Chesler Black Dwarf story by Paul Gattuso, published as Blue Monk in Crime Reporter #2, saying, "Children told me what the man was going to do with the red-hot poker."

Per historian Shaun Clancy, the issue #2 cover was inked by regular Baker inker Ray Osrin. Matt Baker's first two covers for St. John Publications are both stellar examples of his work, and there is a Crime Reporter #2 (St. John, 1948) Condition: VG+ and a Crime Reporter #3 (St. John, 1948) Condition: VG+ up for auction in the 2022 August 11 The Matt Baker Showcase Auction #40190 at Heritage Auctions. New to collecting Matt Baker or want to learn more?  Bleeding Cool is doing an ongoing deep dive into the history behind Matt Baker's comic book artwork in the run-up to this auction. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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