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Rulah and Matt Baker's Phantom Lady in All-Top Comics, at Auction

Beginning with issues cover-dated September 1945, Matt Baker's output for Fiction House dropped dramatically.  Whereas he had been contributing to nearly 40 interior pages of comic book art per month (pencils and/or inks) over the prior three months, that number dropped to an average of 14 pages per month in the months that followed.  The temporary drop in the page count of Fight Comics from 48 pages to 32 pages earlier that year had resulted in Baker's contributions to Atomic Comics, and now that page count drop due to wartime restrictions was rippling through the rest of the Fiction House line.  Despite the fact that Fiction House page counts began to recover six months later with February 1946 issues, in the wake of the United States government ending controls over the usage of newsprint on December 31, 1945, the volume of Baker's contributions to Fiction House never fully recovered.  But this quickly paved the way towards Baker's work for other publishers including Fox Feature Syndicate.

All Top Comics #16 (Fox Features Syndicate, 1949)
All Top Comics #16 featuring a Matt Baker Rulah cover (Fox Features Syndicate, 1949)

Given how well the Seven Seas Comics title and its South Sea Girl covers showcased Baker's artistic talents, it seems possible that Jerry Iger published this series himself during this period at least in part in a bid to showcase the talents of one of his rising Iger Studio star artist to find him higher profile work — including cover art assignments, which never went Baker's way at Fiction House.  Interestingly, fellow Iger Studio star Jack Kamen hadn't had a Fiction House cover assignment up to this point either (Kamen would begin contributing Fiction House covers in 1949).  Notably, this period of sparser Fiction House contributions from late 1945 to early 1947 also corresponds to his full-length comic work on Classic Comics #32 Lorna Doone, Tiny Tales' Cinderella, and the mysterious Ato McBomb project.  We'll have much more on that one in a later post.

Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour claims that "Iger's intention was to deceive Victor Fox into thinking that he was getting Matt Baker artwork," so if part of the point of Seven Seas Comics was to showcase Baker's talents to other prospective publishers, it seems to have worked.  There's actually so much tentatively-attributed Baker art per GCD during the heart of his Fox era that it's almost certainly impossible for him to have done it all.  Baker began to get somewhat steadier work from Fiction House beginning with early 1948 cover-dated material, which corresponds with the period during which he left Iger Studio to work freelance (he also continued to freelance via Iger during this period). This said, the volume of Fiction House work credited to Baker during that time suggests that he was likely getting steady work from Fox (via Iger) until his work for St. John Publications began to ramp up over the first half of 1949.

Matt Baker career timeline. Click to enlarge.
Matt Baker career timeline. Click to enlarge.

Fox Feature Syndicate had been almost completely transformed into a kid's humor and funny animal comic book publisher for eight months when Blue Beetle returned after a hiatus and Zoot Comics began to feature Rulah, Jungle Girl with Fox's June 1947 cover-dated issues. Soon, Jo-Jo Comics and All-Top Comics were likewise converted to jungle adventures, and Phantom Lady was introduced to the Fox Feature Syndicate line-up.  The character had been created at Eisner & Iger studio and published in Quality Comics' Police Comics from 1941-1943.  Bringing Phantom Lady to Fox Feature Syndicate along with the other rather abrupt transformations at the publisher during this period suggests that Iger sold Victor Fox on the notion that Good Girl art was the immediate future of comics, and that artists like Baker and Kamen among others would enable that future.  Fox transformed funny animal title Wotalife Comics into Phantom Lady with issue #13, where it would eventually become one of the most notorious comic book titles in American history.

But the 11-issue Phantom Lady title is not the only Fox series where the character's adventures would be published.  Phantom Lady would also appear in stories by Matt Baker and perhaps others in All-Top Comics, which include some spectacular Rulah, Jungle Girl covers in the bargain.  There are a few of these All Top Comics issues with Matt Baker Phantom Lady art and an All-Top Comics #16 with a Baker Rulah cover up for auction in the 2022 August 11 The Matt Baker Showcase Auction #40190 at Heritage Auctions.

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Mark SeifertAbout 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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