It’s really a shame that Golden Age artist Matt Baker was so relatively mysterious among his peers, as the historical importance of his influential work and his being one of the first and few black men working in comics at the time make him a figure a lot of people should want to know more about.
That there are so many question marks regarding Baker’s personal and professional life beyond his drawing table isn’t exactly a tragic thing, however. As editor Jim Amash notes during an interview included in his Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour, it meant Baker could be appreciated for his work more than any biographical details, as interesting and colorful as some of those may be .
Fred Robinson, Baker’s half-brother, puts it this way in the interview: “The reason that Matt got so much work wasn’t because he was black or white; he got it because he was good. It’s as simple as that. If you’re good, and you have what people want, they’re going to use you. You get hired. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier mainly because he was good; he could play ball better than anyone else. He just happened to be black.”
Baker died in 1959 at just 38 years old, the victim of a lifelong heart problem, and therefore didn’t live as long as so many of his peers (some of whom, like the 90-year-old Stan Lee, are still working today), and didn’t even last long enough for the rise of a fan culture around comics, and the nostalgia-driven efforts to collect and chronicle the medium’s beginnings.
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. We’ve each picked the five comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a list of the best new stuff coming out two months from now.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
Avengers #1 (Marvel): Has Marvel NOW! already gotten enough attention? Maybe so, but that’s partly the reason I’m highlighting this specific book. In the rising tide that’s pushed all of the Marvel NOW relaun!ches, for me — as a fan and journalist — the marketing has dulled the unique appeal of every book. Flipping through Previews and giving this a deeper critical eye, it made me realize – this is Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opeña doing Avengers, the de facto flagship book of Marvel since 2004. Opeña really turned a corner with Uncanny X-Force, and I’m interested to see how Hickman brings his meticulous plotting to a biweekly book with a cast larger than Circus of the Stars. And what’s interesting is that he’s done a version of this when he relaunched the “Ultimate” version of the Avengers in Ultimate Comics: Ultimates. I’m not saying this will be that re-heated over, but it’ll be interesting to see how he takes roughly the same characters and bobs instead of weaves.
Hiroaki Samura’s Emerald and Other Stories (Dark Horse): Samura’s Blade of the Immortal was a major manga when it debuted, but when you have one artist doing a long, drawn-out story it tends to dull in the eyes of fans on the outside looking in. But his short-story collection Ohikkoshi was fun, modern and completely different – a great bite-size snack from the eight-course meal/buffet that is Blade of the Immortal. This collection looks to be like that, centered around Samura’s western teen drama Emerald. I’ve heard of another set of stories called Bradherley’s Coach about a family whose business is to ferry orphans to their new home, which I hope is in here as well.
Mara #1 (Image): I’ve been loving Brian Wood’s work since he jumped to AiT-PlanetLar too many years ago, and seeing him branch out with another new series makes me wish for Brian Wood Month all over again. Besides swami Brian, it’s the artist he’s doing this with that really deserves some attention; Ming Doyle has killed it in her work featured on Project: Rooftop (shameless plug), and when she moved to doing shorts for Marvel in things like Fantastic Four she showed she could really play with the big boys. Seeing Wood and Doyle doing a sports-themed action series set in the future, this is a unique-looking story that’ll be at the top of my stack when it comes out on Dec. 26.
Hip Flask: Ourborous (Image): In comics today there’s a rare group of artists that are like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents; an older race who were once masters of the world but now subsist on making rare, but eventful appearances. Alan Moore is this way; so is Art Adams. To that list I’d like to add Ladrönn. This has my money, even if I didn’t know how great a story this is.
Orcs, Vol. 1: Forged For War (First Second): Speaking of Tolkien, am I the only one that felt compassion for the Orcs in Lord of the Rings? Well, this reprinted graphic novel by writer Stan Nicholls and artist Joe Flood brings the orc race to the forefront. Orc Stain was great, and this could be too!
It’s no secret that Golden Age comics were full of racist imagery, especially Golden Age jungle comics. But Steve Bennett at Super ITCH pointed out something today that I hadn’t noticed in the examples that I’ve read. Like most jungle girl comics from that time period, Rulah the Jungle Goddess is racist at its very concept: “a standard-issue bored thrill-junkie/society-girl aviatrix who crashed her plane in Africa. There she saved a tribe from a tyrant’s rule who were so grateful the natives dubbed her Rulah, Jungle Goddess and made her their ruler.” A couple of things differentiate Rulah from similar comics, though.