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.