Clarence Matthew Baker (b. 10 December 1921, d. 11 August 1959) is an American comic book artist best known for the costumed crimefighter Phantom Lady and as the medium's first known African American artist, active as early as the 1930s-40s Golden Age of comic books. He also penciled what is arguably the first graphic novel, St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950). His speciality was good girl art, a comics and cartooning subgenre for which his work is in high demand with collectors.
Baker was educated at Cooper Union in New York City, and was later hired by the Iger Studio, one of the 1940s "packagers" who provided outsourced comics on demand for publishers entering the new medium. Through Iger, Baker did work for publishers including St. John, Fiction House, Fox Comics, and Quality Comics. In later years, he independently teamed with inker Jon D'Agostino under the pseudonym Matt Bakerino at Charlton Comics.
The character Phantom Lady, created by Arthur Peddy, had originated in 1941 as a Quality Comics feature supplied by the Iger Studio. Cartoonist Frank Borth later took over the art. After Quality dropped her feature, which had appeared in Police Comics #1-23 (Aug. 1941 - Oct. 1943), Iger supplied her to Fox Comics, which had requested a sexy costumed adventuress. Baker redesigned the character into her best-known incarnation (see image above right). This version (generally but unconfirmably credited to writer Ruth Roche) debuted in Fox's Phantom Lady #13 (Aug. 1947), the premiere issue after taking over the numbering of the canceled comic Wotalife; the title ran through issue #23 (April 1949). Baker's Phantom Lady also appeared as a backup feature in All Top Comics #9-16 (Jan. 1948 - March 1949).
His other comic-book work includes the light-humor military title Canteen Kate, as well as stories in the suspense anthology Tales of The Mysterious Traveler; the comedic-adventure feature "Sky Girl" in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, with originals and later reprints running from #69-139 (Nov. 1944 - Dec. 1952); the jungle adventure "Tiger Girl"; "Flamingo", "South Sea Girl", "Glory Forbes", "Kayo Kirby"; and "Risks Unlimited". Baker illustrated Lorna Doone for Classic Comics in 1947, his one and only contribution to the well-known series. In 1948, Matt Baker contributed the cover art to The Saint #4 published by Avon. He is the generally credited but unconfirmed artist for Fox's Rulah, Jungle Goddess #17-27 (Aug. 1948 - June 1949, title's complete run after having taken over the numbering of the defunct Zoot Comics). He also produced Flamingo as a syndicated comic strip from 1952 through 1954.
He later did several romance and other titles for St. John Publications, and afterward freelanced for Atlas Comics, the 1950s forerunner of Marvel Comics, beginning with a five-page anthological story generally if unconfirmably credited to writer-editor Stan Lee, in the omnibus title Gunsmoke Western #32 (Dec. 1955). At some point during this period working through artist Vince Colletta's studio, Baker went on to draw stories for Atlas' Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action, Frontier Western, and Wild Western; more prolifically for the company's romance comics Love Romances, My Own Romance, and Teen-Age Romance; and one story each for the supernatural/science fiction anthologies Strange Tales, Worlds of Fantasy, and Tales to Astonish ("I Fell to the Center of the Earth!" in issue #2, March 1959, reprinted in the hardcover book Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales to Astonish, ISBN 0-7851-1889-6)
His last known work (generally credited but unconfirmed) is the first page of the six-page story Happily Ever After in Atlas/Marvel's Love Romances #90 (Nov. 1960). His last known confirmed work is the six-page "I Gave Up the Man I Love!" in the company's My Own Romance #73 (Jan. 1960). He died August 1959.
Baker was a finalist for induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005.