February 19th, 2008

The Zombie

What Might Have Been

February 18 -  Hey!  Happy Presidents Day!  Now that February is more than half over, I realize that I haven't really discussed this month's "...Of The Day" theme.  I had hoped to get into it on the 14th, when Matt Baker was the African American Cartoonist of The Day.  I purposely chose to list him on Valentines Day because I love his classic artwork...and not just his sexy dames!  Today, his Phantom Lady might be the work for which he is best known - and it certainly was my intro to his stuff - but he was a fully rounded Golden Age great, with a lifetime portfolio that includes not just "good girl" superhero stuff, but romance, science fiction, westerns, and adventure.  His artwork was consistently solid, masterful, and truly beautiful.  I don't have a whole lot of his work in my own personal collection (two Phantom Lady comics and about a dozen romance comics), but it doesn't take much to become a fan.  Today, Matt Baker's work is among the most sought after by collectors, due not just to his talents, nor even his status as one of the earliest and best known comics artists of color, but because of his sudden death before he'd even turned 38.  I think he had a stroke.  Dying young, at the height of your creative powers, is a sure way to engender collector fervor, but is such a terrible loss for more than just friends and family.  We were all robbed of what might have been had he survived, and continued to work, on into the Silver and Bronze ages.  For example, did you know that Mr. Baker was the artist of 1950's It Rhymes With Lust, which most collectors consider to be the very first graphic novel?  He'd already worked with Stan Lee on some of those westerns.  I wonder what Matt Baker's Spider-Man or X-Men would have looked like.  For that matter, I wonder whether genres like westerns and romance comic books would have survived with his continued involvement.  We will never know, I guess.  The "Matt Baker Story" has reminded me of tonight's African American Cartoonist of The Day, fan favorite Tom Artis.  We all lost Mr. Artis last year to complications from diabetes.  He was a fixture at comic book conventions in my area, so I came to know him and his work a little.  His artwork was delicate and playful, marked with what I can only characterize as exuberance.  He was super-friendly, super-talented, and had a great, easy laugh.  If he was in failing health, he never let on.  He'd spend hours drawing sketches for young fans, paying special attention to the littlest ones, with whom he seemed to have a special connection.  He passed away in May last year, just as comics are, I believe, experiencing a second Golden Age.  Who knows what might yet be if Mr. Artis was still with us?  It is depressing, really, to think that such talents can disappear like that.  I suppose that that is part of my attraction to comics, where artwork lives...and lives on beyond the creators.  Well, I gotsta get back to my own immortal works (in this case, a drawing of a kid wearing a life-jacket.....sigh), so I'll leave you with, as I said, your African American Cartoonist of The Day - Tom Artis!