Forgotten black comic book pioneer Matt Baker, Harlem artist 1921-1959
In 1940 Gotham City (and in the rest of America and the world) , if we can judge by the popularity of certain new super-heroes, moral strength seemed to be equated with physical strength.
Perfect morals requiring a perfect body.
Unfits need not apply to be super-heroes or indeed any kind of hero - moral or physical.
Ironic then if we look deep behind the colourful covers of Gotham's Golden Age of Comics because there we see them mostly written and drawn by weedy Jewish kids from poverty row , along with at least black artist with a bad heart, Matt Baker.
Clarence Matthew Baker was born down South in December 1921 and suffered a bad childhood attack from "the polio of the poor" (Rheumatic Fever) which permanently weakened his heart valves.
Probably told not to play strenuous sports , he learned to love to draw and after high school came to New York to learn art skills at the famous Cooper Union and freelance as an illustrator.
His forte was extremely gorgeous women (and hunky good looking men !) and he soon found enough work to keep him fed and housed.
No comic book artist got well paid or published credits in those days, so he doesn't seem to have suffered any worse in his art career than his white friends and competitors.
(Baker lived at 103 E 116th Street in Harlem.)
Like athlete and coach Aaron Leroy Alston, Baker's story is another case of what might have been, if only his heart condition could have been prevented or cured so he could have lived longer.
Tragically he died, aged only 37, in 1959 -- well before comic book artists found world fame.
His return to partial fame is based on the fact he was the pencil artist for a pioneering graphic novel, "IT RHYMES WITH LUST".
This in turn led to a fuller examination of his total work and to ask - were there other pioneering black comic book artists out there being overlooked ?
But let me state as gently as possible that whether as white protestant or Jew or black, all these comic book artists of the 1940s only got work if they played ball within the social conventions of the day.
That meant no weedy Jew or weak-hearted black (or weedy weak hearted white) was going to be seen in these comic books defeating criminals and Nazis.
So even when non-Aryan hunks took on blond beast Aryan hunks - the Aryans lost the resulting physical battle but won the real (intellectual) battle : their claim that only the physically fit were morally fit.
By way of contrast, in 1940 Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson tried to save weak-hearted Alston's life and would have tried to save Baker's as well (if he had gotten sick in his early twenties instead of his late thirties.)
Dawson saw the 'unfit' as worthy of a full life and worthy of being allowed to do great moral deeds.
He saw potential moral super-heroes everywhere - in the physically fit and in the physically challenged ....