Thursday, October 21, 2010

Matt Baker Down Under in the 1950s: Lonely Heart Library 21

As I sorted through a pile of British romance comics I purchased recently I came across this wonderful bonanza of Matt Baker art - an Australian romance comic reprinting American romance comics in black and white. If the same procedure was used here as was the norm for the Alan Class reprint comics of the early 60s, these would have been made from the original inked artwork shipped over from the USA! This 68-page digest size Lonely Heart Library 21 has 6 Baker stories and three by other artists whom I cannot identify. No ads, and just the outside front and back covers added by the Australian company - the rest is all American art. These are apparently all St. John originals, with the Baker stories written by Dana Dutch. The book was published by the Blue Diamond Publishing Co. of 70 Bathurst Street, Sydney, Australia, and printed by Rotary Colorprint Co. Pty. Ltd. of 15 Hamilton Street, Sydney. The distributor was Gordon & Gotch (Asia) Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia. I'm not sure how this came to be in the UK but was perhaps distributed here.
The first story, "My Dates Were Phony", is by Matt Baker and is from Teenage Romances 17 (Aug 1951).

"They Whispered "Shameless!"" is another Baker penciled story, this time from Teen-Age Romances 19 (Dec 1951).

"Forbidden Fruit" is by Baker, but I can't find any reference to it in the Grand Comics Database. My information comes from John Benson's list of St. John romance stories. According to John Benson, this story is from Teen-Age Romances 16 (June 1951) and strangely enough is one of a number of St. John stories that appear to have been drawn in preparation for digest-size printing.

"I Misbehaved" is by Matt Baker from Teen-Age Romances 18 (Oct 1951)

"Strange Rival" was published in St. John's Diary Secrets 26 (Dec 1954). I don't know who the artist was. This story was previously published in the St. John series of Pictorial Romances (issue 19).

"I Wanted a Good Time" came from Teen-Age Romances 32 (July 1953), artist again unknown, although according to John Benson's list, it has Sachs inking.

"Deceitful" is more gorgeous Baker art, but it is not identified as such in the GCD (no identification is given there). It was published in Teen-Age Romances 18 (Oct 1951). Confirmation that it is by Baker is from John Benson's list.

"I Carried Things Too Far" is by Baker, again from Teen-Age Romances 18 (Oct 1951).

"True Love Pays Dividends" is of unknown origin and by an unknown artist.

In addition to all the cultural details that abound in these stories, I think it is interesting to see just how widespread was the dissemination of Matt Baker's work. This comic has a distributor's date stamp on the cover of 12 March 1957. Although American comics were not distributed in Britain in the 1950s, there were British reprints, hard to find nowadays. This Australian reprint suggests another route by which American comics could find their way into Britain during that period. What it also suggests is that these black and white digest-size romance comics that appear to have been typical of Britain and parts of the British Commonwealth during the 50s and 60s are worth investigating, both for work native to the countries in which they were published, as well as for reprints of American art. I think you'll agree that Baker in black and white really shows off the quality of his lines. I'll be uploading a .cbr file of the entire comic to the Digital Comic Museum for them to determine whether it can be added to the collection (I'm thinking yes, but they are the experts), so look out for it there in the near future.

Many thanks to Joanna for writing in and connecting me with John Benson's checklist of St. John romance stories.


  1. Holy Crap~! What a SCORE~! Pure Romance GOLD.

    It would be fun to Photo-Shop color the best of these.

  2. Lysdexicuss: I agree. I believe these are out of copyright and so could conceivably be recolored and reprinted in a modern edition. I just love seeing Baker's art in black and white like this as well. I wish I knew how to get more in this Australian series but there's nothing on eBay UK or Australia.

  3. Hi KB,

    Really cool find! Thanks for sharing this. It is difficult to find these B&W versions of Baker stories. I have an Outlaws UK edition in B&W. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the romance checklist from Benson's book.
    I thought you might like to reference your stories here to the originals that were published in the US:


  4. Joanna - Thanks so much for that information. I have been able to confirm the Baker stories I was unsure of, and find information on the original source of "Forbidden Fruit". "True Love Pays Dividends" is not on John Benson's list and may therefore not have been a St. John story. Certainly the Alan Class reprints of American fantasy stories in Britain in the 60s mixed their source publishers in the same comic. There's no reason to suppose that this Australian company was obliged to print only St. John material.


  5. i wonder what happen to all matt baker original art?

  6. Most of the original Matt Baker art that survived is now with his brother, I've read.

    The best book so far on collected Matt Baker work is "Romance without Tears" from Fantagraphics and a smaller companion book about St. John comics.

  7. i hope the new book "Art of Glamour" will give as a inside look to what happen to all the Originals including all the Art that was produce after St John was over. All those Men Magazines had spectacular Matt Baker artwork. Many Matt Baker original art is on Private Collection. Myself own maybe 40pgs/flamingo's Baker Originals. I hope the new book reveals more original art never seen before.