Harkening back to the days when we got our comic books off a rack in our neighborhood candy store.
Joseph Maneely was a comic artist best known for his work at Atlas Comics – the name used by Marvel Comics during the 1950s. He worked with Stan Lee and was a contemporary of Marie Severin, John Romita Sr. and Steve Ditko. Some of the characters he co-created include the Black Knight, the Ringo Kid, the Yellow Claw and Jimmy Woo.
Joe Maneely was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While in high school he started a comic strip in the school newspaper. While serving in the U.S. Navy he contributed cartoon strips to ship newspapers. Following his discharge from the Navy, Maneely married his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Kane. Altogether they would have three daughters. After his Navy stint he worked in the advertising art department of the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper. His comic book career started with his freelancing for Street & Smith. Later with two friends they started their own art studio in Philadelphia.
Maneely then found work at Timely Comics, as it was becoming Atlas Comics. It wasn’t too long before he went from freelance to staff artist. Originally he made the trip from Philadelphia to New York City three times a week. But then he moved his family to a home in Flushing, Queens. A short time later the family moved again to a home in New Jersey.
Maneely was a favorite of editor-in-chief Stan Lee. Not only was he good and could handle any time period from medieval to modern war but he was fast – real fast! His contemporaries describe him as the best artist to ever draw comics. The volume of work he produced for Atlas was astounding!
Unfortunately hard times came upon the company in the late 1950s. The publisher Martin Goodman stopped distributing his own titles and signed on with American News Company. However, they soon went out of business leaving Atlas with no distributor. The company had already been getting rid of freelancers and now everyone except Stan Lee was fired. Maneely continued to work with Lee as a freelancer.
On June 7, 1958, Joe Maneely dined with some of his fellow laid-off Atlas colleagues. He had lost his glasses earlier, had been unable to find them, and so did not have then with him. He was killed when he accidentally fell between the cars of a moving commuter train on his way home to New Jersey. When they found him he was still clutching his portfolio.
It is impossible to speculate with any degree of accuracy what would have happened if Maneely had not died. It is fairly certain that he would have been Stan Lee’s right hand man in the creation of Marvel Comics. What would have the Fantastic Four have become with Maneely instead of Kirby? What would Thor have been like? It’s impossible to say. All we know for sure is that it would have been very, very different.
Now, different is not necessarily better. I’m not saying Marvel Comics would have been better under Maneely instead of Kirby. I’m also not saying it would have been worse. I’m simply saying it would have been different.
In some alternate universe there exists a Marvel Universe co-created by Joe Maneely. Too bad we’ll never see it.
We mere mortals will have to satisfy ourselves with the enormous amount of simply beautiful work Maneely produced and let our imaginations take us to what might have been. But we can also pay tribute to the legacy of Joe Maneely whose candle burned way too quickly.
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