Ask anyone who reads and collects comic books today who Joe Maneely was and you'll get a blank stare. Ask the question to someone with a marginable knowledge about comic book history and you "may" get a glimmer of recognition pertaining to Marvel's old BLACK KNIGHT series. That's about it and that alone is due to the fact that Marvel reprinted some of those stories in the late 1960's and again in a recent golden-age reprint trade paperback. What most people don't realize is that with the stars aligned a little differently 42 years ago, the birth of the Marvel Universe as we know it may have been vastly different.
Joe Maneely was Stan Lee's "star" artist for most of the decade of the 1950's, during what is known as the Atlas period of Marvel Comics history. Atlas, a name derived from Martin Goodman's distribution company and easily identified by a small "globe" on the cover, was by far the industry leader in quantity of titles and issues published in the first 3/4 of the decade. With Stan Lee as editor-in-chief, every imaginable type of comic book was published, flooding the market with score after score of books utilizing a huge stable of freelancers, many of them comic book royalty.
A little history first. By 1950 Timely's hero titles, a major force during the boom war years, were defunct. Previously, in conjunction with the hero books like MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, HUMAN TORCH, SUB-MARINER and others, humor books (both funny animal and "teen" type) filled the stands as well. Then teen titles eventually eclipsed the funny-animal books and by about 1946 even overtook the super-hero titles in sales and popularity. By 1947, with the ever declining hero sales handwriting on the wall, Timely expanded into other genres. Crime was first, followed by Westerns, Romance and by 1949, Horror. There was a last attempt in 1948 to jump-start super-heroes again with the quick introduction of several new titles like NAMORA, SUN GIRL, THE WITNESS, VENUS and BLACKSTONE, but all except the ever-adaptable VENUS were gone quickly.
Creator-wise, Timely originally bought their features from the Lloyd Jacquet shop "Funnies Inc.". Material was also bought from the Chesler shop but immediately Martin Goodman tried to wean this away by starting an in-house staff. Simon and Kirby, followed by Syd Shores, Al Avison, Fred Bell, Don Rico, Al Gabrielle, Mike Sekowsky, Allen Bellman and a score of others joined Bill Everett and Carl Burgos "in-house". By mid 1942 two distinct bullpens seemingly were operating, one turning out the myriad super-hero titles, the other turning out the humor titles. When Stan Lee went into the service in early 1943, Vince Fago assumed the editor-in-chief mantle and this coincided with the boom in humor titles as Fago himself drew numerous funny-animal features. COMEDY COMICS , JOKER COMICS, KRAZY KOMICS and TERRYTOONS appeared beginning in mid-1942. Fago's humor staff consisted of Chad Grothkopf, Dave Berg, Ernie Hart, Al Jaffee, Ed Winiarski, George Klein , Jim Mooney, Moe Worth, Mike Sekowsky, David Gantz, Basil Wolverton and others. Pvt. Stan Lee even continued to send in scripts from where he was stationed in North Carolina. Following the war, as sales peaked the years would chug along as Timely churned out titles and features by the carload with an ever-changing bullpen staff. It is into this milieu that Joe Maneely stepped in late 1949.
Joe Maneely was born in Pennsylvania and studied at Philadelphia's Hussian School of Art. A graduate of the Philadelphia Bulletin's advertising art department, he then served three years as a specialist in visual aids for the U.S. Navy and upon discharge began his comic book career at Street & Smith in 1948 on books like RED DRAGON, THE SHADOW and SUPER MAGICIAN COMICS at the age of 22. Features at Street & Smith included "Butterfingers", "Django Jinks Ghost Chaser", "Nick Carter", "Public Defender", "Roger Kilgore", "Supersnipe", "Tao Anwar" "Mario Nette" and "Ulysses Q. Wacky". According to Ron Goulart, at Street & Smith Maneely was very possibly influenced by noted pulp illustrator Edd Cartier, who did a brief feature or two coinciding with Maneely's tenure there, particularly in developing Maneely's distinctive inking technique. In addition to Street and Smith, Maneely possibly briefly dabbled at Hillman (on AIRBOY), Pflaum and Superior before settling in at Stan Lee's nascent Atlas sometime in 1949.
Joe Maneely joined the Timely staff at a time when Martin Goodman expanded his line in what is known as the "romance and Western glut". New Western titles appeared out of nowhere but even more prevalent was the glut of romance titles, a glut that was actually seen industry-wide. The demand for story art was at an all time high. Some of Maneely's first work appeared to be backgrounds and splash panel art in 1950. Here are some examples of splash panel art : the Gene Colan pencilled story "Storm In My Heart!" from BEST LOVE #36 (Apr/50) and "I Took A Dive!" from TRUE ADVENTURES #3 (May/50) . Both utilize Maneely's art in the splash panel only. Maneely then quickly distinguished himself as a top-notch Western artist with his beautiful renderings of the Black Rider beginning in BLACK RIDER #9,#10, #11 and of Red Larabee, The Gunhawk in THE GUN HAWK.
Using a very detailed, intricately ornate inking style, these early western stories are some of my favorite Maneely artwork of all time and real masterpieces of comic art. At some point in late 1950/early 1951, Goodman closed down his bullpen and all the artists, except for a possible handful on staff, went freelance. It becomes immediately obvious how fast a penciller Joe was because his art began to appear in scores of horror and war titles as the decade progresses. You can find his artwork in just about "every" title that Atlas published : hard-hitting, gritty Korean War stories in the war titles like WAR COMICS, BATTLE and MAN COMICS, gruesomely eerie horror stories in MARVEL TALES, ASTONISHING and STRANGE TALES, and action-packed crime stories in POLICE ACTION, ALL-TRUE CRIME and JUSTICE COMICS. When Atlas tried their hand at space-opera, Joe drew the first 3 issues of SPEED CARTER SPACEMAN along with the covers to issues #5 and 6.
Editor-in-chief Stan Lee loved Joe's work. Stan's byline appeared on more Joe Maneely stories than any other artist. Stan turned the horror title SUSPENSE into an E.C. copycat title, adding a letter page (Suspense Sanctuary) and editorial comments forshadowing his future "bullpen bulletins".
In the final issue #29 (Apr/53) there is a wonderful story "The Raving Maniac" written by Stan Lee and drawn by Joe Maneely. This story is very significant as it was a parody of the oppressive complaints being lodged at the comic industry by pro-Wertham forces. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT had been released that year and targeted horror and crime comics for their allegedly violent, child-warping content. The story depicts Stan Lee himself as an editor of a comic book company where a raving maniac storms into the office complaining about the terrible content of the horror comics. The editor then rants back at the man stating that 1) nobody's forcing him to read them 2) this is not a dictatorship where people tell you what to read or can't read & 3) these books are merely an escape from a frightening world with real-life perils. At the end, the editor goes home and tells his daughter a bedtime story "...about a raving little man with nothing more important on his mind than running into an editor's office to complain about some magazines...". Considering what was on the horizon, a very insightful and forshadowing tale. Great Joe Maneely art.
With SUSPENSE cancelled, Stan Lee continued the momentun with another title, the prototypical Atlas pre-code horror title, MENACE. MENACE was actually a tour-de-force for the artistic wizardry of the great Bill Everett, an artist severely underrated today. Everett was a master of comic art and if there was an Atlas co-star, it was he. Everett drew the gorgeously gruesome covers and had one story in each of the first 6 issues of this title, every story written by Stan Lee. Maneely had 6 stories himself in issues 3,4,5,7, 8 and 9. All classics. Joe and Bill were Atlas' main horror cover artists during the peak pre-code years 1953-54. While Everett excelled at depicting rotting skeletons and corpses, Maneely was equally up to the task. Look for 2 Maneely classic covers in the title ASTONISHING. #32 (Apr/54) has one of Maneely's best, the "melting eyeballs" cover. #34 (Aug/54) has possibly the greatest guillotine cover in comic history! A very large image of a terrified man with his head on the block, at the moment of execution!
Humor and parody was another Maneely strongpoint. He drew hilarious stories in the Atlas Mad comic parody magazines CRAZY, RIOT and WILD, the latter of which featured some hilarious parody covers by Timely golden-age great Carl Burgos. Then in 1955 Stan Lee launched a Mad Magazine copycat mag called SNAFU. Lasting only 3 issues, it had a staff consisting of Stan Lee, Joe Maneely, Bill Everett, John Severin, Marie Severin, Russ Heath and Howie Post. Maneely, by far, did the bulk of the art on all 3 issues. SNAFU is best remembered today for the introduction of Marvel's long running joke mascot Irving Forbush, who Stan Lee re-introduced 14 years later in NOT BRAND ECCHH in 1967. Forbush was patterned after Gaines' Alfred E. Newman in MAD . When Martin Goodman made the decision to give super-heroes another try in late 1953, the HUMAN TORCH, CAPTAIN AMERICA and the SUB-MARINER were brought back. Maneely contributed by drawing a handful of SUB-MARINER covers. As far as I can tell, these are the "only" instances of Joe drawing any Timely heroes. Unfortunately, while faithful renditions, they can only pale beside the covers drawn by Bill Everett during this period, artwork that was in my opinion the greatest of Everett's life.
As the decade progressed, Joe continued to excel in his main forte', Westerns. Drawing features and covers for just about every Western title Atlas published, Stan would use Joe to "kick-off" almost every new Western character they'd try. One of Joe's greatest and well known was RINGO KID. Joe drew the covers and all stories to the first 5 issues and continued the covers with few exceptions, to the end #21. Joe would turn the art chores over to John Severin and then Fred Kida before returning to draw the last 5 issues himself again. Concurrently, he introduced WYATT EARP in late 1955 and was the main cover artist for the first few issues. WYATT EARP later became a classic feature for Dick Ayers. Joe introduced the comic world to the YELLOW CLAW in 1956 with a script by EC great Al Feldstein. It would prove to be the only script Feldstein ever did for Marvel. Jack Kirby would then take it over and change the direction of the feature. BIBLE TALES FOR YOUNG FOLKS, WORLD'S GREATEST SONGS, JANN OF THE JUNGLE, you name it, from the familiar to the esoteric, Joe Maneely drew it. It was the short 5-issue run experiment called BLACK KNIGHT though, that Joe Maneely would be most remembered for.
Following the institution of the Comics Code (appearing on Mar/55 cover dates), Atlas entered into a period of post-code expansion, adding title after title to the schedule. At this time Stan Lee must have decided to simply try something new. With Joe Maneely as artist, BLACK KNIGHT #1 appeared cover dated May/55 and it was immediately obvious Maneely had a keen interest in this material. The artwork reflected fine detail and the inking possesed a lush woodcut feel, perfect for the medieval period of the stories. Historian Robert Jennings has called this work "romantic realism . .. with human figures moving against a panorama of medieval splendor". Maneely drew all 5 covers and handled all story art, including fillers, in the first 3 issues. Stan Lee wrote the 2 Black Knight stories in the first issue only. Following Maneely, artwork in this title was first handled by Fred Kida in #4 (with a John Romita filler) and then Syd Shores inked by Chris Rule in #5. Surprisingly, issue #5 (Apr/56) appeared 7 months after #4 (Nov/55). Sales must have been flat since #5 was the final issue.
Stan Lee took full advantage of Joe Maneely's speed and his artwork continued to be everywhere. He drew scores of post-code covers and stories in war titles including NAVY COMBAT, BATTLEGROUND, MARINES IN BATTLE and COMBAT KELLY, in Westerns including GUNSMOKE WESTERN, MATT SLADE - GUNFIGHTER, the aformentioned WYATT EARPP and RINGO KID, and in fantasy titles including SPELLBOUND, WORLD OF FANTASY, WORLD OF MYSTERY, WORLD OF SUSPENSE, STRANGE STORIES OF SUSPENSE and STRANGE TALES OF THE UNUSUAL. His art though began to take on a less detailed appearances as obvious artistic shortcuts were begun to be taken to help accomodate the speed and sheer volume of pages he was drawing. Comic book legend Jim Steranko, a huge Joe Maneely admirer, describes Maneely's techniques this way : "I can't think of a single instance of anyone inking Maneely. Here's why: at the incredible speed he worked, he couldn't have done finished pencils, just breakdowns. Then, knowing exactly what he was looking for in the finish, and being a superb draftsman, he DREW with the pen and brush! This is why Maneely was so fast and why no one else inked him---they couldn't work over his breakdowns".
As 1956 turned to 1957, Atlas was still leading the industry with almost 75 concurrent titles flooding the stands. Maneely, working again with Stan Lee , tried to do his best imitation of Hank Ketcham's DENNIS THE MENACE by introducing MELVIN THE MONSTER #1 in mid 1956. There was a difference though. While Dennis was a mischievious, lovable scamp, Melvin was pure terror! Pets, baby siblings, police officers and daddies BEWARE! Melvin was out to get you! When sales soured the book was tried under a new name DEXTER THE DEMON and a second book WILLIE THE WISEGUY was tried also. These were the first "kiddie" humor books tried at Timely/Atlas since the last attempt in 1949, an attempt that produced LITTLE ASPIRIN, LITTLE LENNY and LITTLE LIZZY, as well as "kiddie" versions of WILLIE (L'IL WILLIE), LANA (LITTLE LANA) and TESSIE THE TYPIST (TINY TESSIE). (For completist's sakes, there was a second LITTLE LIZZY series in 1953-54 also.)
Unbeknownst to Joe and Stan though, troubles lay ahead. Martin Goodman was convinced by his business manager Monroe Froehlich, Jr. to switch his distribution system from his own Atlas Magazines, Inc. to the national distributer American News Co. (ANC). ANC was in hot water at the time and under government investigation for numerous reasons. Six months after assuming distribution of Goodman's line, ANC ceased operations and Goodman was left high and dry. A massive implosion/ cancellation ensued. It took a few months but Goodman was finally able to secure distribution with National's Independant News Co. (IND). From 75 titles, the line was pared down to 16 bi-monthly titles and the whole staff was layed off with the exception of Stan Lee. Scores and scores of freelancers were left stranded scrambling for work with National or wherever they could find it, leading to many long-time artists leaving the business forever.
At the time of the implosion (late April) Joe was as busy as ever and mostly drawing westerns and war covers and stories. He was also turning out the aformentioned MELVIN THE MONSTER et al "kiddie" books and even added a funny animal title, the one-shot DIPPY DUCK (Oct/57) which has the distinction of being the last issue to "ever" sport the Atlas globe on the cover (but was most likely on the stands with the Sept/57 cover dated issues).
With his main source of income practically gone, Joe Maneely went and secured work at Charlton, Feature/Crestwood, CRACKED MAGAZINE (issues #1-5) and LOCO (another MAD/CRACKED imitation). He also secured work with National in HOUSE OF MYSTERY, HOUSE OF SECRETS, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED and GANGBUSTERS. The work for National was just beautiful, harkening back to the lush, finely detailed art of the earlier 1950 BLACK RIDER. With more time to spend on the rendering, Maneely was definitely trying to impresss the editors there, specifically Murray Boltinoff. Also after the implosion , Joe was again working with Stan Lee on the syndicated newspaper strip MRS. LYONS' CUBS. Released by the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate, it appeared in the Fall of 1957.
Back at the company once known as Atlas (with the globe gone, calling them Atlas books is actually incorrect), a good deal of the stories appearing in the bi-monthly post-implosion books were inventory stockpiled from late 1956 and early 1957. It becomes evident though that Stan Lee was still buying new story art from several artists through early 1958. As examples, Dick Ayers was turning out new Wyatt Earp stories which appeared starting cover date Apr/58. These were all Stan Lee scripted. Likewise, Al Hartley was drawing "new" Patsy Walker stories in the teen titles featuring that character. Joe Maneely, whose covers never stopped appearing throughout the implosion, along with his other accounts, also continued working for Stan Lee. He was seen in quickly drawn illustrations used to accompany the text stories being published. Used over and over, they could still be seen as late as 1963. He also picked-up the TWO-GUN KID feature cover dated Feb/58 after Chuck Miller's inventory ran out and carried it right up through cover date Oct/58. Giving a lead-in time period, this work was probably drawn in late May/58.
Joe must have been pretty busy as June of 1958 dawned. Still doing some work for Stan Lee on post-implosion comics, drawing a daily syndicated strip , trying to impress National's editors and getting his foot into the humor magazine field (CRACKED) with the possibility of future Mad Magazine work also. No one could have anticipated the tragedy that was to come. On June 7, 1958, after a late "after-hours" with some fellow artists, including John Severin, Joe Maneely would head home by train and never make it. What actually happened will probably never be known but he apparently fell between the cars and was killed instantly. He was only 32 years old and left a devastated wife and very small children. Al Hartley would take over the syndicated strip and within a year it was cancelled.
This would seem to be the end of our story but there are additional things to consider. Joe Maneely's last story art for Stan Lee appears to be in TWO -GUN KID #44 (Oct/58). The three TGK stories in that issue have story inventory numbers (job numbers) T-19, T-35 and one without a #. These numbers are important to us because they signify that they were stories that were penned at the dawn of what we call the Pre-Hero era of Marvel Comics.
The pre-hero era was the period when Jack Kirby, along with Steve Ditko and a handful of other artists returned to Stan Lee and the company began a new direction with the introduction of fantasy titles with a slant different from the previously seen bland post-code titles. Using initially innovative sci-fi themes and then later Godzilla and B-movie inspired monster stories, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko set a new and exciting tone starting in the new title STRANGE WORLDS and continuing in the already running WORLD OF FANTASY. Two new titles TALES TO ASTONISH and TALES OF SUSPENSE were then added to the continuing STRANGE TALES and the revived JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. Kirby and Ditko were joined by Joe Sinnott, Paul Reinman, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, John Forte and cameos were made by Al Williamson, Russ Heath, John Buscema, Jack Davis and Matt Baker. Former Timely "teen" and Hearst fashion artist Chris Rule inked Jack Kirby on these earliest stories. The debut tales in both titles above have job #'s starting with the letter "T" and the first "T" fantasy story was "I Discovered The Secret Of The Flying Saucers!" [T-76 ] by Jack Kirby and Chris Rule. These fantasy and monster stories would lay the creative groundwork that would ultimately give birth to the Marvel Age of comics in 1961. We see now that Joe Maneely would die at practically the "exact" instant the pre-hero era was starting. With this in mind we could speculate what might have happened had Joe Maneely lived.
With the new direction the company was taking, Joe would have been given sci-fi scripts. We already see what they would have been like based on his concurrent work over in the National sci-fi and mystery books. With Joe and Jack Kirby dominating the books, both lightening fast pencillers, Steve Ditko might have been dropped down a tier and others like Reinman, Ayers, Heck or Sinnott may have been pushed even further down or even out. What would have happened when mid 1961 rolled around? I still feel the Marvel Age would have been launched by Jack Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR, but what next? Would Stan have given the Hulk to Jack also? Possibly, but what about SPIDER-MAN? If Ditko never had the chance to spread his wings under all those fantasy vignettes, would the Spider-Man script have gone to him after Stan rejected Jack Kirby's initial attempt?
I envision Joe Maneely being used as a penciller as his speed would have allowed him to churn out super- hero stories almost overnight. Would Joe Sinnott have been corralled to ink Maneely? Would Maneely have drawn IRON MAN, DR. STRANGE or THOR? Having seen Joe's BLACK KNIGHT, he would have been a natural to give an altogether different look to the Thunder God. Dr. Strange also. And what wonderful covers there would have been. Maneely's cover design sense was fabulous. These are questions that we'll just never know the answer to but you can almost guarantee it would have happened. And I bet that they would have been great!
The world of comic books and Marvel Comics in particular, lost a great deal when Joe Maneely died. He possibly was the most prolific artist of the 1950's and had his greatest years still ahead of him. It's a "What If ?" scenario for the Marvel Ages.