Born on 18th February 1926, Joseph “Joe” Maneely was an American comic book artist who he co-created the characters The Black Knight, The Ringo Kid, The Yellow Claw, and Jimmy Woo for Atlas Comics (who would later become Marvel Comics).
Maneely attended Ascension BVM Elementary School and Northeast Catholic High School; at the latter, he created a school mascot, the Red Falcon, that also starred in a comic strip in the school newspaper.
After dropping out in his sophomore year, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving three years as a specialist in visual aids and contributing cartoons to ship newspapers.
Under the G.I. Bill, Maneely trained at the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia. He entered the professional realm in the advertising art department of the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper.
His comic book career began in 1948 when he freelanced for Street & Smith. His first known credit for them being the story The Ragged Stranger in Top Secrets #4 (August 1948). He went on to draw Butterfingers, Django Jinks – Ghost Chaser, Dr. Savant, Mario Nette, Nick Carter, Public Defender, Roger Kilgore, Supersnipe, and Ulysses Q. Wacky in comics including The Shadow, Top Secrets, Ghost Breakers and Super Magician Comics.
In November 1949 Maneely produced a seven-page story called Washington’s Scout in Hillman Periodicals’ Airboy Comics vol. 6, #10.
Following that Maneely teamed with artist Peggy Zangerle and Hussian classmate George Ward to create an art studio at Philadelphia’s Flo-Mar Building, at 3160 Kensington Avenue, Room 501.
Maneely then found work at publisher Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics just as it was transitioning to its 1950’s incarnation Atlas Comics where Goodman was happy to jump on any current trend and flood the market with comics about it. This resulted in Maneely’s first published story for Goodman was an eight-page Western story called “The Kansas Massacre of 1864” which appeared in Western Outlaws And Sheriffs #60 (Dec. 1949).
It should be noted that historian Michael J. Vassallo, who researched into dating stories by Atlas by their published job-numbers, revealed that the first Atlas story Maneely contributed was “The Mystery of the Valley of Giants” in Black Rider #8 (March 1950). His first story but was published a lot later.
Maneely soon hit his stride at Atlas, and later gave up freelancing to become a full-time member of staff. Like Jack Kirby, he became known for having speed and style. Editor-in-chief Stan Lee soon assigned Maneely covers and stories throughout the entire range of Atlas comics.
As he did with Street & Smith, Maneely drew a wide range of genres including westerns, war, horror, humour, romance, science fiction, spy, crime, and even period-adventure stories — that last most notably with the medieval series Black Knight, co-created by Maneely and writer and editor-in-chief Lee, and first reprinted in 1960s Marvel Comics at the behest of editor Roy Thomas, who as a teen had “devoured the Black Knight comic, and became an immediate fan.”
Marvel artist Herb Trimpe said fellow artist Marie Severin, who had worked with Maneely at Atlas, had described “his pencils [as] almost nonexistent; they were like rough, lightly done layouts with no features on the faces … It was just like ovals and sticks and stuff, and he inked from that. He drew when he inked. That’s when he did the work, in the inking!” Stan Lee confirmed that “Joe almost inked without penciling.”
By the summer of 1957, Atlas was experiencing difficulties and began shedding freelancers. Shortly afterward, Martin Goodman stopped distributing his own titles and switched to American News Company, which soon closed, temporarily leaving Atlas without a distributor and resulting in all staff other than Lee being fired. Maneely continued to work with Lee on the Chicago Sun-Times-syndicated comic strip Mrs. Lyons’ Cubs, which debuted in newspapers February 10, 1958. He also did a limited amount of freelancing for DC Comics during this time, including for the supernatural / fantasy anthologies House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected; Charlton Comics; and Crestwood Publications.
Maneely, additionally, drew a four-page comic about Social Security for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, “John’s First Job” (1956), and another for the same agency, “A Farm and a Family”.
On June 7th 1958, Maneely had been out for a meal in Manhatten with fellow laid-off Atlas colleagues that included George Ward and John Severin. He did not have his glasses with him, and was killed when he accidentally fell between the cars of a moving commuter train on his way home to New Jersey. He was 32 years old.
Stan Lee commented that, “Joe Maneely to me would have been the next Jack Kirby. He also could draw anything, make anything look exciting, and I actually think he was even faster than Jack.”