Joe Maneely was a frequent contributor to Atlas Comics (nowadays Marvel Comics) in the late 1940s and all throughout the 1950s. A swift jack-of-all-trades, he drew a great many stories in different genres. His speed made him legendary among his colleagues. A tragic premature death in a train accident unfortunately sealed his career, making him one of the great "what if?" stories in the history of comics.
Maneely was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1926 as the child of a large, but poor family. During his time at Northeast Catholic High School he designed their mascot, 'The Red Falcon', and also created a comic strip around the bird which ran in the school newspaper. He never finished his education, but enlisted in the US Army during the Second World War. Even then he still drew cartoons for their newspapers. In 1948 Maneely became a freelance comics artist for Street & Smith, Airboy Comics and Treasure Chest, mostly working in the action and crime genres. Together with George Ward and Peggy Zangerle he founded an art studio at Flo-Mar Building in 1950.
At Atlas Comics, Maneely's work really began to shine. His unique and efficient style appealed to editor-in-chief Stan Lee. It is said that Maneely could pencil and ink seven pages in a single day. This was achieved by only vaguely putting pencil sketches on paper and creating the images while inking, rather than tracing over finished pencil drawings. As a result he was commissioned to draw various magazine covers and stories. Maneely proved himself to be a veritable chameleon. He worked on all of Atlas' series, no matter what the subject matter was. He also co-created many characters, including 'Ringo Kid' (1954), 'Black Knight' (1955, with Stan Lee) and 'Yellow Claw' (1956, with Al Feldstein). Thanks to his speed and versatility his bosses liked him and soon he was nicknamed "Joe Money", because he was such a lucrative artist among their force. Around the same time he also drew two educational comic strips, 'John's First Job' (1956) and 'A Farm and a Family' for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
In 1957 Atlas Comics ran into financial troubles. During this period Maneely and Stan Lee worked on the daily comic 'Mrs. Lyons' Cubs' (1958) for The Chicago Sun Times to gain more money. As if times weren't bad enough Maneely died the same year in an accident. One night he fell between the car of a moving commuter train. He was only 32 years old. Though sometimes rumored to be a suicide, friends and colleagues agreed it was most likely an accident. Stan Goldberg claimed that Maneely had lost his glasses a week earlier and still hadn't found them back, nor wore another pair, on that fatal night. This might explain why he didn't notice where he was walking in the dark. John Severin attributed his friend's death to having had a few drinks too much. Either way, his premature death was a great loss to the world of comics. He left behind a wife and three children. In 2004 Stan Lee commented that if Maneely had lived "he would have been another Jack Kirby (...) the best you could imagine."