Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 7: Joe Maneely

A lot of you probably haven’t heard of Joe Maneely, and that’s a damn shame. It really is. He was a prolific artist despite crafting quite a bit of detail into his shading. He was Stan Lee’s favorite artist… the Atlas comics “go-to” guy, but in 1958, perhaps misjudging a distance due to the recent loss of his glasses, Joe accidentally fell between the cars of a moving commuter train and was killed, still clutching his portfolio. He was only 32 years old.

Joe left behind a wealth of published material. An amazing amount of work both in covers and interiors. Stan Lee loved giving Joe jobs, and Joe always came through, and it’s very possible that if Joe hadn’t died then he would have been the artist that helped define the Marvel Age. He could have been the man who pencilled Fantastic Four # 1, or Amazing Fantasy # 15. Comic book history might have been very different except for one missed step.

Favorite Cover Artist # 7: Joe Maneely (I was unfortunately unable to locate a picture of Joe... so I went with one of his drawings)

Joe was brilliant with textures, and it was apparent that he loved working with shading, cloth, design, all of the so-called secondary aspects that a lot of (bad) artists discard as unimportant.

A good look at how Joe liked to play with textures.. but he never really let it interfere with the drawing overall, either.

One technique Joe liked to employ was to ink the background elements with a far lighter hand, lending the finished artwork a degree of three-dimensionality.

Here's that same technique of one of Joe's interior pages. Note the background figures and elements are drawn in a wholly different manner.

One of Maneely's more famous covers, featuring characters the Jeff Parker brought back to the mainstream in his excellent Agents of Atlas comics.

Because Joe’s sadly abbreviated career took place during a time when super-hero comics weren’t popular, there are very few examples of his work in the genre. Above are a couple of the exceptions, and then starting below are some quick looks at the areas that saw most of Joe’s work.

Joe did a huge amount of horror / mystery titles. I love the sparseness of the Astonishing cover, and the very sensible advice to “Look Out For Lakoonda” on the cover of Adventures into Terror.

And lots of “jungle” action, including a cover with MAN-OO the Mighty, which of course is Marvel’s all time best character, and the Leopard Girl, who… I might have to revive. She’s kinda pretty.

And Joe also did some astounding humor work. He was an artist with an incredible range. I would have never guess that the artist for these two books was the same, let alone that the artist did works in other styles / genres as well. Joe, when he passed away, was moving towards doing work for the early Cracked magazine, and hoping to get work at Mad.

A couple of Joe Maneely’s exceptional war covers.

And then Westerns. TONS of westerns. There were also a smattering of romance comics. There wasn’t anything Joe couldn’t do.

Picture the above as an early Marvel superhero comic. It's surprisingly easy to do. Maybe it's Sue Storm and Reed Richards, or a blonde Betty Bryant with a dark haired Flash Thompson. In the first case, it could be that Reed was ALSO exposed to a werewolf's bite, along with the cosmic rays, and in the 2nd case the werewolf would fit because Flash Thompson is a bit of jerk. A were-jerk.

They. Are. Being. Chased. By. An. Angry. House. It's BRILLIANT!

Black Knight was a title where Joe really showed his stuff. I love this cover. It's another nice look at the distinctive way Joe separated foreground and background characters, and it's Just Plain Bitchin'. I want to dress up as the Black Knight and hit the streets pillaging RIGHT NOW.

Another look at Leopard Girl and Why She Needs To Be Revived... and then there's Man-oo again. He just can't seem to get over how gosh-darn MIGHTY he is.

Because I love Maneely’s work so much… and because he is sadly forgotten, I’m going to do two gallery areas here… mostly in tribute to one of the greats, but also in the hopes of inspiring his memory to kick up a few new fans.

About a third of my high school dates ended up this way.

At the base of it all, every story is the same: girl meets ape.

Another nice look at the way Joe dealt with textural elements. And guillotines.

Another of Joe's humorous piece. I like the set-up of this one, and love the execution.

Another great example of Joe's different foreground / background technique.Â

Even past the great visual of the flooded city, I love this cover because of how the woman seems WAY more broken up about this than he is, and he just seems irritated that she's not rowing.

And now… another gallery, because Joe Maneely deserves it, and I’m glad to do my part to keep the legacy of Marvel’s “lost” genius alive. Wish to hell we could have seen how he would have developed over the years.

Parts you’ve probably read in earlier posts:

The Disclaimer:

You might not see your favorite artist during this countdown. That’s okay. Don’t get mad. Some of MY favorite artists aren’t here. Hugo Pratt, Bernie Krigstein, Mike Wieringo… these guys (and others) are fantastic artists, but their covers just don’t strike me. Some people need sequential panels in order to have their art sing… and that’s okay. Furthermore, this list is subjective to my moods of the moment, so if you disagree with me, then rest assured that I probably disagree with me, too. That said, I welcome any and all comments as this list progresses over time.

THE FINE PRINT: (Why I’m doing this)

Recently, on a trip to a comic store, I was DISGUSTED by the overall lack of design on covers. Most covers were nothing more than two or three characters punching each other and snarling, the exact kind of design that I would have worked out when I was eight years old, and spat on by the time I was ten. So, why do such covers proliferate the shelves? One reason is for trade dressing… so that any cover can be put upon almost any trade compilation, which is one of the reasons behind the other Far Too Common cover design… that of the character or team standing at attention, looking tough, staring at the viewer. Fuck that. I’m lucky enough to work largely with editor Nate Cosby, who does very good work at hiring talented cover artists and creating covers that don’t piss me off, but in consideration of my other less lucky friends, and the industry as a whole, I’m going to spend the next few weeks counting down my own personal Top 40 Comic Book Cover Artists… the ones who got it right.


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20 Responses to Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 7: Joe Maneely

  1. Dean

    Yeah, it would’ve been interesting to see Maneely’s work on some Silver Age Marvel stuff. Can you imagine a Maneely Spider-Man cover?

  2. Paul Tobin

    I can’t STOP imagining Maneely Spider-Man, and FF, and X-Men, and the like. The only one I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around is a Maneely Hulk. It comes out too slick in my head. But… everything else… wow. That said, Ditko Spider-Man and Kirby everything else is magnificent.

  3. Nancy Maneely

    Thanks, Paul, for your kind words about my dad and his artwork! I enjoyed your gallery, and even found some covers I haven’t seen! Nice collection.

  4. Paul Tobin

    Oh, wow. Thanks for writing! I am a huge fan of your dad’s artwork… just an amazing artist! I’ve gotten e-mails from some of his other long-time fans, and also new fans, so I’m glad to play my tiny part in keeping Joe’s beautiful artwork in the public notice.

  5. Joe Maneely was an amazing artist. Thanks for displaying some of his covers and original artwork. Bought many an Atlas comic just for his stunning artwork.

  6. Joe Maneely, besides being one of the great talents of ’50s comics, is Marvel’s greatest “What If?” story. Rather than think about him drawing Hulk or Spider-Man, though, the character that makes most sense to re-imagine in a Joe Maneely style is Iron Man. Given that Don Heck became the guy Stan went to after Maneely’s un-Timely passing, Iron Man–and Avengers— are the titles that most likely would have gone to the late great Joe Maneely.

    Love this guy’s work!

  7. Paul Tobin

    An Avengers title would have been incredible. And… it just hit me that I’ve been thinking in terms of what books Joe might have done if he’d been around, and I guess I’ve never considered that there may well have been completely different titles as well.

  8. Doc V.

    Nice overview, Paul! I see some of my favorites there as well as some of my own pieces of artwork. Your opinions about Joe echo my own. The good news is that I’m in the middle of writing what I think will be a really great art biography. Nancy has helped a great deal and I like to think that it will put Joe on the map as absolutely one of the greatest comic book artists of all time.

  9. Paul Tobin

    A book about Joe Maneely? That is GREAT news! That really made my day.

  10. what an amazing totally prolific talent joe maneely was.good point on if mr. maneely didn’t meet his tragic,(life’s not fair)unfortunate death marvel’s history could have been altered.what great comic covers you’ve shared w/ us.some i’ve never ever seen.

    though maneely was a very good,and the most prolific artist.he wasn’t as good as jack kirby.this isn’t a slight as jack’s art was simply the best,and he was even more prolific an artist than kirby w/ heavily detailed work.which is no small doing,but had he lived.imagine a bullpen of kirby,ditko,maneely,wood,heck and ayers in the early days.all all-stars for sure!loved most joe’s signature “the black knight”and “yellow claw”covers.just beautiful!

  11. Tom Conroy

    Great sight…I am 68 years old and have been a Maneely fan since I was 14 years old (1956). It all started when I first saw his old Combat Kelly and other Atlas war comics. I talked for the first time to Doc V. a few weeks ago and am thrilled that he is doing a book about Joe Maneely. When I was 17 I knew Doug Wildey in Tucson, Arizona and that is when I heard about Maneely’s accident on the train. He was a great artist, but I some how can’t see him doing Super Hero stuff. Maybe the Marvel westerns or the DC war books. Sargent Rock..yes…Ant Man….no. I still collect old Atlas comics with art by Maneely, Severin and Heath. Do some covers by John Severin and Russ Heath, especially those that had color work by Marie Severin. Hey..I forgot about Reed Crandall, another great cover artist.

  12. Tom Conroy

    Paul….Hello again. I forgot to mention there is a web sight where you can see ALL of Joe Maneely’s covers in full color scans. The sight is http://www.atlastales.com On that sight you will see cover scans of all the Atlas comics ever printed along with info on the artist that was in each issue….It is a great sight for any body interested in the old Atlas comics……Tom.

  13. Paul Tobin

    It’s really hard to tell exactly where and what Joe would have done if he’d lived. His body of work was the 1950’s… and there wasn’t much superhero work available, so he didn’t do much. In the heyday of the 1960’s, though… he might have been spitting out superhero books at a good rate. That’s the fun of speculation. One never knows. Hell… on the other hand, he could have been out of comics and doing movie posters / book covers, etc. Reed Crandall and Russ Heath are two of my favorite artists as well. Both of them are on my list already. Heath was #29 and Crandall was #16. I finish off the list of favorite cover artists this week, and next week I’ll do a full list, with links to each person. And… wow… I’d love to see your comic collection.

  14. Paul Tobin

    That’s actually one of my favorite sites… and I gleaned a lot of covers from it. I can still remember finding the site… about a year back or so. I spent the next week just idling through the site. Still do, from time to time. Wish there was a similar one for DC comics. Or, hell… for all comics. I’ve found other sites for references, like comicvine or cover browser, but nothing as comprehensive as Atlas Tales.

  15. Jim Steranko


    Just a quickie to say you have impeccable taste in artists (although listing Maneely at No. 7 suggests your math may be questionable), but the first image (soldier with bayonet) was not drawn by Maneely. I grew up in the Atlas Era and can spot any Maneely line at 40 paces. Thought you should know.

    Maneely was like Woody or Kirby, he excelled at everything from funny animals to gritty realism–and he was faster than the Road Runner. Your selection of his art brought back many memories because he had a profound influence on my own approach to style and storytelling.

    Keep it rockin’, pal!


  16. Paul Tobin

    Thanks, Jim. I’ll rework that one cover ASAP. Thanks for the tip! And it’s a real pleasure to hear from not only one of my favorite creators… but one of my favorite historians as well. Plus, I grew up on the girls of Prevue!

  17. Brian O'Connell

    Another long time Joe Maneely fan here in Liverpool, England UK. Any news on then book about Joe mentioned above by Doc V? Joe’s Western comics were/are my favourites and his drawings of horses are superb, along with the guns of the period and the 3-D effect with the marvellous detail in the background. If a Western film had ever been made of ‘Ringo Kid’ I would have liked to see either John Drew Barrymore or John Derek in the title role. My other favourite comic book artists are John Severin and Dick Ayers. I think the latter’s drawings had an effect on the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. The extreme close ups on the faces, the low angled views and the men in duster coats. Cheers, Brian.

  18. Paul Tobin

    I haven’t heard anything more on the Maneely book. I’m really hoping it happens, though. And I totally agree with you about Ayers and Severin. Dick could, as you say, choose lots of interesting angles and depths. And as for John… that dust! Everything always felt so dusty. It worked perfectly.

  19. Maggie Tobin

    Hi all. Any word on a book? Joe was my mother’s uncle and I love to pass anything I can on to my son. We have some artwork left after his brother’s passing and a few published tributes but always looking for more. Thanks.

  20. Paul Tobin

    I haven’t seen anything in a while. Sometimes the art books take a while, but… I’m REALLY hoping it’s still moving forward. Joe was a master. That’s fantastic that you have some of his artwork. He’s been a person I’ve long wanted an example from. Hopefully, if the art book is moving forward, someone might be in contact with you… maybe get those forgotten gems in print, helping keep the memory of one of my favorite artists fresh. And… a fellow Tobin, ehh? High five!

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