What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their pundits and bloggers.
— Joey Manley (@joeymanley) October 17, 2013
Webcomics pioneer Joey Manley died last night of complications from pneumonia. According to reports, he was 48. He had been ill of late, and went to the ER late last week. According to a post on FB from his long time partner Joe Botts, Manley died surrounded by family and friends.
Manley, started as many did in fandom circles, but become one of the founding pioneers of the growing webcomics movement by founding Modern Tales, Webcomics Nation, Girlamatic, Talk About Comics and several other sites founded on a then-revolutionary subscription model. Although the sites eventually changed focus and Manley had moved on, the impact they had in the early days of comics on the web cannot be overstated, and tributes to Manley are pouring in on social media everywhere.
In recent years, Manley became involved with attempting to build ComicSpace, into a social media network for comics fans and creators; he moved to Maine to work with the site founder but ended up back in his native Louisville, KY where he continued to work on projects as that site and Modern Tales were eventually shut down.
Another early webcomic pundit T. Campbell has the first of doubtless many remembrances of the differences Manley made:
Modern Tales, the subscription website, launched in 2002, and for a while, it eclipsed ad earnings for a number of us. For a while, it seemed like it would grow into a tentpole of the new business model. It did well enough to launch a number of spinoffs with more specific flavors: Girlamatic for women-created work and Serializer for more “underground”-style “comix.” I joined the fourth of these, the self-explanatory Adventure Strips, and got promoted to editor when we rebranded it. I’m pretty sure Joey let me come up with the new name, Graphic Smash. Joey’s other visionary projects included Webcomics Nation, a viable platform for beginning webcartoonists.
But that’s not what people are talking about today. What people remember is Joey’s belief in them. His investment said to us that the worlds we were building mattered, and that’s his real legacy: dozens of cartoonists who wouldn’t be working, or working as well, without his contributions to their dreams.
Jim Zub has his own thoughts here:
In 2002 Joe was the first person to treat me like a comic professional and the first one to pay me for my comic work. It’s hard to put into words how important that was early in my career. If there’s a metaphorical ‘Zub Shop’, his money is there in a little frame by the register. I won’t forget that.
It’s a sad realization that although he was truly a visionary pioneer of comics, Manley’s innovations weren’t of the Twitter, Facebook or even Pets.com nature. Instead, he had a vision for comics outside the box of the narrow direct sales market of the early 2000s, a vision of different audiences, different material and the Web as a viable platform for comics, a view which so many others—in a move future generations will have a hard time believing—ran away from screaming in horror. But alas, this is comics we’re talking about, so the fortunes involved were modest to non-existant. But Manley’s encouragement, business connections and innovation helped many who would otherwise have been adrift in a time of rapidly changing models.
For more on Manley’s hugely important legacy, see Shaenon Garrity’s remembrance of Modern Tales published earlier this year at TCJ.com/
In 2001, a guy named Joey Manley was doing something nebulous for a doomed tech startup with more venture capital than it could responsibly spend, which was a common job in the Bay Area at the time. It’s become a common job again, but Joey’s safe in Kentucky, away from the khaki-clad millionaires who rode BMWs and razor scooters then and ride BMWs and fixies now. Joey was and is a Kentucky colonel, the real deal, which is not the tenth most interesting thing about him but might be in the top thirty. In 2001, he had a good chunk of money and the common sense to know that he wouldn’t have a good chunk of money forever, not the way this startup was going.
While Manley’s pioneering efforts won’t be forgotten, his friendship will live on as well, as the many heartbroken testimonials flooding in will attest. Manley was a good friend of this site—we briefly discussed integrating the Beat with ComicSpace back in the day—with a generous spirit and ready advice, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear at the time.
UPDATED: And here’s Jesse Hamm:
I first heard of Joey through my friend and fellow cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim. Derek wanted me to drive to San Francisco and meet with this guy he’d met online to discuss a secret plan to make webcomics lucrative — our Holy Grail! Joey was staying in the Tenderloin at the time, and the idea of visiting a dodgy neighborhood to discuss a secret money-plan with some stranger named “Joey” sounded like something out of a Spillane novel, but I was in my twenties, so I went. What I found in Joey, then and thereafter, was a man of passion, sensitivity, wit, and two assets uncommon to cartoonists: the wealth and the drive necessary to Get Something Done.
My sincere condolences to his friends and family.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.