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 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

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.


  1. Joey let me design the Serializer site with the notorious horizontal scroll. We got a lot of complaints, but Joey believed enough in Serializer Editor, Tom Hart, and I to weather the storm. He was a very nice person with a great vision.

  2. Really shocked and saddened to hear this! I made so many long lasting friends through my participation through Joey’s various Modern Tale sites like Girlamatic, Graphic Smash and Webcomics Nation. Seems like almost every creative person I know has some connection to a Joey project. He leaves quite a legacy. RIP

  3. I’m stunned. I’ve known Joey for many years now. I was on Graphic Smash twice, and his ad server company once. Despite ups and downs, I always liked him, and still do. I’m flabbergasted. I won’t be talking with him online again. I’m sorry for his family and partner and close personal friends.

  4. I owe Joey everything. If it hadn’t been for him I’d have probably given up on comics (and webcomics) by 2003. He opened so many doors, introduced me to so many friends and gave me so many opportunities. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do without my “fairy godfather” around to help me when i need it most. I’m stunned and sad.

  5. Very saddened to hear this. He was responsible for “Supernatural Law” being on Webcomics Nation and having a new life there. Heart-felt condolences to his partner and family.

  6. This is shocking and tragic news. Joey’s contributions to the webcomics sphere are considerable, and I think he was a visionary in that regard. Having been on and currently hosting a series on Webcomics Nation, I also feel I owe him a personal modicum of gratitude for providing these forums, as do any of us here who have ever been on these, Modern Tales, Girl-A-Matic, etc. Joey always spoke with a passion not only about comics, but other things that were important to him, and will be remembered fondly for the person he was.

  7. It’s amazing how many people were dealing with some sort of fundamental comics crisis when they first met Joey. Modern Tales seems more and more like it was an international support group that managed to send small checks to all of its members.

  8. Can’t believe you’re gone, Joey. You did a wonderful thing when you set up ModernTales. It truly was the best of times and such fun to be a part of the amazingly talented group of people that you brought together. Like so many have said today, you were then one who made made me think that maybe I could do this for a living! Thanks for believing in us. I’ll miss you.

  9. BTW, although no specific reason is given for the above fundraiser, with a sudden death like this there is always a great use for the money. It’
    s just good karma. I salute the generosity of those who have donated.

  10. I didn’t know Joey as well as any of the above folks. I didn’t even meet him until after his sites had already been folded into e-line during my days there as a consultant. We talked on the phone a bunch back then – picking each other’s brains – filling in gaps in each other’s curiosity and knowledge of all things comics. (And Kentucky Colonels).
    His contribution to the destiny of contemporary comics was enormous.
    We are all better off because Joey Manley knew how to figure out stuff.

  11. I knew Joey a very long time ago, back around 1979 or 1980. We were still kids in high school and we connected through his fanzine, Comics*Trips Weekly. This was his first attempt at serializing independent artists and writers. The zine was a simple photocopied collection of pages of crudely drawn comics by a bunch of us young fans who had more energy and talent than actual skill. Joey lived in Kentucky and I lived in East Texas, so all of our communication was via letter. And there were a lot of them, discussing everything from comics to SF to how it sucked to be a brainy guy in a redneck town where no one really “got us.” By the way, Joey printed one of my ongoing strips in his zine — I think he was the first person (other than me) to publish my fanzine work.

    We dropped out of contact as they years passed us by, and I hadn’t connected for years when we found each other online again (I forget how) in the mid 2000s. I think this was after Modern Tales had folded, or it was in the process of going down at that time. Our re-connection was brief, but meaningful. We had some great letters and, because he wrote it, I bought his novel, THE DEATH OF DONNA-MAY DEAN on ebay. I’ll admit, I tried to read it, but couldn’t get into it. The story didn’t resonate with me and I just put it on a shelf in a back room of my house (like many of you, I’ve got book cases in just about every room of the house).

    Last night, at around 3 am, I was in the mood to read something so I went into that back room and looked at the Neil Gaiman and H.P. Lovecraft books I keep there. And something odd happened. I glanced down and there was Joey’s novel. And I remember thinking, for just a split second, that maybe I should read it. And, for no reason I can explain, I thought, “There’s still time.” So I didn’t pick it. Instead, I read Nate Powell’s SOUNDS OF YOUR NAME.

    I hadn’t been to those shelves in 5 or 6 weeks, and hand’t thought of Joey in a year or more. But last night, he crossed my mind for a split second. You can imagine my surprise today when, on Facebook, mutual friends reported the sad news that Joey had died yesterday. I’ve got to admit, I got a little chill for a second. He’d been out of my thoughts for a very long time, but there he was last night, in the wee hours, crossing my mind. I have no idea when Joey passed yesterday — it could have been day or night. But I can’t help wonder if his energy wasn’t still moving about the earth at 3 am (perhaps one final tour of this earthly sphere before ascending to whatever lies beyond?) and found me at that moment and exerted just enough influence to cross my mind with a soft whisper, “Remember me through the words I’ve left behind…”

    As a writer, I think that’s something I would want. To know that when I’m gone, someone, somewhere, will find something I created and benefit just a little from the energy I invested into it. That for just a moment, the words or pictures I crafted will touch someone, even if it’s just a soft whisper, and for that small moment, I will be remembered.

    I know I’m remembering Joey today, and I’m happy for the little bit of creative energy he left behind.

    BTW: I’m not adding this last part to promote my blog (I almost didn’t include this note), but I did write down some other memories about Joey at my blog. If you’re interested, you can read it here:

  12. The word “visionary” is tossed around a bit too often in today’s day and age of hyperbole, but Joey Manley is one of the few it genuinely applies to in the truest sense of the word.

    The comic book community as a whole owes this man more than most will ever know.

  13. Joey always had my back, was always supportive of my sporadic webcomic attempts, and always had good thoughts when I was seeking writing advice… And I could always count on him to write something hilarious on my FaceBook timeline. There are few “internet friends” I wish I could meet in person and Joey was one of them.

    He was a good man.

  14. I really loved that man. He was a true friend to me. Loyal, kind and sweet and always there for me when I needed someone to talk to.

  15. Joey introduced me to most of my favorite creators, and gave me an opportunity to show my appreciation to those creators in a concrete way. He enriched my life during a time that it needed enriching, and the echos of his work will continue to resonate in my life.

Comments are closed.