History if full of "what if" moments.
Comic book history changed forever the early hours of June 7, 1958, when artist Joe Maneely fell between moving commuter railway cars on the way to his New Jersey home.
Maneely and Stan Lee were close friends and artistic teammates at Atlas Comics, the name publisher Martin Goodman used during the 1950s. Lee and Maneely had worked on a syndicated newspaper strip -- Mrs. Lyons' Cubs -- then as Lee's favorite artist to work with, Maneely penciled and inked countless comic book covers and issues. The two shared a common sensibility and manic energy.
The drawing from May 1958, just a little more than a month before the artist's untimely death, captures Lee's spirit and Maneely's reaction to "purple clouds" and "red sidewalks."
The "what if" question for Lee and Maneely would have centered on what role the eminent artist would have had on the superhero genre and Lee's trajectory if he had lived. In interviews, Lee has mentioned that he and Maneely may have gone into partnership and left Goodman's operation.
If Maneely would have survived, perhaps Lee feels less inclined to turn to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko when the superhero craze caught fire. Maneely's recollection of working with Lee in the 1950s would also provide comic book historians and aficionados insight into the writer/editor's work habits, scripts, and other topics during the extreme challenges the comic book industry faced in the 1950s.
The Maneely sketch is one of many rarely seen treasures at The American Heritage Center (AHC), the unique library and archive at the University of Wyoming in the Western town of Laramie. AHC is the university’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books, and university archives. One of its many fine collections focuses on the Comic Book Industry.
The Comic Book Industry collection is “unique in documenting the editors and writers of this industry increasingly recognized by scholars as having significant impact on the nation’s popular culture.”
One of the most noteworthy collections at AHC is the Stan Lee Papers (others include Private Snafu writer/editor Harold Elk Straubing and Superman editor Mort Weisinger). The Stan Lee collection is a seemingly endless archive of Lee’s work at Marvel, particularly strong in the era from the 1940s to 1970s.
The Stan Lee Papers contain a wide range of documents and items, not just papers, though the archive has box after box of Lee’s business correspondence, fan mail, and Marvel internal memos.