I’m sorry to learn tonight that Joey Manley passed away. Apparently he died of pneumonia. He was 48.
It’s difficult to describe the role Joey played in the comics industry. He was at various times a critic, blogger, entrepreneur, publisher, editor, website-builder… someone who worked to advance webcomics in every way imaginable other than by creating them.
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.
I quickly signed on to Joey’s plan, which was a subscription-funded website featuring weekly content by a select group of cartoonists. Among other things, what set Modern Tales apart was that it offered uniformly superior webcomics on a regular basis — a distinction ensured by Joey’s astute recruitment of a roster of committed, talented creators. He was the “Harvey Kurtzman” of webcomics, to use MT alum Shaenon Garrity’s comparison. (For more on Modern Tales and its eventual fortunes, read Shaenon’s reminiscence from last April. Also featured there is a photo of Joey and the MT crew, including my own grinning, bandana-clad head.)
In the end, Modern Tales only earned me a few bucks, but it changed my life in other ways. More specifically, Joey changed my life. Before joining MT, my artistic output was mostly analog. I drew on paper, photocopied my art, and sent those photocopies to clients and publishers. Occasionally I would scan a piece to upload to the internet, but I lacked the software or expertise to adjust or improve my art once it entered the computer. So, in the world of webcomics, I was a bit of a lame duck. Joey was ever-helpful, explaining with small words and great patience what could be done with a computer and how to go about doing it. He even purchased and sent me a new graphics program to speed my progress. No strings, not a loaner. “A gift.” I didn’t even need the program to meet my commitments to Modern Tales. What it did allow me to do, though, was sharpen my game as an illustrator, and attract clients I’d never have landed otherwise. It was a doorway to a better career. And not only was it well beyond what I could afford at the time, but I hadn’t even realized I needed it. Joey saw an invisible need in my life and met it without discussion.
I left Modern Tales after a year or so; my readership hadn’t grown as I’d hoped, and I’d found other goals to pursue. After leaving, I didn’t see much of Joey online, and he eventually moved east and wasn’t as present at the conventions I attended. But I always planned to repay him for his gift. Not with money, but with (I hoped) something more meaningful. “After I ‘arrive’,” I thought,”after I write and draw a graphic novel, I’ll send Joey some originals, and a letter, explaining what his friendship and patronage meant to me….”
I saw Joey for the last time at a convention a year or two ago. He was perusing some comics nearby, and didn’t notice me watching him. I thought about our friendship, and about how long it had been since we’d spoken, and about the things I wanted to say to him, someday. I let him walk on.