Tom Manning: Accepting the Multiplicty of Methods: Comics, Graphic Design, and the American Way

Tom Manning introduced himself as:

1. Hi. I make comic books – a passion that started at age 9 with X-Men 221. He ripped off X-men with his own comic strip, Mega Force, inked and copied it, sold it at school, and even sold ads to cover the production costs – a young entrepreneur! He developed an interest in the vernacular of sharing, communicating, and storytelling strategically culling from different forms, genres and styles.

2. I make graphic design.

He was Art Director of Design Mind. His graphic design was in the modernist style, unlike his comic book work. He was conflicted by how the way he works, thinks, and make comics is different from graphic design. He wanted a singular voice but instead felt schizophrenia. He decided to undergo design psychoanalysis, “aka grad school,” and enrolled in Yale Master’s Program hoping to understand and articulate his process. Instead of singularity he found multipicity.

With an art history background, Tom loved the hand-made black and white style of William Morris and the constructivist style of El Lissitzk. He decided to shift from style to intent behind the design. While Morris and Lissitzk style were polar opposites, they both shared the intent of supporting the ideals of communism.Tom decided to shift from a single style to finding various ways to communicate a similar subject.

3. I’m a communication designer. Tom decided to decide on the appropriate voice to use to transmit a message. Designers should reject the idea of finding their “voice” and instead learn to speak in tongues.

Manning, Tom_Original

Tom Manning

Tom Manning is a Principal Designer at Frog’s San Francisco studio. He has art directed such magazines as Filter, Mean, and Frog’s design mind, and previously worked with IDEO, McCann Erickson, Harper Collins, and Little Brown publishing. Manning is also a comic book creator, writing and illustrating the critically acclaimed series Runoff. Manning has a BFA in Art History and the Visual Arts from Occidental College and an MFA in Graphic Design from the Yale School of Art.

4. I’m an American. What is American design/communication (compared to Swiss, Japanese, or German). Multiplicity and flexibility are key and inherent in the American way of communicating which you can see in music from country to hip hop, to film (ie Kubric appropriating Diane Arbus or Hitchcock appropriating Edward Hopper). Redirection is important in graphic design to make engagement memorable. The real challenge is to embrace the multiplicity of methods. As author Michael Rock said in The Designer as Author, it is not who made it but what it does and how it does it. Style needs to be paired with solution, or it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Learn solutions, not styles. Again, learn to speak in tongues.


– By Diana Banh @dibanh