MIAMI COUNTY — You may not know Matthew K. Manning’s name or face, but you certainly know the characters he’s worked with, including Batman, Thor, Captain America, and the Ninja Turtles alike.
Manning appeared at Miami East Junior High School, his alma mater, on Feb. 8 to discuss his career in freelance writing, which has largely revolved around comic books and their history. Manning acknowledged that it was a career path he fell into after a year of interning with DC Comics just out of college.
“I enjoyed my time at DC a lot, and I just didn’t leave it alone,” Manning said. “I started getting more and more work from that, and it’s spun into something ongoing.”
Graduating from Miami East in 1997, Manning made for the Big Apple to study at the School for Visual Arts in Manhattan, attending there for four years.
“I’d always wanted to live in a big city, because I grew up with Gotham and Metropolis,” Manning said. “I needed to see what that life was like. If I was going to write about this, I needed to experience it. By coincidence, my brother went to NYU, and we lived together in an apartment in the city. It was a sketchy neighborhood at the time. My parents weren’t crazy about where we were living, but it was great for us.”
On making school appearances to discuss his career, Manning admitted that a big motivation for doing so was the general absence of support for aspiring artists when he was growing up.
“When I was a kid, I would’ve loved this kind of thing,” Manning said. “When I was here, we had Art I through IV, Clay Fibers, and Painting, and that was all the art I had.”
With limited art resources in his formal education, Manning made efforts to seek out other exposure.
“My mother and grandmother would take me a lot to the local libraries. Troy Library was great about signings. They had Marc Brown of the Arthur books there. Steven Kellogg of the Pinkerton books did a signing. I did get to meet a couple people that way who were a big influence on me.
“Otherwise, my friend Drew Allen and I, who is also a Miami East graduate, would drive three hours to the Motor City Comic-Con, which is held in the Novi Expo Center in Michigan. That was really the only place I could meet writers and artists, and could ask them questions. I’d ask, ‘How did you get started? How do you do this?’ I’ve done appearances like these for a couple of years now, particularly in a lot of rural schools, and that early experience of mine is what makes it worth it. These kids have no idea what the process is or what the history of comics may be, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.”
Assisted by a visual presentation, Manning walked students through the history of comic books, starting in the “Golden Age” of the 1930s and 1940s all the way into the “Modern Age” of comics from the ’90s onward, discussing trends in each era for character development, writing styles, and art design.
Manning also showcased some examples of his own work, including pages from his comic book history publishings, and a live reading from an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which he co-wrote.
Throughout the lecture, Manning dispensed sound advice from his career in freelance writing, stating that the best way to master any craft is to practice and study constantly.
“A writer needs to be reading and writing all the time,” Manning told students. “It’s really that simple. You’ll start to constantly see all the structural components that make up each story, and figure out how to guide and manipulate a reader. Also, if you want to write in comics, you can’t just read comics — you have to read everything. You have to read classic literature and non-fiction. If you don’t, you’re not bringing anything new to the table.
“The same thing goes with drawing. You can’t just study the drawing of comics — you also need to draw from life. You need to go to classes, and study the art from every angle. It’s all about practice, and practice will help you master any craft.”
With the session ending in a lively Q&A, Manning exclaimed that the material he speaks upon is appealing to almost everybody.
“These days, it’s really easy to talk about comics. Everybody knows the characters. They know Batman, they know Captain America, they even know Deadpool and other very minor characters. They just don’t actually know much about comics still. It’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, and that’s what makes it fun.”
For more information on Manning’s work, visit www.matthewkmanning.com.