Jenny Mannis

Costume and set design

I am a costume designer turned author-illustrator. With over a decade of experience in professional theater, I have designed at theaters all over the country including The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2nd Stage, and Steppenwolf. I hold an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and am a member of Kids Comics Unite, SCBWI, and the Authors’ Guild.

As a costume designer, I practice visual storytelling, transforming the written words of a play into images. My writing and illustration are heavily influenced by character design, color story, historical research, and imaginative world building. My time in theater has also led me to value compelling dialogue, twisty plots and brisk pacing.

When I’m not planning and researching the next two books in the Escape Artist series, I can be found trying to keep up with my two teens and two rescue dogs and dodging the monsters that live in the basement.

Jenny Mannis

What was your favorite book as a child?

All of them? I read to escape, so I was going for quantity over quality. But anything where a fantasy or alternate world existed in tandem with ours was my jam: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, Grimm’s fairy tales, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl (deep cut: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), Edward Gorey, Charles Addams comics, The X-Men. I read Stephen King’s It on the eighth-grade ski trip and that book changed me.


Pencil and paper for roughs and doodles. Dip pen and ink wash if I’m feeling fancy. Nothing beats the hand feel of graphite and real ink but I’m in love with Photoshop for the infinite possibilities and speed. I like messiness and rough edges, so I use a chunky, jittery ink brush for inking and loose watercolor, pastel and marker brushes for texture. I draw my own panel borders and speech balloons. Overall, I’m trying for a quick, scribbly, hands-on feeling.


Art Process:

I always start from research. A mysterious building, 1950s horror comics, a news clipping – anything that sparks my fancy. I’ll be a magpie for a while and gather ideas and images from books, movies or the internet. I let the new stuff knock around for a while until I’ve got a premise or a question, a group of characters, a visual vibe, a color scheme, an idea that spooks me.

My creativity comes from the process of collection and whatever gets cooked up in the basement of my subconscious – the rest is iteration. I use scene cards to track plot points, character development, and my favorite research images. I’ll make a detailed outline and, once I know the major beats and the characters’ journey, I fill in the dialogue and paneling. I pull images and color story from my research and lay in the art stepwise. This orderly process comes from my practice as a theater designer: a highly structured system of organization and routine that sets the conditions for creativity. Stephen King calls his muse a “basement guy.” The muse does his thing down below while you put the time in at your desk: just like in theater where the designers and crew work behind the scenes so the magic can happen on stage.

What is your favorite food?

Popcorn jellybeans, black licorice, Necco Wafers, candy corn, Smarties: I love an underdog!


Forthcoming books:

Published books:


Chicago, IL

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