Born in Buffalo, New York, Manson graduated in 1975 from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, having specialized in printmaking. He also obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz).
He returned to Buffalo, where he took a job at a local arts council in arts management, a position that required fundraising skills. "It wasn't for me," he later recalled. "I figured out that I was tired of helping others make their art."
After illustrating a friend's cookbook, he published the phenomenally popular children's book, MAZE: Solve the World's Most Challenging Puzzle (1985), issued by the major publishing house Henry Holt and Company. The book promised a $10,000 award to whoever solved the book's many visual puzzles, and even though the contest has long since ended, the book remains in print, and was reissued as a computer game in CD-ROM format.
Manson authored and illustrated the following books:
MAZE: Solve the World's Most Challenging Puzzle (1985)
The Rails I Tote: Forty-Five Illustrated Spoonerisms to Decipher (1987)
The Practical Alchemist: Showing The Way An Ordinary House-Cat May Be Transformed Into True Gold (1988)
A Gift For The King: A Persian Tale (1989)
Two Travelers (1990)
The Crab Prince: An Entertainment For Children (1991)
The Marvellous Blue Mouse (1992)
Manson provided the illustrations for these books:
The Norman Table: The Traditional Cooking of Normandy (1985)
A Farmyard Song (1992)
The Tree in the Wood: An Old Nursery Song (1993)
Good King Wenceslas (1994)
Till Year's Good End (1997)
Over the River and through the Wood (1998)
Uncle Sam and Old Glory (2000)
Black Swan/White Crow (2007)
Manson summed up his approach to his authoring and illustrating children's books like so: "What I'm really after is the perfect book. The kind where you just can't imagine the words without the pictures, or the pictures without the words . . . like [Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A.] Milne. But there aren't that many out there to point to as perfect. I'm constantly working toward it." He added, "Even if I won the 40 million dollar lottery, I'd still do this — I'd have a fancier studio, but I'd still do this."