Behind the Design: HOW’s Cover + a Comic Book Artist

HOW’s September Self-Promotion Design issue showcases 78 award-winning self-promo designs, plus everything you need to become a self-promotion design superhero, so the HOW team knew they had to find an artist skilled—and daring—enough to pull off the cover of this powerful issue. 

Comic book artist Ryan Browne took on the challenge, and we hope you’ll agree that the final product is pretty awesome. HOW’s art director, Adam Ladd, had this to say about working with Browne:

“The large amount of detail in the cover also reflects the very detailed nature of the process in developing it from sketch to final. Ryan was great to work with and very talented and speedy to make any changes. We knew the basic concept and subject matter from the beginning, but we really tweaked it as it went along, making very conscious decisions about each element.

“One of the things I like best about what Ryan drew was his ability to take relatively average figures, make them reflect a certain industry, and put them in action to help get the superhero/self-promotion concept across.”

Scroll down for a behind-the-scenes look at Browne’s process, from start to finish, and be sure to let us know what you think.

About how many hours did you spend illustrating the cover of HOW’s September 2014 Self-Promotional Design issue?

Hmm. I’m not sure. I created the cover over the course of two weeks. Probably 25 hours or so.


For what percentage of those hours were you on a creative high, and for what percentage could wild swearing be heard from your studio?

There were a lot of changes during the process but all of them made sense and made for a better illustration. It can get frustrating when you think you are finished but you get notes for changes that make a lot of sense. In the end it was worth revisiting it when I needed to.


You write and draw “God Hates Astronauts” and “Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief,” both of which you refer to as “questionable comics” and one of which (“God Hates Astronauts”) is going to be a new ongoing series from Image Comics starting this September (Congratulations!)

In addition, you say you also co-created and drew the spaghetti- and western-free Spaghetti Western known as “Smoke and Mirrors” for IDW Publishing and are the “often confused fill-in artist” on “The Manhattan Projects” from Image Comics. Whew! You’re a busy comic-bookman.

So my question is, did illustrating the cover of HOW stretch your skills or force you out of your comfort zone at all?

I treated it very similarly to working on a comic book cover. The nice thing about the HOW cover is that I had a ton of time to work with the art director and make a lot of necessary changes. You usually don’t get that luxury in comics. Also, I haven’t worked with an art director in years, so it was a nice change to get immediate feedback on my work. I’m use to having to trust my instincts more to find the resolution to an image.

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If you had to describe your process for illustrating HOW’s cover in just three words, what would they be?

Challenging. Revision. Tacos.

Given your sense of humor and warm embracing of improv comic making, I simply can’t imagine you working out of a typical office. So tell us, did you have any workplace pets, unusual furnishings or any other kind of cool weirdness hanging about while you worked on the cover illustration?

A lot of toys and a couple of studio mates. We have a bubble hockey machine in the office, and I’m sure I played more than a few games during the making of this cover. I had a friend who is a toy maker construct new weird mutant hockey players for the machine. It’s undoubtably the weirdest looking bubble hockey game in the world.

What was the biggest challenge of this project?

Finding the time! Writing and drawing the ongoing series of God Hates Astronauts is ultra demanding. Doing a cover for HOW was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I had to make room.

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Is this your first time illustrating the cover of a magazine? Do you want to do it again?

Yes to both! I can certainly check this off the list of cool jobs to have.

Which part of the project was the most fun?

Inking the drawing. I love inking.

Do you have any tips for the comic book artist reading this who has coincidentally just been approached by a design magazine to illustrate a cover?

Hah! I’d just tell them to take my finished cover and trace it exactly.

Finally, I have to ask. How many drafts of HOW’s cover illustration are there stashed around your house with pizza stains?

I have one finished drawing of the two main characters and then a handful of sketches. The buildings behind them were added later, so I have those drawn on a separate, unpizza stained piece of board.

Don’t forget to check out all 78 of the award-winning dynamic designs featured in HOW’s how_0914-coverSeptember Self-Promotion Design issue This issue is all about self-promotion, from learning how to court clients to gaining inspiration from a behind-the-scenes look at some of the winning projects of the Promotion and Marketing Design Awards. Also in this issue, get the 5 reasons designers should love selling their ideas.

And remember to enter HOW Magazine’s September Issue Designer Sweepstakes for a chance to win products you’ll love that were featured the Look column of this issue.