PA’s former and current art directors look back at what inspired them to design the cover of the drug guide

1997: Decisions, Decisions

With the advent of protease inhibitors—the first effective HIV drugs—people living with HIV now had viable treatment options. The drug guide was the brainchild of then-editor Brett Grodeck. “Nine drugs that specifically fight HIV are approved in the United States as of January 1997,” wrote associate editor Enid Vázquez, who has compiled the annual drug guide since the beginning. “There are pros and cons to each drug. Positively Aware offers its first guide to HIV therapy.” The cover conveyed the new and growing number of treatment options to consider. And as Vázquez noted, “Two of the individuals appearing on this cover were living with HIV —and they’re both alive and kicking today.”

2001: A Drug Odyssey

Russell McGonagle, who served as art director from 1995 to 2010, paid tribute to the Stanley Kubrick classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ship’s computer, HAL, was both caretaker and villain. HIV drugs—seen reflected in HAL's lens—can be very similar, providing positive treatment and sometimes negative side effects in the mission of treating the patient.

2002: Guía de Medicamentos

For several years we produced quarterly versions of the magazine in Spanish as Positively Aware en Español. The 2002 Guiá de Medicamentos de VIH was an homage to Pop Art.

Durante varios años producimos versiones trimestrales de la revista en español, Positively Aware en Español. El 2002 Guiá de Medicamentos de VIH fue un homenaje a Pop Art.

2010: The Art and Science of Treating HIV

After 12 years, this was McGonagle’s final cover. Editor-in-chief Jeff Berry suggested using Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Vitruvius was a first century Roman architect who believed that the measurements and proportions of the human body were divinely created, perfect, and correct, symbolizing the merging of art and science.

2011: Singin’ in the Rain

Into each life a little rain must fall, which made the film Singin’ in the Rain the inspiration for art director Rick Guasco’s first cover. With its sunny smile and optimistic outlook, photographer Chris Knight brought the image to life. Note that the raindrops are meant to be HIV medication.

2016: Life in Panorama

It seemed only appropriate that the photo shoot for Positively Aware’s first ever foldout cover would be staged in Hollywood. Movies are bigger than life. The stories, the characters, the special effects—even the size of a movie screen or this magazine cover—are intended to take up your entire view. Photographer Louis “Kengi” Carr assembled a “cast” of 22 people living with HIV. “Being HIV-positive is just one facet of my life, and it’s not a bad thing,” said Cathy Elliot, 51, HIV-positive since 1995. “People outside of the HIV community might not understand, but coping with HIV for all these years has made me resilient. I’m a better human being overall. I truly value the relationships that I have with my community, and I celebrate every day as a gift.”

2012: Follow the yellow brick road

“Life with HIV can be an odd journey,” said the article describing the 2012 cover. “You’ve been uprooted from the life you’ve known, and suddenly plopped down in the midst of a new set of circumstances. How to convey that on a magazine cover? The answer was obvious: The Wizard of Oz.” It’s all about the yellow brick road, which is made up of HIV meds. The sketch of Dorothy and friends (below) was drawn on a cocktail napkin by illustrator Ursula Martens, and then turned into this cover by Joshua Thorne.

2016: Where everyone knows your name

After hours one Sunday evening, Slade’s Barbershop in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood was taken over for the cover, shot by John Gress. The concept was a familiar gathering spot, inspired by the TV series Cheers—for this behind the scenes photo, everyone was instructed to yell, “Norm!”