Creepy Cute—It’s a thing, and it’s what Wendy Bryan of I Heart Guts captures with her line of cute human organ characters.
Founded in 2005, I Heart Guts has created plush, pins, shirts and even educational mats with her organ illustrations as a fun and easy way to understand the human body. We were able to catch up with Bryan at New York Comic Con and have her spill her guts on, well, her guts!
I Heart Guts specializes in kind of the cutesy-creepy esthetic, can talk about how that style kind of came about?
I’ve always been really interested in cute and disgusting coming together and I’ve always been interested in anatomy and I love to draw, so it was something I was always doodling in the margins or other projects. One day my husband said ‘You should make something with these,’ and soon I started a little tiny website that was sort of an art project more than anything else. It was never ‘Oh, I’m going to start a business.’ I was just a freelance designer and then people started writing in like ‘Oh my gosh, my girlfriend just had her fourth liver transplant, she’s only 24, can you make her a liver shirt?’ ‘My brother gave me his kidney, why don’t you make a kidney shirt?’
Can you talk more about the plush?
We made four [plush]. We made the heart, lung, liver and kidney. We sold out of the heart. We made like 1,500 hearts and sold out between Christmas and Valentine’s Day in four months and we were like ‘Whoa! I guess we have to make more hearts.’ So we made four more organs.
And how did people respond as you expanded the organ types?
It’s been a great experience. I love hearing people’s stories about different things like “OMG, I don’t have a stomach, yet I’m still smiling about it” It’s incredible… it’s really built by the people—they’re not just fans but they have a real interest in each organ…[for example] people who are interested in the prostate because they had prostate cancer or someone who is a neurologist or something, they have a special relationship with that organ. That’s what’s really fun about it for me is that it’s pretty collaborative. I’m always amazed by people and what they can survive.
How has the line grown since you first started?
We started in 2005 and I didn’t start doing it full time until 2008, so it’s a very slow process. I made a lot of mistakes, that’s mostly how I learn how to do things. We’ve worked with a couple different plush manufacturers, several different t-shirt manufacturers, trying to find the right fit, different manufacturers for pins and stickers too, they’re all kind of specialized.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the mats, and for each organ in general?
Yes! Well I am a big nerd so I love science and I love math, so it was fun to do the research. My goal artistically and for the information is to make things as simple as possible and really easy to understand. When you take Anatomy, you forget 90 percent of it, like ‘What does my pancreas do again? I don’t remember’ and for a little kid to be like ‘A pancreas helps me eat cupcakes!’ that’s all you need to know. Like, ‘It helps me eat sugar’ and then later they can learn about insulin and all of that kind of stuff. Just to have the basic knowledge [of the organs].
Can you tell us about the different items you offer?
We tried out all different types of formats. We started with just buttons and stickers because we can make them in small amounts, locally. We started with that and started doing shirts because people were asking for them and then we moved into plush. And then people, like doctors, were like ‘I want something I can wear. I can’t wear this crazy ‘I’m a Liver Not a Fighter’ shirt on the job,’ so we made these nice, little lapel pins. So if you’re a doctor or a nurse you can wear it on your lab coat or scrubs or your bag or wherever.
People have told me ‘Yeah, I went to my endocrinologist and they were wearing a pituitary!’ and I was like ‘that’s awesome!’ Then we starting making keychains, we wanted something that was useful, something you can actually use, which I like. So you can give someone the keys to your uterus like ‘Here baby, check it out….’
What do you like about being a vendor at NYCC?
It’s fun to come here and talk to poeple and see little kids get interested in organs. They’re running around looking like ‘Where’s Star Wars? Where’s Hello Kitty?’ but it’s fun when they see this and they get excited. They’re Mom is like ‘Look, this is in your body.’ And they’re like ‘Oh my god, I’m really into it’ and that’s fun too. So there’s an educational point of view to it.
Is there anything you have not done yet, but would like to do in the future with I Heart Guts?
I would like to make something wipe-offable for hospitals, because people will say ‘I can’t have a plush toy in the hospital.’ It would be nice to have something that can be cleaned for sick kids that they can take with them to the hospital that can be disinfected.
Images by Kim Bui.
We love getting to speak to creative, talented ladies. Check out our interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Clutter Magazine, Miranda O’Brien now!
Kim Bui is a freelance artist & designer from Norfolk, Va. She is a recent graduate of Pace University trying her hand at a little bit of everything; illustration, art direction & nail art. She has a passion for print design and finding the perfect pen. @Sincerelykimbui