Early Tim Burton movies. Baby Yoda using the Force to put himself to sleep. A panda with a teensy, tiny cough. Cute-but-sad is a whole aesthetic, and one UNLV grad can help you cross off a name off your list for whoever it is in your life that loves that mood.
But developing his career wasn't so smooth for Ryan Brunty, ’09 BA Journalism and Media Studies. Armed with a fresh degree and already at work at a large local media company, Brunty was on the kind of well-defined path that plenty of recent grads hang all their hopes on. Placement in his chosen field, satisfying work, and an outfit that had a reputation as a dynamic employer.
Three years in, though, what looked like straight shot down a career lane evaporated. His grandfather died, and grief pulled Brunty under. He couldn’t leave the house. He couldn’t even get off the couch. In 2012, the alumnus lost his job.
Brunty had always been involved in art, and that became his outlet, his therapy. He sketched out a forlorn, furry egg-shaped beast with dragging knuckles, cocked horns, and watery eyes.
“I kind of lost everything,” Brunty said. “I started doing self-portraits and the little yeti, Yerman, came out. That was the first time I looked at a self-portrait and thought this is really, truly how I'm feeling right now. This is a really approachable way to my depression.”
That yeti came to be the centerpiece of his company, Depressed Monsters. He posted Yerman pictures online, and people reacted well. He printed a limited run of T-shirts that sold out immediately. Slowly, Brunty started leaving the house again, taking forays to a local coffee shop to work on the character.
“It was really nice because people right away understood that this was coming from a really authentic, but also dark place,” he said. “It was helping me. That's the only way I could make sense of it.”
Yerman started catching on around town — Brunty has painted murals of the yeti at Gold Spike, 7th and Ogden, Zappos headquarters, 11th Street Records, and Hatsumi. Soon he started selling apparel, toys, and even a book on his Depressed Monsters website, on Amazon, Zappos, and the fashion retailer 6pm, where UNLV gift-givers can find a few Yerman-branded items to wrap up for the holidays. Come May, Yerman merchandise will be available in select Hot Topic stores starting Jan. 14.
Because of his personal experiences with depression, Brunty makes mental health and fighting the stigma around it a key part of Depressed Monsters. Every December, he sends a portion of the proceeds from sales to mental health initiatives. He’s worked with the Jed Foundation, The Trevor Project, and PeaceLove in the past and expects to contribute to Mental Health America in coming year. A piece of sales from anything at Hot Topic will go to the Hot Topic Foundation, as well.
Yerman has even taken Brunty to the stage, doing public speaking engagements at The Moth in New York, Creative Mornings here in Las Vegas, and the PeaceLove Peace of Mind Storytellers series in Providence, Rhode Island, among others.
These days, Brunty has found more balance; worked with a therapist to help not get too high or too low. But that doesn’t mean that the tools that helped him in 2012 aren’t just as relevant as they were seven years ago.
“Yerman saved my life. I know it sounds cheesy or like a sound bite, but when it comes down to it, the self portrait is what kept me from not being here anymore,” Brunty said. “I have a better grip on my mental health now. Still, when I'm feeling down or anxious or like I can't win, I'll still go in the studio and draw or paint and that's what gets me out of my funk.
“Art therapy is a real thing. For me it's the biggest thing.”