GERMANTOWN - You could say Bryan Dyer's career in medical illustration that led to his non-profit organization, You are the Hero, started in a morgue.
It was on a field trip to Marquette University's morgue as part of his advanced biology class at Germantown High School that first put pen to paper.
"We were studying anatomy and physiology and so we got to look at the cadavers that the medical students used to study off of and practice different exercises on," Dyer said. "I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about that visit that really struck a chord with me; I thought everything we were learning was really fascinating. There’s something about the way the human body works and the musculature and how it’s all laid out."
After the trip, Dyer's biology teacher pulled him aside.
"He knew I was an artist and asked if I was interested in medical illustration," Dyer said. "I did some research and it turns out my mom actually did some medical illustration out of college and she brought out her portfolio and showed me her old work. I thought it was so cool that I thought, 'hey maybe I could try and do this for a living.'”
So, he did.
Dyer attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, one of three schools in the country that offer an undergraduate degree in biomedical art.
In his field of study, Dyer created educational pamphlets for patients who were diagnosed with complex diseases and material that could be used in textbooks to educate medical students about various aspects of the human body.
When it came time to do his senior thesis project, he decided to create a comic book that educated kids about type one diabetes.
"I came across a statistic that 18-20 percent of kids in the U.S. are living with some kind of chronic illness and that ranges from something like asthma all the way to leukemia," Dyer said. "There was something about that that just really stuck with me. In the back of my head, I came up with this idea that one day down the line, I would love to do art or drawings for kids who had been diagnosed with chronic illnesses who might need something to inspire them or uplift their spirits, so that’s kind of how the general idea for You are the Hero came from; I kind of tucked that idea away while I was working on my thesis."
It's been two years since Dyer founded You are the Hero.
To date, he has created 55 portraits of children with chronic illnesses as superheroes at no cost to the families.
Dyer gathers as much information as possible on the kids — from their physical attributes, like hair and eye color — to who they are, what they like to do, and of course, all about their superhero persona.
"I ask fun questions like 'if your child could be a superhero, what would their powers be? What is their superhero name, their costume,'" Dyer said. "I encourage them to be as outside the box as they would like. Some of them really go nuts with that. It’s so fun to see what the kids come up with. Right now, I’m drawing a little boy named Nathan who wants atomic-powered skis, so he flies through the air on skis, which, that is so cool. I never would have thought of that. It allows the kids to use their imagination and be as creative as they want. It allows them to show their super side."
After Dyer gathers information on each child, he gets to work on the illustration on his computer. On average, each portrait takes him six hours, depending on the complexity of the drawing. The majority of his drawings are of children outside of Wisconsin, who find him through his Facebook page, or word of mouth.
Dyer's goals for You are the Hero include partnering with a printing company to help parents create t-shirts of his designs for fundraising campaigns and raising awareness of their child's illness.
"There are some hurdles to overcome, but if You are the Hero does get big enough I would absolutely love to bring in another artist or somebody to help me create more illustrations because right now I have a backlog of illustrations," Dyer said. "I hate having to make these families wait so long for a drawing. Right now, the average wait time for a drawing is four to eight weeks. I would like to have them within a two-week period. In order to bring in another artist, I would want to pay them, so that would require more funding. The big ticket item for the next year is bringing funds in so I can really start expanding the scope of you are the hero.”