Just like his blog-turned-internet sensation, But You’re Like Really Pretty, Ryan Casey is sometimes hilarious, sometimes controversial, and always unapologetic. Every Wednesday, Us Weekly’s web designer introduces us to an over-the-top cartoon of a relevant celebrity of the week. Each of his posts include a young blonde woman, supposedly a symbol of the public eye, who bemusedly finds herself interacting with the likes of Megan Fox or Brad Pitt. Via his online platform, Casey mocks our celebrity-crazed culture and constantly refutes the idea that the tabloids cannot be a source of artistic inspiration. A few months after moving to the city that never sleeps and working at his favorite gossip magazine, Ryan Casey takes a few moments to meet us, walk us through his career, and tell us why he owes everything to Britney Spears and Tina Fey.
Go ahead and introduce yourself to the Daily BR!NK community.
My name is Ryan Casey, I’m twenty-eight years old, I’m an illustrator, and I have a site called “butyourelikereallypretty.”
Is that from the movie, Mean Girls?
Yes it is, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Do people usually get the references immediately?
Not really, they don’t. Then, when I say it, it’s like a light bulb went off. But some people are actually really quick and will go, like, “Oh Regina George! I get it…”
Did you have a passion for art and drawing at an early age?
I did, I used to watch TV and draw the people on the screen.
Not directly on the screen right?
No, not directly on the screen. [laughs] I wouldn’t do that. Anyway, in high school I was in all art classes and I also dabbled in musical theatre. Even though I thought I wanted to get into acting, I really found my place in art. But it was weird because my teachers and counselors never really told me that I could have a career in art, they were always like, “Well, it will be something you do on the side or a hobby.” I just wish someone had told me about art school, because I originally went to American University in DC for a year, and everybody started picking majors and they were picking, like, political science and I was like, “Shit, I do art…” So I dropped out and I found The University of the Arts in Philadelphia and studied illustration there.
At this point, did you become confident enough to know that this could turn into a career?
No. I mean, I loved doing it and I just didn’t know that it could be a career, or what it could turn into. I just looked at painters like Van Gogh and Picasso and they were just like crazy, crazy dudes who died and became famous. [laughs] I wasn’t really exposed to graphic designers and creative directors… When I got to art school I quickly moved from the foundation courses to digital by getting a laptop, Adobe Illustrator, and started doing graphic design. That’s when I started having role models like Kirsten Ulve or Pablo Lobato. I saw Pablo’s illustration in Rolling Stone in 2003… He did this amazing illustration of Britney Spears and it just blew my mind.
So you were already interested in integrating pop culture elements into art at this point.
I tried not to for so long, because my teachers were like, “It’s all fluff, there’s no substance.” But at the same time, I needed to be who I was! On my own time, I was reading Us Weekly and other tabloids.
And look at you now! You’re actually their web designer!
[laughs] I actually got the job through Twitter. They followed my blog and they loved it. I told them in December 2009 that I was moving to NY and asked if there were any opportunities. I absolutely love Us Weekly, I’m such a fan, and I’m just so happy to work there. I get to create most of the ads and interfaces of the site.
Let’s go back through time. After graduating in 2005, what were some of your early experiences career-wise?
After working for two years as a web designer for this small design firm that designs zombie teddy bears, I went strictly to freelance for random clients like Urban Outfitters or Perez (Hilton), as well as graphic design for small start-up companies.
Your website lists some of the clients you freelanced for, and they’re pretty amazing: Marc Jacobs, HBO, Bravo… How did that happen?
I was just talking to everybody, like: “Hey! I loved your article or TV show. Here’s my work.” I was reaching out to everyone. Sometimes it sucked because you would send an email and then you wouldn’t hear anything. I swear to God, I must have gotten five responses for every hundred emails! Now when I get emails from people I always try to respond saying, “Hi!” or “Thank you!” because I know how it feels not to receive anything back. I mean, I get it… these people must be receiving tons of emails. Or I hope that they are and that that’s why they didn’t respond! [laughs]
Let’s talk about “But You’re Like Really Pretty.” How did the idea emerge?
I was sitting at my job as a web designer for a retail company, and I just wasn’t satisfied. I thought: “I need to push myself and make my own way.” So I asked myself what inspired me and started making a list. I just thought about the movie “Mean Girls” and I love Tina Fey. I thought the movie was so smart, and there were small nuances about it that I just loved, like Regina George saying, “but you’re like really pretty.” To me, that’s just the most backhanded compliment you can get, you know, because it just fucks with your mind [laughs] and you wonder, “are you nice, are you not?” I just thought it was brilliant. So starting with Oprah in April 2009, I decided to pick a celebrity each week who was relevant and just have fun with it.
From having Betty White urinating on Rue McClanahan’s grave to outing Anderson Cooper and Queen Latifah, you take some pretty serious and controversial hits at celebrities! Are you afraid of backlash?
No. I had a friend who told me that I could get sued. I was like, “bring it on!” I would welcome it. If people want to tell me that they hate me, that’s okay.
Why do you think that people are so obsessed with celebrity culture?
I think that’s precisely what interests me. I still get embarrassed about it. It still feels like a guilty pleasure. Why would I care that Celine Dion is pregnant again, it’s just… Why do we care so much? I don’t know… I think people want to look up to something and they also like to knock something down, just a fascination…
How did the website eventually grow? How did you market yourself?
I was just sending it out to people through social networking: Twitter and Tumblr were very useful. I now have probably around 9,000 followers on Tumblr. So I guess, just people blogging and sending the images to their friends. On a great Wednesday I’m probably at around 3,000 hits. So it’s really growing into something. What I’m just trying to do right now is to build my readership because I don’t really know what the website could turn into. I haven’t figured that out. That’s my main goal is to have people look at it and to have it mean something.
Well apparently they looked at it, since you were nominated for a Webby Award!
That was very exciting… It was in the best personal blog/website category. Even though I ultimately did not win, the nomination definitely boosted the views on the website; it was suddenly like a thousand hits a day.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Check out the blog every Wednesday and spread the word. Honestly, that’s all I would want! Just a following. And of course, for it to make some money!
What motivates you?
I think my creativity and looking at other people’s work. I also really appreciate feedback, like people emailing me… that means a lot. I would ultimately love for my little blonde chick to become famous.
She needs a name! Would you like to baptize her right now?
I have a lot of pressure about it. She should be Regina. But I’d like to get Tina Fey’s blessing beforehand.