MEXICO CITY – There is a way to explain the crisis between the United States and Iran, the repercussions of climate change or the Oscar nominations without overloading the reader with too much text. That is what Pictoline has found, a successful Mexican media outlet that delivers the news via colorful illustrations and comic strips.
But Pictoline is much more than entertaining drawings. Behind these viral vignettes is an engine room located in several offices in an old building in Mexico’s old and fashionable Roma district, where there is no time for resting and relaxing.
The team working there each day publishes about five illustrations about current events or other news that need about three hours of work each and are dubbed “bacons,” in reference to the popular Web site’s pig on its logo.
More than 3.2 million people follow Pictoline on Facebook, 1.7 million on Twitter and 1.3 million an Instagram, the Web site attracting its following in Mexico and Latin America just since 2015, when it began revolutionizing how news and other information is delivered.
“The idea arose because we noticed that all over the Internet there was an infinity of information that often doesn’t go anywhere,” Raul Pardo, the director of content and an illustrator for the project, told EFE in describing how Pictoline came about.
Five years ago four young illustrators headed by Eduardo Salles tried mixing relevant news for the public with new ways of communicating online: videos, gifs and memes.
And thus Pictoline was born.
“When we planned it, we were interested in getting valuable information on the Internet to people,” Ivan Mayorquin, the creative director and another illustrator for the firm, said.
The result has been visually explanatory infographics and drawings with vibrant colors, a comic strip feel and moving drawings. “That communal esthetic is something that happens naturally but it’s not something we seek out,” explained Mayorquin.
Along with the illustrators, there is a group of journalists and Web animators - in all more than 10 people who work in a way much like a newspaper staff.
Early in the morning, they meet to propose issues on which they’ll work during the day. The most innovative are labeled “bacons,” and first an outline sketch or draft is created on a blackboard and later the staff begins working on a definitive illustration and text to accompany the drawings.
What are the criteria for selecting the wide-ranging topics, which can be anything from the riots in Chile to why movies usually last about two hours? “It can be politics, pop culture, sports or science. The first filter is for it to seem interesting to us,” said Pardo.
Like they say in the journalism profession, the news never sleeps, and there is always something that has the Pictoline team on its toes in the well-known area of “breaking news.”
For instance, Mayorquin will never forget the afternoon of April 15, 2019, when the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris experienced a devastating fire.
“I was just about to wrap up my workday and leave but that happened. It was burning and you didn’t know when it’d be over or what the result would be. I drew Notre Dame and was waiting for a good point to release the story,” he said, adding that he was almost in a panic over “not misinforming or being (too) alarmist in the story.”
Since they don’t have any journalistic training, the Pictoline illustrators have been learning from their fellow reporters and examining the work methods used, for instance, at The New York Times.
“We had to work hard to be able to say we’re reporters because we were just four illustrators who didn’t know anything about journalism. Obviously, there’s been a huge amount of learning,” Pardo said.
The Pictoline crew always seeks to use “very reliable sources” of news and to corroborate with experts the details of issues such as scientific discoveries to be able to give the best explanations on all such stories, Mayorquin added.
The only thing that still lacks a clear explanation at Pictoline is why its logo features a pig, something that has spawned a huge number of theories from its followers.
“There’s no reason for it, no story behind it. Rather, we were looking for an animal that wasn’t used by other outfits,” Pardo said, laughing.