Nightmare clips like “Johny Johny Yes Papa” and “Sick Song” might hold the title for most unintentionally unnerving animated content, but the drawings that accompany wikiHow articles aren’t far behind. For years now, visitors to the weirdo how-to site have marveled over and meme’d the colorful images, many of which, with their casual insensitivity and strained approximations of relatable human behavior, resonate like relics from another era or glimpses into an alternate reality.
It’s been easy over the years to imagine that some isolated Henry Darger type is behind the drawings—a prolific, virtuosic oddball with a skewed perception of reality. Alas, such is not the case, as an illuminating new piece from OneZero has revealed. Rather, wikiHow’s images are created by a massive group of freelance illustrators, primarily a “core group of artists in the Philippines.” All of this is confirmed by the company’s vice president of operations, Chris Hadley, who tells OneZero that the company’s shift towards commissioning original art began at the beginning of the decade in response to a shift in Google’s search ranking algorithm. Custom images fared better than recycled ones.
As for the secrecy surrounding the images—wikiHow credits them only to a Wikivisual team—a source revealed that the company has freelancers sign NDAs. Hadley also confirmed that the company has sought to keep an air of mystery around the images. “It was new, but we felt like we had something that was really special, so we kind of asked people to keep it a bit of a mystery,” he said. “And, over the years, kind of maintaining the enigma has been part of the fun… that mystery has been a part of why this stuff has gained traction.”
That framing, however, rings a bit hollow when you hear how little these illustrators are being paid for their work. One reported receiving only $1 per image, while another claimed they were paid $.40 cents an image by a third-party broker. Hadley says the company has “paid over $1,000 for some images,” but adds that some fees “can be in the low single dollars for somebody brand new on projects.”
OneZero’s piece, which also offers an intriguing look into the company’s visual style guide, can be read in full here.
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