Creative Review on Terms and Conditions

“Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel” / Creative Review / Mark Sinclair / February 16, 2017

Like most people, you’ve never read them. You’ve clicked ‘Agree’ and have no idea of the particulars of what you’ve just signed up to in order to use Apple’s iTunes. So here they are – all 20,669 words of the user agreement – in a more manageable, more readable, visual form: as a comic book.

And it’s not even as straight-forward as that. To create the artwork for Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel (Drawn & Quarterly), R. Sikoryak has adapted a single page from over 100 other pre-existing cartoons and comic books.

Each page features a ‘Steve Jobs’ character who conveys the famously dense license agreement through his dialogue. Depicted in the drawn style of Hergé (below) or R. Crumb, Steve Ditko or Charles Burns, Jobs appears alongside various examples of Apple products and iconography.

Sikoryak has been working on this project, which incorporates the entire US English-language iTunes T&Cs, parts A, B, C and D, since November 2014, but this is the first time it has been published as a standalone book. (Its original pages were posted one per day on Sikoryak’s Tumblr between September and December 2015. He also self-published 35 pages of the work – parts A and B – the same year.)

Those familiar with Sikoryak’s wry take on comics culture will recognise his technique of appropriation. In his ongoing series The Unquotable Trump, which will be published by D&Q later this year, the artist has been satirising the new President since his 2016 campaign by working him into a range of superhero comics book vignettes. In 2009, Sikoryak channeled various classic works of literature through the visual language of 20th-century comics – which resulted in Masterpiece Comics (also D&Q).

In Terms and Conditions, Sikoryak bends the text of iTunes’ T&Cs to the conventions of established comic book layout and panels.

The words either appear within the narration boxes that typically drive the story – often describing action or internal thinking – while Jobs’ ‘speech’ takes on a combative tone, the Apple legalese appearing all the more threatening when ‘voiced’ by a character. In this sense, Jobs ‘is’ Apple, a conduit for its usage terms in cartoon form. His black turtle-neck is always there, while his trademark stubble, rendered on a range of unsuitable faces, is a delight throughout.

And like you or I – as ‘readers’ of Apple’s impenetrable document – the book’s other characters listen, but never speak. Really, they can only ever agree or disagree with Jobs’ cause. As iTunes users will recognise, while Apple of course want you to take all this on board, signing up to their terms is, in reality, just a click away.

For Sikoryak, the sheer banality of the text allows him to play with – and celebrate – comics as a medium for visual storytelling. That the artwork can create subtle shifts in tone and mood when paired with a text that is the very opposite of engaging, is a remarkable experiment in how we read comics and what we get from them. And if you get to the end of the book, well, you’ll finally know what you’ve signed up to.

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