I couldn’t wait till March 7 to ask R. Sikoryak about his forthcoming book Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel (Drawn & Quarterly). He’s taken the iTunes Terms and Conditions into a realm that will happily surprise all readers. Terms and Conditions serves as a surreal record of our modern digital age in which the rules for our tools have become Bible-length, and just as sacred.
You’ve covered many themes in your graphic novels. But I have to say, this is the most, well, unexpected. What inspired you?
I’d been trying to expand the kinds of comics I was making. Usually I’ll take a long classic text and boil it down, but still remain faithful to its essence, even as I would comment on or subvert it. For instance, I’ve drawn Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in the style of a 10-page Batman story.
But as graphic novels have become so ubiquitous, I really wanted to try my hand at a book-length comic. For that I needed a long text, and the “iTunes Terms and Conditions” are famous—or infamous—for their length. And I think it’s safe to say that no one had adapted them into comics before. Once that idea popped in my head, it seemed too hilarious and absurd not to do it.
“Terms and Conditions” is a euphemism for Beware, Be Warned, Be Compliant. How do you make this into a narrative?
Well, the beauty of the text is that there really isn’t a narrative. I was freed from having to illustrate it. There are many comics (and film) adaptations that are crushingly literal, and those can be very tedious. With the Terms and Conditions, I was able to let the visuals tell one story while the text went along on its own way. Each page in my book is directly inspired by a pre-existing comics page by a different writer and artist, and each has its own narrative approach.
What links them all together is that the main character on each page is dressed in the uniform of Steve Jobs: glasses, beard, black turtleneck, etc. That costume is the visual glue.
What’s next, “Do Not Tear, Mutilate or Fold”?
I would be first in line to read that! I have a number of projects I’m working on, including a compressed version of Moby-Dick. But since the election, I’ve been drawing a series called “The Unquotable Trump.” It features classic comic book covers with Donald Trump inserted into them, and uses only real quotes from his campaign and beyond. It’s available as a mini-comic, too.
Have we gotten to the point where iTunes, a symbol of our generation, is now as nefarious as ChemBank, or at least Halliburton?
I wouldn’t say nefarious—this comic isn’t a political statement against iTunes. I use iTunes. And I even created the comic with my iMac!
But I do think the book is a reminder—or maybe a celebration?—of all the contracts and rules that bind us as we use our devices.