CBR reviews Terms and Conditions

“R Sikoryak Talks Bringing the iTunes Terms and Conditions to Comics” / Alex Dueben / CBR / March 15, 2017

The very idea of adapting the Apple iTunes Terms and Conditions into comics sounds insane. And yet, for cartoonist R Sikoryak, it made sense, so he set out to use every single word of the contract in his book-length comic. What makes it interesting, and inventive, and fun, was the way Sikoryak adapted it. The terms and conditions are being said or thought by a character who looks a lot like Steve Jobs — complete with a black turtleneck — and each page is drawn in a different style.

To flip through the book is to see just how masterful a cartoonist Sikoryak is as he draws in the styles of Allie Brosh and Chris Ware, Charlie Adlard and John Romita Sr, Todd Macfarlane and Seth. The result is a book that manages to be incredibly fun and inventive, even if it doesn’t make you want to read the text! In addition to this just-released book, Drawn and Quarterly also just announced that this fall, they’ll be releasing a second very different book by Sikoryak, “The Unquotable Trump.”

CBR: Where did you come up with the idea for this book? It’s not exactly an obvious concept for a graphic novel.

R Sikoryak: In retrospect, it doesn’t seem that absurd! [Laughs] At least to me. I’d been adapting literature and poetry into comics for a long time, and I do it in a humorous or ironic or sometimes smart-ass way. I continue to do that, and I love working with great texts, but I often work in short form. I’d never tried to take on something long. When I adapted “Crime and Punishment,” for instance, I made it a ten-page story. I tend to boil things down, but because I feel like comics keep getting longer and longer, I really wanted to try a long-form work. And because my mind heads in that direction, I thought, what would be funny to do? Also, what would be recognizable to do?

The iTunes Terms and Conditions have long been a kind of joke, in that they’re too long and nobody reads them. Normally, I would go to “Moby-Dick” as the kind of book I would adapt, because it’s a classic, but it’s also perceived as being too long and generally nobody reads it. I happen to think “Moby-Dick” is a great book, but people feel guilty when they don’t read things they feel they should read. It just struck me that it would be funny to illustrate the Terms. I suggested it out loud, the person I was with laughed, and then I thought, I have to do this. It grew out of what I normally do, but it was really a response to the graphic novel form. I wanted to embrace a different kind of comics-making than I had done before.

As you’ve been working on this and putting it out as minicomics, have many people said, I never read the Terms and Conditions until I read your comic?

Some people have said that. Some people have said, “I’m still not going to read it!” And I understand that. This was something I needed to do for myself. I’m very gratified that people are interested in it. I’ve gotten all sorts of responses. Most people are amused and some people are shocked to find that it’s actually entertaining or engaging to read – on any level. [Laughs]

At what point did you say, let’s use every word of the Terms and Conditions, and define the adaptation in that way?

I love adaptation — but I feel like adaptation in comics is doomed to fail. There are adaptations I absolutely love that are in comics form, but it’s really impossible to faithfully translate a text into a different language – let alone into a different form. I like to play with that idea. Is this a good adaptation or is this a bad adaptation? I like playing with those questions when I work. Usually my work is very faithful to the ideas of the text, but I’ll weld it to something that is inherently inappropriate or absurd. For instance, my “Crime and Punishment” adaptation was drawn in the style of a 1950’s “Batman” comic. I think there are good reasons for putting those two classics together, but they also contradict each other in obvious ways. And I could have made that adaptation a lot longer, since the source materials were so rich.

What was interesting about doing Terms and Conditions and using every word was it liberated me in a way from having to make a lot of decisions. It wasn’t a matter of me deciding what was important. I went thinking, all right, I’m going to illustrate all of this. And illustrate it in a way that is not literal. This gave me liberty that I didn’t have when I was working with a classic—I didn’t feel the same reverence I might feel otherwise. This was a matter of me thinking, how can I make this interesting to do? It was my idea. I don’t say that with a feeling of ownership, but the blame goes to me. This was the perfect text to work with. It was not adapted before. It was not something that I had seen put into comics form – or into any form – and I was somewhat unfamiliar with it. I might read those articles that would say, “Here are the five things you should know about the iTunes Terms and Conditions” – but I had never read all of them!

As you were saying that using every word was liberating, I kept thinking about how many choices you don’t have to make by utilizing this approach.

Absolutely, and that was really what prompted me onto this. I actually am working on a “Moby-Dick” adaptation, and it’s really hard because I am so reverent of it, I don’t quite know what to do with it. I don’t want to do an unabridged version – you should just read the book! [Laughs] I want to make it something different, and I’d been working on it in my spare time, but I just had to put it down for a while. So this was a different way of thinking about comics.

As far as “Terms and Conditions,” when did you hit on the idea of making every page in a different style?

I think that was early on. I like to keep things surprising for myself,and I didn’t have any interest in drawing this in one style. The whole point was to use the elements of my working method to make this long-form comic. What really made it interesting for me – or at least made it come into focus – was when I realized that I could dress the main character in the outfit that Steve Jobs always wore. It linked the pages, in a way it provided some glue between these really disparate visual elements. In thinking about what it means to make a graphic novel from Terms and Conditions, and what I would have to do, I stumbled upon that concept and all came together. That also liberated me in another way. All that was necessary for the pages to work was for there to be a character who I could dress in that outfit.

There’s one page in the book where no characters appear, and that’s a Seth page. That was a way to address another kind of comics, which feature “aspect to aspect” shots of a world, rather than the actions of a character. In that case, I strategically placed the Apple logo in a few panels to remind you of where you’re at, but other than that there aren’t a lot of clues as to what it is. That page that was added late in the day, when the Terms were updated.

I remember when this was first announced, I remember thinking you would make each section in a different style, but I didn’t necessarily expect every page.

One of the reasons I wanted to do different styles for every page was that there are so many younger artists to whom I wanted to pay homage. Along with the idea of liberation, this was a means by which I could touch on a lot of different styles of comics and a lot of different creators of comics. And the whole history of comics. There’s a Winsor McCay page, and an Allie Brosh page, and in terms of time I think that’s about as far apart as you can get. They’re over a century apart. I wanted to be able to touch on all these different styles. I also wanted to reflect the nature of the Internet in a certain way. There’s this sense that we have access to everything, and I wanted this book to feel like it had access to everything. Although, obviously, it’s only one hundred styles. [Laughs]

In retrospect, I see it’s much more North American-centric than it could have been. You could easily make another book with a hundred altogether different styles that would be just as recognizable, but this is what I came up with.

How did you decide who to pick?

A lot of it came down to, who haven’t I drawn yet, or who I would love to draw? Some of it came from, what styles of comics do I think are absurd or funny? There’s a “Classics Illustrated” page from “Hamlet” from 1952. One person told me they’d actually recognized it, which impressed me. It’s a page of Hamlet’s soliloquy, it’s a single panel, and there’s one enormous word balloon above a picture of Hamlet. It’s anti-comics. So, I wanted to include that because it’s a kind of comics that they don’t really make anymore. My own obsessions and interests are part of it. I also wanted the choices of comics to allow a way into the book for readers from around the world. Certainly there’s not enough Japanese or European artists, but I did include some. People will know “Garfield” even if they don’t know “Lone Wolf and Cub,” but I really wanted to be inclusive. Many of the American pages are based on original superhero and independent comic books, but then licensed characters are also a big part of the market. So I did “The Walking Dead” and “Batman,” as well as “My Little Pony,” “Transformers,” etc. I really cast a wide net, and I’m only sorry I ran out of pages. [Laughs]

It sounds like you had a lot of fun doing this.

In one way, it was like getting an illustration job where you have to fulfill some strict requirements. I do a lot of freelance work, and you get very specific directions: “make this thing and finish it by this date.” Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes you get a job that’s really tedious and you just have to plow through it. In some ways, this felt like a rigid assignment I imposed on myself, but in other ways it was very broad and exciting. It made me really look a lot of other comics. I had to choose very specific pages of comics for this to work. Like I said, I needed a character who I could use as the “narrator,” but in other ways it was completely freeform. The length let me try out a lot of different approaches. And I think the very strict initial parameters of the project made the end product more focused and interesting.

I didn’t put any of it on Tumblr until I was done. It hadn’t initially occurred to me, but also because I really wanted to finish it without too much notice. I wanted to have some private space in which to do it. I would work on it sporadically in between my other jobs. Comics are what I’d like to be doing all the time. I don’t know if I necessarily need to do more legal agreements, though. [Laughs]

What do you think was hardest style to work in?

Winsor McCay is hard to grapple with. I’ve parodied him a couple times before, but this case was different, because I used a specific page as reference. It’s not me inventing in the style of Winsor McCay – which I’ve tried to do before and that’s a whole other level of difficulty – this is a matter of replicating it. Here I’m literally taking his compositions, so a lot of the work is already done, but figuring out a way to cram all that text into the page. Also I’m compressing a Sunday page down to a comic book format. Sometimes it was a struggle to find pages that matched the project’s needs. “Krazy Kat” is a strip I love and for a few reasons I didn’t get to it. Part of it was the issue of formatting. Often the problem was finding enough space for all the text. For the most part I tried to be very reverent to the original pages.

For the new edition, I basically redrew the first ten pages, and a few of the later ones, because initially I was really barreling through them. But by the time I got to page 30 I was trying to match each page line for line. If you compare this to my other work it’s much sketchier, but even so, as I went along my natural inclination to be fussy took over. Once I had the first 50 pages I slowed down to be more specific about how I was inking these pages. I think it makes the book richer, in a way, because the styles shift more noticeably.

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