Spectrum Culture on Terms and Conditions

“Terms and Conditions scrutinizes the human desire for convenience and immediate gratification.” / Spectrum Culture / Don Kelly / October 1, 2017

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions scrutinizes the human desire for convenience and immediate gratification, a desire that clashes with our predisposition for never reading the fine print that stands in the way of our wants. Sikoryak accomplishes this bit of societal critique by taking the terms and conditions we all blindly accept before syncing our latest iThing and making it the text of a graphic novel. The words belong to the great legal minds employed by Apple. The images belong to Sikoryak—kind of.

Sikoryak takes famous panels and pages from other comics and redraws those images to suit his satirical needs. The source materials range from The Dark Knight to Calvin and Hobbes to Cathy to Lone Wolf and Cub to Little Nemo in Slumberland and include just about every genre ever printed in the medium. Nearly every significant comics work of the last seven decades gets a single page homage, making Terms and Conditions a virtuoso performance for its creator.

Sikoryak gets to render in the styles of heroes, influences and contemporaries while painstakingly juxtaposing dry and uninspired legal jargon against these striking images for comic effect. Despite the varying tones, lines and levels of cartoony craft we see from page to page, there is a hero who provides a visual through-line. He is a near-godlike figure we all recognize whether drawn in the style of Rob Liefeld or Scott McCloud. As with all things Apple, our hero is, of course, Steve Jobs.

Jobs populates every panel in turtleneck and blue jeans, gone of the flesh, but immortalized in his products and the legal penalties he agreed to set upon his devotees for wanting to exchange music from their iTunes libraries. As the face of Apple, his is the perfect image to be appropriated for the examination of a text that is a declaration of the rights of a company over that of its consumers. Corporate entities like Apple seek total control of their imaging and messaging, but the notion of fair use still applies. Jobs remains the face of benign technocracy and is therefore fruit for parody. Sikoryak skewers him appropriately as our guide through this mashup of comics.

Part of the joy of reading the book is trying to recognize the source of a given page without consulting the greatly appreciated index at the end. The nostalgia keeps the pages turning and is a strategy to hold our interest while still reading all that monotonous legalese. One cannot help but marvel at Sikoryak’s skill and patience at not only recreating the panels to suit the satire but his careful placement of sentences like, “By pre-ordering products, you are authorizing the Services to automatically charge your account and download the product when it becomes available,” to their fullest, farcical effect.

What arises from all that effort is a single gag repeated for a hundred pages in a hundred different styles. The images easily overpower the dull, tedious words this whole exercise is meant to draw attention to. There is simply no way not to glaze over when reading the terms and conditions in this book unless you’re the sort of monster that makes its living writing such documents, though it’s hard to imagine someone with such a joyless profession enjoying comics. But I digress, as the column from the old Comics Buyer’s Guide would say.

So what we learn if we manage to read the fine print is that the terms and conditions we all accept so hurriedly are written to disavow us of old ideas of ownership. We are licensees granted access by our purchases. These documents that we agree to but never read are a confusing and longwinded list of the ways those licenses will be revoked without penalty to Apple and its subsidiaries. These are the truths Jobs never explained while holding up iPods at those Mac events in Cupertino. It might have sullied his image of ethereal benevolence, but chances are pretty good that we really wouldn’t care. With Terms and Conditions, Sikoryak tries to get us to contemplate how ill-considered simply clicking “Accept” can be, but even his splendid artwork won’t save us from ourselves.

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