Newsrama reviews Terms and Conditions

“iTunes' TERMS & CONDITIONS, Illustrated” / Newsarama / Zach Smith / April 20, 2017

It’s the one document that everyone and no one has read: the lengthy, tiny-spaced agreement that comes with every new iTunes update.

Now, one cartoonist has braved the full text of that document, with help from the styles of many, many other cartoonists.

Terms and Conditions, the new Drawn & Quarterly graphic novel from R. Sikoryak, is exactly what it sounds like – the entirety of the Apple agreement. The legalese is broken down into a parody of a specific comics page by a different cartoonist on every page – everyone from Jack Kirby to R. Crumb to Matt Groening to Edward Gorey and many, many more, with all the specific pages indexed in the back. Dozens upon dozens of cartoonists are hommaged – from the instantly-recognizable to some you might want to discover after reading this.

Sikoryak’s also gotten considerable attention lately for The Unquotable Trump, a similar series of homages where classic pages featuring supervillains are redrawn and redialogued with speeches from a certain president. With Terms and Conditions hitting shelves this week, Newsarama talked with Sikoryak about his parodies, his process, and what the hell that iTunes agreement actually says.

Newsarama: How did the idea for this initially come about?

R. Sikoryak: My work usually involves adapting classic literature into the styles of popular comics, as in my book Masterpiece Comics.

The idea for this project was to play with the long form of the graphic novel, which has become so ubiquitous.  And it struck me that the iTunes Terms and Conditions would make a very unlikely comic.  It’s (in)famous for being very long, which is surely why it popped in my head. I loved the idea of using a well known text - in its entirety - that everyone has heard about, but very few people have actually read.

I also liked the challenge of using a text which isn’t made to be illustrated, and it truly resists being visualized in a straightforward way.  That gave me a lot of freedom, and allowed me to take my storytelling inspiration from many kinds of comics from around the world.

Additionally, I was helped by the fact that the face of Apple, Steve Jobs, was famous for his iconic outfit. In my comic, I’ve dressed the main character of each page in the classic Steve Jobs outfit: black turtleneck, jeans, glasses, and beard.  It’s as good of a costume as Charlie Brown’s, or Batman’s.

Nrama: What was the most difficult part of picking the specific pages by each artist to homage? Were there any specific efforts to create a narrative flow to the visual story, and if so, how did you plot that out?

Sikoryak: It was actually quite fun, if rather time-consuming, to choose specific pages to homage. I mainly looked for pages with a main character who appeared throughout, whom I could dress in Jobs’ uniform.  Really, the flow of the story is helped by that outfit. Otherwise, I was very interested in creating contrast from one page to the next, through the character designs, drawing styles, and panel breakdowns.

I combined the drawn pages with the text after I drew them - so the drawings don’t consciously illustrate the text in any way.

I tried very hard to represent all the different strains of comics: there are some artists from Europe and Japan, independent and mainstream cartoonists, print and web cartoonists, animated characters that have been published in comic books, contemporary graphic novelists and early 20th century newspaper comics-makers. The choices were personal favorites of mine as well as hugely popular ones from the history of comics, throughout the 20th and 21st century.   I may have spent as much time choosing artists and finding reference pages as I did drawing them.

Nrama: Which artists' styles were easiest and hardest, respectively, to capture, and why? What page did you have the most fun hommaging?

Sikoryak: One of my favorite parts of working on this book was that it gave me a chance to try out styles I haven’t parodied before, such as Kate Beaton or Allie Brosh.  On the other hand, I’m very fond of and familiar with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and I’ve homaged it many times. So I suppose it’s easier for me to draw, than say, Edward Gorey (who I love, but haven’t studied to the same degree). And trying to live up to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo is kind of impossible.

If you compare the pages on my Tumblr to those in the new book, you’ll see that I’ve gone back and embellished some of the pages to bring them closer to the original styles. Especially at the beginning  I drew the book in sections of about 10 pages, from beginning to end, and by the middle I found my drawings getting more detailed and more accurate to the sources.

Nrama: How did working in these different styles affect your “own” style as an artist - i.e., what did you learn in terms of technique and style from this experience?

Sikoryak: Every time I do a project, I learn a lot about different approaches in storytelling, and you can also learn a lot about how to render the world.  One reason I love working this way is it gives me a chance to see the possibilities of comics with fresh eyes.

It’s hard to say how this will affect my own style, because I’m always changing my style with each project.  But it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for some artists who were newer to me, who I’d like to revisit in the future.

Nrama: Conversely, what did you learn about the iTunes contract from having to break it down into panel-sized chunks? I mean, I assume you at least had to read some of it, and possibly even understand some of it.

Sikoryak: Oh, I read all of it, as I put the book together! And while the text is dense, it’s certainly understandable.

I worked hard to break the text up into balloons, captions, and panels in a coherent way.  I didn’t edit out a single word, but I did try to make it flow from panel to panel, and from page to page.

I can see why the terms are so long and repetitive - lawyers want to cover all the possibilities, so they have to explain everything in great detail.  But what’s striking to me is that the design of Apple products is so elegant and beautiful, but that elegance and beauty doesn’t seem to be in the Terms and Conditions text.  But I’m not a connoisseur of legal documents - maybe lawyers find some of them beautiful?

Nrama: What do you hope people take away from this book, both in terms of the comic art styles represented and the rigmarole one must go through to get that one ‘80s song they finally remembered the name of?

Sikoryak: In some ways I wanted the book to feel like the Internet, or the iTunes store: vast and complex, and seemingly containing everything in the world.

Beyond that, I hope that a reader will be intrigued by all the styles, and hopefully see more of the many possibilities of comics storytelling. That’s a goal of mine with just about every project.

Nrama: What has surprised you the most about the reaction to this as it was originally posted in Tumblr?

Sikoryak: The response from my Tumblr posts in late 2015 was hugely enthusiastic, and the scale of it was frankly very shocking!  I had self-published the work as two mini omics earlier that year, and I’d gotten great compliments from individuals, in person.  But once it broke on Tumblr, I was really overwhelmed by the media attention – from Boing Boing, NPRThe Guardian, and so many more.  I suppose the tech aspect and the comics aspect combined hit a sweet spot.

I really made the comic for myself, as a personal challenge. If you were to climb Mount Everest, you wouldn’t expect the press to greet you at the summit!

Nrama: And of course there's been the attention from your Trump comics, which have brought new attention to your work. What is the process of developing those like, and do you currently have plans for a collection like this book?

SikoryakThe Unquotable Trump series was intended to be a collection of just 16 cover parodies, each featuring a quote from the Trump campaign.

After I created those and posted them on Tumblr, I was encouraged to make more.  And Drawn & Quarterly will be publishing a color collection this fall.

This project is a more methodical and less serendipitous than Terms and Conditions, because there’s a process of finding just the right quote and combining it with an appropriate comics cover.  I’m drawing them pretty fast, but there’s still a lot of consideration to the combinations.

Also, the project is less of a conceptual challenge, and more of a political statement, for better or worse.

Nrama: What else is coming up for you?

Sikoryak: I’ll be continuing my series of live comics performances, called Carousel, where I have artists read from or present their work.

And on April 5, at the theater Dixon Place in New York City, I’ll be doing a live performance of Terms and Conditions where I’ll have live actors and musicians join me for a reading of the complete book, with projected images.  We did a trial run-through of this last year, and it was really quite funny, engaging, and dynamic.  I’m very excited to present the extended version.

Nrama: Anything else you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?

Sikoryak: I’m always juggling a few projects. My freelance work continues with some contributions to SpongeBob Comics, coming up later this year.  And I hope to get back to my sequel to Masterpiece Comics, with more strips to be serialized… soon

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