Some know comics artist R Sikoryak for his Masterpiece Comics series, in which he projects classic novels through the lens of iconic comics with tongue-in-cheek flair. Think Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" drawn and told in the style of a Dick Sprang Batman comic, or Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" rendered as an issue of the EC Comics classic "Tales from the Crypt."
Mr. Sikoryak's latest project brings his satirical mashup approach into the world of digital tech, but to a place that is decidedly mundane. So mundane, in fact, that nearly all of us ignore it completely: Apple iTunes terms and conditions. Yes, he turned the iTunes terms and conditions into a comic book.
"It's one of those things that everybody feels like they ought to read and nobody does. I kind of loved the impenetrability of it, or at least the seeming impenetrability of it, so that got me excited about trying to wrestle it into a comic strip," said Mr. Sikoryak during a phone call with Ad Age last week.
In a nutshell, "Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel" takes the verbatim text of the iTunes terms and conditions and pairs it with a series of parodies of actual pages from a wide array of comics, graphic novels and strips -- from Osamu Tezuka's "Astro Boy" and Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" to Peter Bagge's "Hate" and Scott Adams' "Dilbert" -- some instantly recognizable and some obvious only to the keenest of comics aficionados.
While each page looks different, the common thread through them all is Steve Jobs, who takes form as recurring characters from each strip. He's depicted as X-Men's Wolverine on the cover. On one page mimicking a Jim Davis Garfield strip, Jobs takes the form of Garfield's owner Jon, while the curmudgeonly feline is drawn in the shape of an iMac.
By including the Apple founder in his symbolic black turtleneck and eyeglasses on each page, the artist plays with the concept of Jobs-as-brand. Mr. Sikoryak delves deeper into the question of what constitutes as a brand as he compels readers to question whether the language of the terms and conditions themselves ought to be aligned with Apple's core design principles.
"I doubt that Steve Jobs ever read the terms and conditions!" quipped Mr. Sikoryak during our chat, some of which is presented below in this Q&A.
Ad Age: Do you think anybody has read the full terms and conditions now that it's in comic book form -- or is it still impenetrable?
R Sikoryak: I can't say if anyone's read all of it, but a number of people have said that they were surprised how engaged they became in it. I think the pictures kind of suck you into a drama that doesn't exist in the text.
Some people saw it and felt like, "Oh, it should illustrate the text more," but my point was not to do that exactly, but I think that that kind of lets people approach the text from a different perspective, and I think that's very useful in this case.
Ad Age: The character's facial expressions and stories told through the slices of comic book scenarios you chose to parody, they complement the text in subtle and humorous ways sometimes, even though sort of by happenstance.
Mr. Sikoryak: There's a romance comic on page 56, there's a couple embracing in the rain and then the woman pulls away as the man is saying, "Apple reserves the right at any time to modify this agreement."
The way the images reflect the text, often that was just like happy accidents.
I was kind of more interested in reflecting the entire spectrum of comics and I wanted to let the comics compete with the text. The idea in a way is that the terms and conditions are kind of this gateway we have to pass through to explore iTunes, or in some cases to explore the internet, so once you get through the gateway then this stuff kind of comes to you.
That's the general conceit of the book, it sort of represents everything that's out there rather than what comes from me.
Ad Age: The use of Steve Jobs, was that a key thing that you wanted from the start?
Mr. Sikoryak: I knew I needed some sort of linking device for all the pages, and part of that is done by the apples that replace baseballs or replace the moon or replace superhero emblems. And also there are a lot of characters that are holding iMacs and iPads and other devices. But what really clinched it for me was, and this was sheer accident, but me thinking about iTunes, my mind immediately went to Jobs, and then from there I realized that his costume is so iconic.
Ad Age: Even just to hear you call it a "costume" is awesome. Nobody ever calls it a costume, but it's kind of great that you're putting his signature outfit or look into the parlance of a comic.
Mr. Sikoryak: In this book I wanted the characters of the strip to remain themselves even though they're wearing this uniform. It's like Charlie Brown's zig zag shirt. Anybody could wear that shirt and you'd be like, "Is that Charlie Brown?"
Ad Age: Let's talk about the content of the text. In doing this work, were you thinking about the subject matter from a personal level -- as, I imagine, you're an iTunes user?
Mr. Sikoryak: Oh, yes, I am an iTunes user.
Ad Age: What was revealed to you that you were struck by as you contemplated the actual text?
Mr. Sikoryak: In some ways, I was more surprised by the quality of writing as it relates to our ideas of Apple products because it seems like Apple products are meant to be intuitive and clean and beautifully designed and you want to pick them up and hold them. The text is repetitive and sprawling and unwieldy, and I was sort of struck by that distinction -- because I doubt that Steve Jobs ever read the terms and conditions!
Ad Age: It's really interesting that you even conceived of the language of the terms and conditions as maybe something that should be judged the way we judge other types of writing. That it should be readable, coherent, flowing, it should not be redundant. It's not good at any of that. It's legal jargon and gobbledygook and that's why nobody wants to read it.
Mr. Sikoryak: There's this joke of the terms being too long to read and unreadable. It's an old joke.
If it was for a company that made widgets I don't think I would think twice about their terms being boilerplate legalese, I guess that's the difference.
Ad Age: Has doing this project, thinking about the topics in Terms and Conditions as a "warning," has it changed the way you interact with devices or software or technologies?
Mr. Sikoryak: I'm pretty much doing what I always have done, which I don't think necessarily is the right approach. I'm going to use the phrase: I don't think it's really made me think differently.
I've been on tour for the book this month. I was in a hotel, and I was signing in to the internet in my hotel room, and there was the terms button, and I just went, "Well, I'm on tour for this book, but I'm still not going to read these!"