A panel in R. Sikoryak’s latest book shows a man leaning over a woman shouting, “You agree that you will pay for all products you purchase through the Services.” In the next panel he continues, “and that Apple may charge your payment method for any products purchased.” The girl is Little Lulu, from the eponymous weekly comic begun in 1935. The boy, wearing glasses and a scrappy beard, is Steve Jobs, and the words are lines from the iTunes Terms and Conditions Agreement, the text of which is quoted in full in Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions. This continues Sikoryak’s tradition of appropriative publications, following his previous Masterpiece Comics, which took its text from literary classics and its visuals from the comics canon.
With the proliferation of iPhones, iPods, iPads and so on, nearly everyone has clicked “Agree” on the Terms and Conditions, yet very few have actually read the agreement itself. Placing it as the body text, Sikoryak questions whether images make this text more legible. Just as the full text of the book is appropriative, so too are the visuals, with each page illustrated in the style of a different comic, creating single-page mash-up vignettes of obtuse techno-speak and familiar graphics. In a later spread, Jobs slowly transforms from Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk as he says, “You may subscribe to iTunes match for an annual fee. You must have a valid credit card on file with iTunes to subscribe.” As the large green hero in the final panel, he further explains: “Songs that do not meet certain quality criteria or that are not authorized for your computer are not eligible for iTunes Match.”
In some cases, the appropriated visual styles work extremely well with the text, as with Little Lulu and the Incredible Hulk, where the tension between characters or the building anticipation for transformation provides drama to the otherwise incredibly dry text. The images create necessary narrative elements: rising action, climax, resolution. This is the case even when the text is placed in the position of background narrative, rather than conversation or thought bubbles. The words “Association of Associated Devices is subject to the following terms:” are outlined in the style of Winsor McKay’s classic Little Nemo, with Jobs playing the role of Nemo, falling asleep as his bed floats away to a land where an apple with a human face looms large, into whose mouth he climbs to further his adventure. This is Sikoryak’s conceit at its best: subtly integrating Apple brandings elements into the visuals, as he also does in the Green Lantern spread, where the superhero’s signature ring is emblazoned with the iTunes music note icon. The McKay spread also works especially well conceptually. Little Nemo was successful because, each week, the frame of the comic remained the same—Nemo falls asleep and goes into a dream adventure from which he abruptly wakes at the end of the comic, back in his bed—but the dream state, which was different each week, provided the adventure. Terms and Conditions plays on a similar seriality, where the Jobs character and the text are the consistent framework, while the narrative and visuals shift from page to page, highlighting the early nature of comics as serial narratives.
But not every visual homage is successful, and several of the pages lack enough drama in the visual narrative to balance the sheer amount of text. When the text overpowers the images, it remains just as illegible as in the agreement itself. This is the case in the spreads that mimic Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. In each of these cases, Jobs appears alone in the frame, surrounded by huge sections of text. The character has little interaction with the text, and his actions (or lack thereof) don’t provide enough narrative or visual interest to make readers want to engage with such dense panels.
The goal of appropriation is often to show familiar material in a new light. Perhaps the inclusion of the less-legible pages brings to light similar failings the onslaught of image-text combinations on the internet—advisement banners, flashing pop-ups, and the like—that are likewise often seen but seldom read. Using a widely known but rarely read text as backdrop for images that are likewise familiar but perhaps not deeply interrogated, Sikoryak investigates the ways in which images and texts can be read together. In his seminal work Understanding Comics, author and theorist Scott McCloud outlined the various ways in which images and texts interact in comics—such as word specific, picture specific, parallel, and inter-dependent—and in Terms and Conditions, Sikoryak builds on these relationships. Using a text that’s only available digitally, he demonstrates that these relationships in fact extend beyond comics and into the numerous image-text combinations that propagate the internet and our daily lives.
Terms and Conditions is now available from Drawn & Quarterly.
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