Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel
By R. Sikoryak
Drawn & Quarterly
Satire can be a very serious thing.
Often found wrapped tightly in layers of meaning and texture, be they comic or otherwise, satire is worked at from within a much denser medium than the cheap laughs of farce and with more complex literary weapons than simple ribaldry or puns. It can reflect the world back at us in extra dimensions; advocate for a specific point of view while excoriating others; and inform while entertaining. From John Dryden and Alexander Pope to Kurt Vonnegut and Flann O’Brien, up to latter-day practitioners like T.C. Boyle, satirists are experts at confounding and amusing simultaneously.
Juxtaposition is a tool that offers a way to exploit sensibility and subjectivity through making fun of opposing viewpoints, while also pointing to some sort of resolution of the opposition. And pastiche is juxtaposition’s key ally. It’s a smarter version of imitation that does not simply rip off another writer or make fun of a target (as with simple parody) but creates new, slightly warped versions of reality.
R. Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions is an audacious epic of juxtaposition and pastiche that tackles one of the behemoths of modern culture: Apple Inc. Sikoryak takes the ‘terms and conditions’ that we all automatically agree to, almost on faith, when we sign up for the cornucopia of the Apple ecosystem (including but not limited to iTunes) and uses the graphic novel form to flesh out and delightfully illustrate every section and sub-section. He does this via slightly skewed versions of well- and less-known scenes and characters from the history of comics and graphic novels. A variety of versions of Steve Jobs is integrated in each, appearing as hero or villain or stooge. Here: as part of the gag in an Archie strip; there: cued up with The Walking Dead crew.
In Terms and Conditions, the esoteric legalese that consumers gleefully ignore like the calorie content fine print at the bottom of a burger menu is mashed-up against a breezy rainbow of action-packed illustration. The panels reflect the banal obsequiousness of the ‘terms and conditions’ through a Garfield strip in one instance. The demanding nature of their restrictions is accented roughly as Beetle Bailey is berated with them in his barracks in another. They are rendered absurd when jammed into the narrative of the primitive “Albert and Pogo” strip (from way back in 1946) to outline the consequences one faces when opting into the “Popular Near Me” feature. Sikoryak brings it all to a close as a contemplative Jobs-i-fied Ziggy watches the sunset at the beach, while gently informing us of the last time the terms were updated.
The joke and overall point turns on this invasion. Steve Jobs and Apple infiltrate the history of popular culture much as, in the real world, the tech giant absorbs the marketplace for everything from books to games to TV shows – and then turns around and mediates consumers’ access to their content through an evolving rights landscape they don’t bother to map before-hand.
What does it say about us? The target of the satire is our essential irresponsibility, as we trade control of aspects of our lives and actions to satisfy our immediate desires. But, on the bright side, the way Sikoryak livens up the terms and conditions actually offers a way for us to start engaging more responsibly in the consequences of some of our most basic, and frequently occurring, consumption choices.
Agree to the Terms & Conditions.