Review: R. Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions
Drawn & Quarterly
TPB March 7, 2017
Disclaimer: Terms and Conditions was reviewed with a copy provided by the publisher.
Many elementary school students, when confronted with a chunk of text beyond their previously experienced reading level, are advised to break up said text in order to make it easier to process. This is not a novel concept.
Sikoryak’s idea to pay homage to almost 100 classic comics and paste over them with Apple’s terms and conditions, which every customer must agree to in order to use iTunes and other Apple products, is a novel concept. This dense, ambitious task impresses on its own merit, and Sikoryak’s ability to imitate the dozens of styles–including Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, DC Comics’ Sandman, and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim–as he inserts cartoon versions of Apple founder Steve Jobs into each page, should not go unapplauded. However, unless you’re already immersed in comics history, many of these will go unrecognized. And although the goal of Terms & Conditions is to make this dull legal contract readable and accessible, it moves at a sluggish pace counter to this intention. Unless already invested in comics history or law, you will not find the reading experience smooth.
This didn’t necessarily have to be the case. The problem Terms and Conditions has stems from a misunderstanding of what makes a heavy piece of writing accessible. Yes, you can break up any text, but that doesn’t make it engaging. And engaging is the key term to accessibility, especially nowadays when the average attention span has waned since the times of pre-internet. As it stands, to make a work actually accessible to laypeople, a creator must translate it one of two ways: narrative or colloquialism.
Although it includes references to many famous comics narratives, Terms and Conditions has none of its own. It jumps from homage to homage with seemingly no direction or connection between each page. There lacks even a connection between the images Sikoryak draws and the legal language that appears, which makes the reading experience one extended stream of nonsequiturs that you must endure for almost 100 pages. Because the language and the images are mismatched, the art distracts rather than supports the contract. The result is that you may as well have read the contract without the comics.
You admittedly can learn a few interesting things about what you agree to when using Apple products in Terms and Conditions. For instance, did you know that it’s your responsibility to review the contract with your child before they ever use an Apple product? Did you know that the way Genius works is by Apple collecting your data along with that of all other Genius users and synthesizing it into guesswork about what new music you may like? Did you know that Apple takes ownership of any sellable thing you might create through one of their apps and does not owe you any payment for its potential usage?
That said, you just learned all of those things by reading this colloquial translation, which demonstrates that Terms & Conditions isn’t necessarily the best way for you to gain that information. Beyond a semi-fascinating vanity project, Terms and Conditions does not serve to teach anything that couldn’t have been done through better means. As I said, the aim of turning a utilitarian legal document into visually appealing art is a unique idea. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything worthwhile in consuming the whole, mediocre result.