Monday, March 13, 2017

D&Q; R.Sikoryak's Terms And Conditions

Reading Robert Sikoryak's Terms and Conditions is like if Marcel Duchamp had decided to start doing comics. It's at once a shaggy dog joke and a work that pushes at the boundaries of the comics form. I've read plenty of abstract comics, but the emphasis there is narrative abstraction from a visual perspective. I've also read plenty of comics that remove images and play strictly with the form in terms of panel-to-panel and page-to-page flow with the words playing against that bit of formal experimentation. What Sikoryak does here is have page after page of recognizable, narrative imagery stripped of meaning not by removing text or adding nonsense text, but rather by replacing text with the entirety of Apple's terms and conditions for iTunes. The words are entirely coherent and understandable on their own (if incredibly boring, like most terms and conditions), but they have almost no connection to the images chosen to accompany them. The subtitle "A Graphic Novel" is thus even funnier, as Sikoryak intentionally uses the pretentious and market-driven name for long-form comics to describe something that is in no way a graphic novel.

This work is also different from his comics/literature mash-ups, because there he specifically finds ways to tie the visuals into the original source material. The only concession Sikoryak makes here is that on every page, one of the characters is dressed up like former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was well known for his turtlenecks and stubble. All of his dialogue consists of the terms and conditions of iTunes, as he explains them to the other characters on page after page. What started as goof became a mission for Sikoryak, who deliberately wanted to mold the terms and conditions and fit them in the confines of a book in a way that didn't disturb the original sequences that he adapted in the course of the book. Of course, Sikoryak is a gifted style mimic and challenged himself by taking on so many different kinds of comics, from YA comics to classic strips to superheroes to manga to alternative comics to everything in-between. One could see his skill as a mimic wobble from time to time; interestingly, the most notable misfire was an adaptation of a page from Raina Telgemeier's Sisters. There's a purity and smooth clarity to Telgemeier's line that Sikoryak doesn't quite match here, as his line is a bit on the wobbly and wavy side on this page. He also doesn't get the colors quite right. The same is true for his attempt at Jeff Smith's Bone. Another deceptively-simple looking comic is so smooth and balanced (especially in terms of color scheme) that it's actually difficult to mimic in a way that makes it look like Smith's work.

On the other hand, his goof on a page from Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga is not only dead-on, he's able to inject some visual humor in the form of the background characters doing all sorts of perverted things with apples. Sikoryak isn't always able to inject that kind of humor into a page, but it seemed like an obvious fit here. He also really nails the alternative comics in particular, like his pages goofing on Peter Bagge's Hate, Daniel Clowes' Wilson and Seth's It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken. It's also funny to see how successfully he's able to mimic Julie Doucet (down to those stray bits of ink) and Lynda Barry. At the opposite end of the spectrum, his Spawn is hilarious, laying bare some of Todd MacFarlane's affectations as an artist. Sikoryak has a list of the creators, comics or comic strips he used as source material in the book, so it's obvious that trying to identity source material was part of the experience. Indeed, there's definitely something that's a bit "inside baseball" about this book, because I imagine handing the book to a non-comics reading person would utterly baffle them.

While he "quotes" mostly popular comics and best-sellers, most of the source material would be a source of frustration instead of humor. There is a level where that doesn't necessarily matter, because he's not just going for recognizability in his work but also a pure aesthetic impact. In other words, as long as the reader recognizes that something is a superhero comic, or a fantasy comic, or a kid's comic, that's enough of an informational hit to enjoy the book at a base level. That said, it's a book made for a comics fan with a decidedly broad knowledge base that extends into modern-day work and YA work. It's also important to note that the satirical and formal trickery of the book are less important than the images themselves, the way each page is designed and the wide variety of character designs. It's a love letter to the elasticity of comics disguised as hate mail to Apple. That love letter is not quite as satisfying as his other, more complicated comics, but it's certainly a lot of fun to look at.

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