After 16 years of existence, surely hundreds of millions of people have encountered the iTunes Terms and Conditions screen… and hurriedly clicked through to accept the giant wall of text without actually reading its content. It’s cool: we all do it. All of that necessary legal jargon is an absolute pain to read, plus it’s doubtful than many of us would actually quit installation and live without the iTunes ecosystem because of what we read.
What could finally convince you to read that dry, tedious text? How about pictures? That’s what you’ll find in Terms and Conditions ($15), an “unauthorized adaptation” out Tuesday from publisher Drawn & Quarterly. It takes the entire iTunes document (as of October 2015) and spreads it out across nearly 100 comic pages. And here’s the kicker: every single page pulls inspiration from a different comic artist and specific book/page, with a Steve Jobs-like character rendered in the style of everything from Superman and X-Men to Garfield and Scott Pilgrim.
Amusingly enough, even artist R. Sikoryak had never read the iTunes Terms and Conditions himself when he first committed to the project.
Inelegant, yet intriguing
Sikoryak (the “R.” is for Robert) is perhaps best known for Masterpiece Comics, a graphic novel that takes classic stories from the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, and Dostoyevsky, condenses them down to their essence, and retells them via the same kind of comic homages.
He has also produced illustrations for The New Yorker, The Onion, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and his next book, The Unquotable Trump, reframes the American president’s more obnoxious statements as classic comic book covers.
“There’s usually a degree of irony or absurdity in the work I do,” he affirms, in case that isn’t obvious by his body of work.
But after drawing mostly shorter adaptations for Masterpiece Comics and anthologies, he was looking to take on a full-length graphic novel project—and he needed a lot of text.
“Because I like playing with the absurdity of trying to take a text and put it into a different medium… when I thought absurd, I thought the Terms and Conditions from iTunes would be perfect for that.”
“I liked it because it was a long text that people think they should read, but never or rarely do,” he continues. Of course, he also had never read it. “I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I did think it would be unlikely, and I like the idea of incongruous subject matter.”
Now that he’s been through the iTunes Terms and Conditions in surely-agonizing detail—especially as he’s made revisions when the text was altered and expanded—he’s surprised at the contrast to Apple’s own “really beautifully designed and really carefully thought through” products.
“It’s kind of in opposition to how the terms and conditions are written, which are sprawling and all over the place. They’re not elegant,” he continues. “It’ll be interesting to see if they become purer or more beautiful or elegant, but for me, I didn’t quite see the poetry in them. Maybe there is poetry, and because I’m not a lawyer, maybe I missed it. But as a reader of literature, I didn’t see the same beauty that I see in their other manifestations.”
Still, he couldn’t resist such a preposterous project. As far as how to bring it to life, Sikoryak settled upon the idea of basing each page on a different artist’s work from the all around the comic spectrum. And it’s truly diverse: his selections range in age from 1905’s Little Nemo in Slumberland to contemporary books that came out when he was finishing the illustrations in 2015, and it spans everything from superheroes (like Batman and Wonder Woman) to newspaper funnies (Peanuts, Beetle Bailey) and manga (like Akira and Dragon Ball).
And that’s not all: even webcomics (Hark! A Vagrant), modern-day indie sensations (The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Blankets), and big pop-culture comic adaptations (like The Simpsons, Adventure Time, and My Little Pony) are in play. He wanted to highlight characters that have a life beyond die-hard comic fans and “live in the imaginations of a lot of people,” as well as include both the legends and newer artists who are doing important work.
“I was thinking of the iTunes Store, and also in a broader sense the internet in general, where there’s a sense that everything is available and everything is acceptable,” he explains, about the constant shift between styles and homages. “This sense of infinite possibilities—I think that was really important.”
No two pages are the same, nor do the images necessarily correspond with the text included along the way. According to Sikoryak, the idea was not only to keep readers’ interest piqued with something totally new on each page, but also to maintain his own enthusiasm for the project along the way. The juxtaposition is hilarious, and we see a Steve Jobs-like character as a stand-in for the heroes of each original work, with the scenes peppered with Apple devices and references alike.
It’s not Jobs himself, Sikoryak points out while calling him an “iconic presence,” but rather a shape-shifting character who embodies so many different things that you might see in comics. “[Jobs’] uniform is as iconic as Batman’s costume or Charlie Brown’s t-shirt with the zigzag,” he adds. “I was taking his look and imposing it on the character.”
Apple’s own homage?
Although he didn’t want his own perspective to bleed into the adaptation, Sikoryak is an Apple fan and a longtime Mac user himself. He drew Terms and Conditions using a Cintiq tablet connected to an iMac, and began the project in November 2014, initially self-publishing black-and-white editions and publishing one page daily to a Tumblr account in late 2015. Following some buzz around the project, Drawn & Quarterly enlisted him to revise and partially color the paperback edition out today.
Terms and Conditions seems very unlike anything else out there… well, almost anything else. Apple actually released App Review Guidelines: The Comic Book for App Store developers at WWDC last June, and it’s startlingly similar in approach. The source text isn’t quite as dull, but it’s still a legal document spread across comic pages with unrelated stories depicted beneath. In this case, it’s five original scenes, including one with a superhero battling in space and another a noir private detective tale.
The comparison took Sikoryak by surprise. “I was really very startled by it, because it seemed really close in conception to what I’d done,” he admits. What made it even more uncomfortable was that Madefire, the company that produced the App Review Guidelines comic for Apple, actually reached out to Sikoryak about a project two months prior to its publication. He was busy finishing this color edition of Terms and Conditions and couldn’t take on work, so he turned the offer down without discussing details. As such, he can’t say for sure if they were contacting him to work on Apple’s comic.
“I don’t know. It was very close,” he admits. “It was a little unnerving, because I hadn’t quite seen anything like what I’d done, and then that came out and it felt pretty similar.” At least he takes solace in the fact that his version was a fair bit more ambitious in scale. “I sort of feel like they did Aesop’s Fables, and I did War and Peace,” he says. “I feel like I can stake my claim on the grounds that I tried to be a bit bigger in my conception of it.”
In any case, Sikoryak hasn’t been in touch with anyone at Apple about Terms and Conditions. He wasn’t sure of its legality when he started the project, but says he followed the mantra of it being “better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Luckily, he hasn’t had to do the former at all—but now that the book is fully finished and published, he’d be happy to get the company’s take on it.
“I would love to talk to Apple about it,” he says. “I hope they like it. I hope they embrace it in the spirit in which it was intended.”