'Blond Eve', Adam and Eve in the style of Chic Young's 'Blondie'.

Robert Sikoryak is an U.S. independent comics artist, who signs his work mostly with "R. Sikoryak". He is best known for his satirical mash-up parodies, where he mixes classic comics with famous works of literature. Sikoryak has tackled both literary fiction ('Masterpiece Comics', 2009), as well as non-fiction ('Terms & Conditions. The Graphic Novel', 2017). The end results are often funny and have a bewildering effect. Sikoyrak has been praised for making doorstoppers accessible to the average reader. Yet the artist went on record saying that he merely wants "to bridge the so-called gap between high and low art (...) which often doesn't exist anyway." Sikoryak was additionally co-chief editor of Raw magazine between 1985 and 1991. 

Early life 
Robert Sikoryak was born in 1964 and grew up in New Jersey. He and his older brothers loved Mad Magazine and his earliest attempts at making comics were already parodies in Mad's familiar style. He was equally influenced by Charles M. Schulz and Art Spiegelman's experimental comics from the 1970s, which investigated the juxtaposition between text and image. Throughout his life Sikoryak has read comics from all kinds of genres, all over the world, both classics and recent publications, which provided him with a very eclectic taste.

Indeterminacy
Sikoryak studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York, where he received his BFA in 1987. At this school he was introduced to Art Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly. He also attended Spiegelman's comics classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, along with a class taught by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden. For the latter class he created his first experimental comic strip, 'Indeterminacy'. It was inspired by the composition by John Cage of the same name, in which he told short anecdotes about his life. Sikoryak took ten of these anecdotes and adapted them in a series of comic strips, which were graphic pastiches of famous cartoonists. Through Spiegelman Sikoryak also worked as a freelance artist for Topps in the 1980s. 

Raw
While Sikoryak was still in college, he read the experimental comics magazine Raw. Though his connections with Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly he was made co-editor from 1985 on. This was quite an honour, considering Mouly and Spiegelman had been the only editors up to that point. Sikoryak learned a lot about editing, design and production from them. He also lettered and colorized some comics by other artists in its pages. Naturally Sikoryak also made some comics of his own, which were already literary/art parodies combined with famous comics characters. In Raw issue #1 (July 1989) his comic 'Inferno Joe' combined Dante Alighieri's narrative poem 'La Divina Commedia' with Wesley Morse's 'Bazooka Joe'. In the next issue (May 1990) 'Good ol' Gregor Brown' was a mash-up between Franz Kafka's  novel 'The Metamorphosis' and Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts'. He took a different approach in Raw issue #3 (June 1991), where in 'Garish Feline I-VI' Jim Davis' 'Garfield' was presented in the style of painter Willem De Kooning. Spiegelman and Sikoryak would additionally co-edit the chain comic 'The Narrative Corpse' (1995), which incorporated contributions from dozens of cartoonists. Sikoryak was even the first artist to kick the whole project off! 


'Candiggy' - Voltaire's 'Candide, or Optimism' in the style of Tom Wilson's 'Ziggy'.

Stylistic parodies
After his experiments with comic strip parodies in the 1980s, Sikoryak knew that this was something he wanted to pursue. Throughout his career he has made several parodies of iconic, popular or cult comics, usually in combination with artwork, novels, poems or non-fiction texts of a more "high-brow" reputation. Sikoryak spends a lot of time trying to mimick the spirit and essence of the original. He photocopies the comics, cuts out figures and panels and pastes them into bindes. All are arranged by backgrounds, objects, specific characters and compositions. He doesn't just concentrate on the drawings, but also the panels, the page lay-out, the distance between speech balloons and image. His overall goal is getting the resemblance just right. In a 15 March 2017 interview for The Comics Journal, conducted by Rachel Davies, Sikoryak added: "Comics that are popular are always fascinating to me -- like why did this connect to people? I don’t mean to judge why it's popular, I just think it's interesting what things really hit people, what strikes a nerve, and what connects. My work is in some ways really theoretical, and objective. I always kinda want to analyze what makes something work, and what makes something popular, which isn't always the same thing but sometimes is absolutely the same thing."

Masterpiece Comics
Sikoryak's parody comics ran in magazines like Raw (1989-1991), Snake Eyes (1990-93), The New Comics Anthology (1991), The New Yorker (1994-99), The Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, Pulse!, Wired Magazine, Drawn & Quarterly (2000-2001) and Reveal (Dark Horse, 2002). At a certain point he had enough material to publish them in book format, which became 'Masterpiece Comics' (2009). All comics in this volume are parodies of classics of world literature, combined with famous comics series. For instance, Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' is transformed into the Batman parody 'Dostoyevsky Comics' (all in Bob Kane style), Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' morphed into 'Waiting to Go' starring Mike Judge's 'Beavis and Butt-Head', Emily Brontë's 'Wuthering Heights' turns into the EC comic book 'The Crypt of Brontë', and many more. All chapters are presented in chronological order, according to the year in which the famous poem, novel or play was first published. Sikoryak described his project as "recombining the DNA of our culture." He elaborated on this in a three-part interview with The Daily Cross Hatch (2009): "It's a weird balancing act and the longer I do it, the more I wonder about the process." He summarized his vision an interview with The Guardian (8 March 2017) conducted by Sian Cain: "All my work is an attempt to bridge the gap between what we call high art and low art, what we think is important or serious, and what we see as frivolous and meaningless. Often, that boundary doesn't exist.”

Carousel
In the early 1990s Sikoryak saw a show where cartoonist  Roz Chast read her gag cartoons to a live audience. He felt encouraged to do the same and in 1992 converted his comics into a slide show. By 1997 he named his slideshow tour 'Carousel' and toured through the United States and Canada four to eight times a year. He also invited other cartoonists, like Lauren R. Weinstein, Michael Kupperman, Jason LittleBen KatchorDavid Sandlin, Matthew Thurber, Hilary Campbell and Sasha Velour (who later became famous through the TV show 'Rupaul's Drag Race') to join in. By 2001 'Carousel' had become a full side project. Interviewed by Henry Chamberlain for Comics Grinder on 10 June 2019, Sikoryak explained what he liked about 'Carousel': "I think it's every exciting to be able to see the person with their work. Everybody does it a little differently. It seems like a simple enough idea. I like to have six or seven people in each show. I think the personality of each artist gets to come through. In the best cases, you can really get some insight into what the work is about. I’ve had shows where I go back and reread the comic after having listened to them read. It’s endlessly interesting. It’s a way to bring it to people who might not see it otherwise. Certainly, with the internet, it’s easier to come across this stuff but even so a lot of the people who present don’t necessarily put their work out in that way. Doing it in the theater brings in a different crowd. So, you get to show theater people in a different form."


'The Unquotable Trump': pastiche covers of EC's 'The Vault of Horror' and DC's 'Detective Comics'..

The Unquotable/ Impeachable Trump
In 2016, just four days before the U.S. presidential elections, Sikoryak had the idea of adapting the speeches of candidate Donald Trump into parody comics. Yet he decided to wait until after the election results. When Trump won, he knew he had to carry on with his idea. His satirical book 'The Unquotable Trump' (2017) is collection of parodies depicting U.S President Donald Trump, illustrated in the style of iconic comic book covers from the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age of Comic Books. Most covers are built around real-life quotes and incidents involving Trump. Sikoryak was aware that Trump's Twitter messages would be more suitable for speech balloons, given their short length, but he deliberately picked out the presidential speeches instead, because, as he stated in an interview with The Guardian (8 March 2017) conducted by Sian Cain: "Trump's speeches are blathering. He rambles, talks around ideas. It is anti-comic." In 2020 Sikoryak made a sequel, titled 'The Impeachable Trump' (2020), in the light of the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. 

Terms and Conditions
Sikoryak's most bizarre graphic novel might be 'Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel' (2017). 'Terms and Conditions' was originally published online in April and September 2015, in two parts. It adapts the terms and conditions from the iTunes instruction manual into a comic book by simply pouring the text into a readable comics mash-up. All speech balloons are line by line quotes from this dry, informative manual. To provide variation, each page is a parody of a classic comic strip, among others Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google', E.C. Segar's 'Popeye', Hergé's 'Tintin', Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy', Otto Messmer's 'Felix the Cat', Charles M. Schulz' 'Snoopy', Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', Akira Toriyama's 'Dragon Ball Z', Siegel & Shuster's Superman', Jeff Smith's 'Bone', and many more. All main characters are dressed up like Apple founder Steve Jobs. Thanks to Jobs' glasses, stubble beard, black turtleneck sweater, jeans and sneakers in real life, he actually looked a comics character from the start. It helped Sikoryak tremendously, since he just had to give his protagonists these attributes and readers would instantly understand who was being represented. 

In the previously mentioned Comics Journal interview, Sikoryak said that, contrary to his Masterpiece Comics, the 'Terms and Conditions' have no narrative and nobody has any emotional attachment to it. This actually opened up a lot more creative possibilities, especially since it is such a long-winding abstract piece of text: the original manuscript is more than 20.699 words long! Coincidentally, while he was working on the project, Apple actually changed their original manuscript. They not only altered certain sentences, but also added more text. Sikoryak was forced to revise a few pages, but luckily most sentences only had minor alterations. And although he was forced to add 25 pages extra, it didn't matter, since he was still halfway the manuscript and delighted that he could add more comics parodies! While Sikoryak had already parodied many comics before, he went for a more global and current approach. He checked the iTunes store to see which franchises are popular, and added things like 'My Little Pony' and 'Transformers', even though they are more famous as TV series than comics spin-offs. Sikoryak also brought in series from other parts of the world, such as Europe, Asia and South America. And while respecting the classics, he additionally included more recent artists as well, such as Kate Beaton, Allie Brosh and Raina Telgemeier. On the same token he also went beyond mainstream comics and added alternative comics series too. Overall he wanted to promote certain comics his readers might not be familiar with. 

Beyond the one-note joke 'Terms and Conditions' is far more entertaining than the original Apple manual. The dry abstraction of the text, which few people have ever read all the way through, takes on a new, somewhat hypnotic experience in combination with all the familiar, but unrelated imagery. It's both deliciously surreal as well as remarkably motivational to actually "read" what this text communicates.


'Terms and Conditions': The Graphic Novel, spoofing Hergé's 'Tintin'.

Constitution Illustrated
In 2020 Sikoryak published another monumental graphic novel, 'Constitution Illustrated' (Drawn & Quarterly, 2020). The book adapts the U.S. Constitution in 114 parodies of iconic U.S. comics. Just like 'Terms and Conditions', the original text remains intact in each speech balloon. Each amendment is drawn in the style of a different comic strip, only giving each character late-18th century wigs and fashion sense. Contrary to 'Terms and Conditions', there is a closer relation between text and image. The amendment about taxes, for instance, is done in the style of Carl Barks' 'Uncle Scrooge'. The amendment that ensures voters' rights will not be denied or abridged on basis of sex, references Harry G. Peter's 'Wonder Woman'. Other spoofed comics are Bob Montana's 'Archie' comics, Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', Robert Crumb's 'Fritz the Cat', George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts', Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace', Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas and John Romita Sr.'s  'Luke Cage', Aaron McGruder's 'Boondocks', and the work of Alison Bechdel and Bianca Xunise, among many others. Sikoryak deliberately gave his book a pocket size, so people would be able to carry it around and be reminded of their rights as U.S. citizens. He also illustrated more controversial aspects of the constitution, such as the 'Three-Fifths Compromise', which included three out of every five slaves as people to be represented for legislation and taxing purposes. Sikoryak was surprised how many compromises were present in the original text, but also found it interesting to see how the constitution evolved over the centuries. 

Graphic contributions
In 2013, when the final episode of Matt Groening's 'Life in Hell' appeared in print, Sikoryak was one of several cartoonists to pay graphic homage. In 2019, to celebrate the centennial of E.C. Segar's 'Popeye' Sikoryak was one of several artists to pay homage in the one-shot comic 'Popeye's Cartoon Club'. 

Recognition
His 'Masterpiece Comics' won the 2010 Ignatz Award in the category 'Outstanding Anthology or Collection'. 

Other work
He has published cartoons and illustrations in Nickelodeon Magazine, World War 3 Illustrated and on the satirical talk show 'The Daily Show' with Jon Stewart. Sikoryak is an illustration teacher at the Parsons School, and resides in New York City since 2017.

Robert Sikoryak has his own Twitter account since July 2009. He also has his own Instagram account. 


'Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel', spoofing an X-Men page by John Byrne and Chris Claremont.

www.rsikoryak.com

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