R. Sikoryak, Comics Whirligig

I knew I was going to love writing a book about Bill Murray -- but I didn't realize that my favorite part of the whole process would be my collaboration with a comics genius.

As the deadline for handing in The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing got closer, my editor periodically queried me about what ideas I had for the art. I appreciated that she was asking -- the problem was that I was stumped. On-set photography of Peter Venkman and Steve Zissou felt underwhelming. The one thing I knew I liked was the American five-dollar bill modified so that Abraham Lincoln transformed into Bill Murray (different versions float around the net). Trying to figure out the appeal of the Bill bill, I realized that it traded on the idea that Bill Murray could appear anyplace -- just as he does in the stories I collected for the book, bribing kids to ride their bicycles into a swimming pool or showing up at a party in Scotland to wash the dishes.

I wondered: What if Bill Murray somehow infiltrated great works of art from the past, showing up in everything from Dali paintings to Crumb album covers? I idly fantasized of illustrations of Bill in the style of M.C. Escher and Andy Warhol -- maybe we'd need to hire a dozen artists? Then I realized I was describing the career of R. Sikoryak, and I should just ask him.

Robert Sikoryak is the comics chameleon. I first encountered his work in Raw magazine, where he told the story of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" as a pitch-perfect sequence of Peanuts cartoons, and rendered Dante's Inferno in the style of the miniature comic strips that used to come wrapped with Bazooka bubblegum. Since then, he's gone on to high-profile gigs like New Yorker covers, but he keeps collapsing high and low culture in ways that illuminate both sides. If you read his Masterpiece Comics and realize that Crime and Punishment is the best Batman comic ever, then you've learned something about both Dostoyevsky and superheroes.

It's easy to repurpose our cultural heritage for cheap jokes or crass ends--ask anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic behind an SUV sporting a decal of Calvin pissing. But Sikoryak remixes culture in a way that shows obvious love for his original sources and reclaims them for the reader. Since his work thrives on the fair-use exemption of copyright law, it's fitting that his next project is an epic adaptation of a particularly unfriendly bit of legalese: the iTunes Terms and Conditions.

While we were working together, I kept trying to stump my collaborator: Can you draw like Hergé? Okay, then can you do Van Gogh? Well, how about the style of an airline safety card? Yes, yes, yes. One of the precepts of improv comedy as Bill Murray learned it at Second City is "yes, and": accept the premise of the scene and make it better. R. Sikoryak accepts the premise of reality but makes it better.

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