Comic Sans has an interesting history. In a few short years, it’s gone from beloved to despised. What happened? Where did all the love go? In an age of internet memes and a celebration of the ridiculous, trolls on sites like Reddit have come to treat Comic Sans as the anathema of decent fonts. You’d never want to use it in on your resume, and certainly not on your term paper. It definitely doesn’t seem so organized if you’re a grant writer, sophisticated if your investment firm needs to submit proposals or your law firm affidavits.
The font was created by Vincent Connare, a French designer working for Microsoft in the early 90s who is also a major comic book fan. It might surprise those Redditors that its main influence was the extremely dark graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns (also the gritty inspiration behind 2012′s The Dark Knight Rises). According to the designer, the font was developed because the more “acceptable” fonts were actually in similarly absurd positions that many see Comic Sans to be in today. An old program called Microsoft Bob was used for creating comics, but Times New Roman didn’t suit the style. Piggybacking off comics like ‘Returns‘ and Watchmen, Connare created the text. It went on to inspire Apple’s own version of comic-use fonts.
The font initially exploded. It was actually used in many of the instances I mentioned above, as ridiculous as it might seem. But that’s the problem. Clearly, it was intended to fit a certain aesthetic and not push the boundaries of what might be considered a formal or even elegant font. For them, it’s been clearly overused: in warning labels and even on gravestones. That explains the visceral backlash over the last few years as it’s become the object of an endemic internet meme seemingly dedicated to eradicating the tool from the typist’s domain.
Connare has been interviewed time and again about the social phenomenon. He’s never seen the font as a major achievement, nor a major failure. He was actually surprised by its initial success as well as put off by the heavy backlash:
“If you love it, you don’t know much about typography,” Mr. Connare says. But, he adds, “if you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”
The point is that Comic Sans has a place. There are times where it works and times that it does not. Consider other, more illustrious fonts like Zapfino:
It’s beautiful. It’s curvaceous. It flows. But damn it, you can’t use it in a comic book. You definitely can’t use it in your corporate merger proposal. This is something that belongs at the top of restaurant menus and maybe your personal print editions of the Bible. The point is clear: even the pristine typefaces aren’t so durable. Times New Roman, as Connare has pointed out in numerous places, wasn’t suitable for certain formats back in the early 90s. Comic Sans was created to fill the void that Times New Roman couldn’t fill. Connare would much rather be known for his newer font creations, like Magpie:
Comic Sans Criminals
Comic Sans’ many detractors have indeed created somewhat of a serious movement against the use of the font, beyond just the mere jokes an effort like this would seem to be telling. At comicsanscriminal.com, you are treated to a very quick front-page presentation explaining that not only is this font often misappropriated, but that it pales in comparison to newer alternatives for use in even the appropriate environments for Comic Sans. The site even provides a listing of alternative comic book fonts (at the similarly dubbed bancomicsans.com).
The site even attacks it as an insulting font alternative for dyslexics (dyslexics can more easily distinguish Comic Sans characters than letters in other typefaces). Again, there’s a list of “better” fonts to choose from.
In an angry, yet ironically comical, attack along the same lines, Roger Domeneghetti puts it like this:
Now, to be fair, there is a limited (emphasis on limited) amount of research which suggests the fact the font is hard to read actually helps kids (emphasis on kids) take in information better, especially kids with dyslexia. As annoying as that is, if (emphasis on if) it’s true, then I say fan-bloody-tastic something good has come from something shit. Like penicillin and mouldy cheese.
But there are its defenders. We can’t leave you thinking this font should die without putting up a fight.
The Comic Sans Project
“WE ARE THE COMIC SANS DEFENDERS. WE FEAR NO FONTS AND WE WILL MAKE THE WHOLE WORLD COMIC SANS.
BECAUSE HELVETICA IS SOOO 2011.”
These are the warlike words of comicsansproject.tumblr.com, a site dedicated to promoting the font. It takes its design inspiration from a different realm – advertising. When I discovered the site researching this article, I thought it was a complete joke. Well, some of their alternative logo and brand designs seem to, well, work.
Others just don’t get the rage. Sonia Mansfeld just points to the obvious – it’s popular. Comic Sans definitely isn’t a ‘balanced’ font, but as she points out many companies and corporations have used it in ad campaigns.
“Considering its humble beginnings, Comic Sans’ success is impressive; continued mass usage of the font speaks more of love for it than all of the complaints against it combined.”
It works. It’s a casual, even ‘fun’ font that implies a care-free attitude. It’s not authoritative, nor does it have to be. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the secret to its success. It’s jumbled, irregular and pattern-less features might be what make it the attention-grabber that it has become. Its lack of conformity works for dyslexics, but why not the common man who’s inundated with advertising 24/7?
The Other Typical Enemies
What might surprise the ardent anti-Comic Sans activist is that the most hated fonts in the world actually typify everything that Comic Sans isn’t. According to a November 2008 poll from prepressure.com, Comic Sans is accompanied by other universal typefaces like Arial, Courier, Times New Roman, Papyrus and Helvetica. Besides Papyrus, all these fonts reflect classic and uniform designs that contradict Comic Sans. Why are they hated?
In my humble opinion, they’re boring. They’re old. There’s nothing particularly expressive about any of them. Check out these quotes from prepressure to back me up:
“I hate Helvetica. It is everywhere. No more Helvetica please!!!!! It is sooooooo boring.”
“Courier always reminds me of sending a job to the printer and forgetting to include the fonts.”
“I cannot look at Times New Roman without automatically assuming that it is a placeholder font, waiting to be replaced by something appropriate for the text.“
“Arial is the poster child for the general typographic decline of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.“
Even the glaring exception, Papyrus, is ‘played out.’ It isn’t unique, at least anymore. If I wrote a paper on Middle Eastern archaeology in the late 1990s, then using this as the title page font might be creative, but I couldn’t expect to continue getting away with that.
The Fonts of the Future
Most fonts that designers use are basic ones, including Times New Roman and Helvetica. They are clear, structures and often times very bold. A fuller list here indicates a pattern among designers to use these sorts of fonts, but there are newer styles making a push. 2012 was a year, according to a recent review by Extensis, of experiments. Here are the most popular online fonts of 2012:
1. Myriad Pro from Adobe
2. Proxima Nova from Mark Simonson Studio
3. Futura PT from Paratype
4. Theinhardt from Optimo
5. Effra from Dalton Maag
6. Aktiv Grotesk from Dalton Maag
7. Adelle from TypeTogether
8. Omnes from Darden Studio
9. Trajan Pro 3 from Adobe
10. Adobe Garamond Pro from Adobe
More plugins were used across the web, “test-driving” many new fonts to look for the boldest, clearest typefaces. That’s suppose to trend the other way in 2013, so the report predicts. What fonts people use will dwindle and consolidate. A consensus will start to form on what fonts will be used widely across the web. Of course, that’s what happened in the late 1990s, meaning we’re probably in for change soon after this consolidation. There’s too much creativity and demand for new fonts to grind to a halt.
What Do You Think?
Give us your opinion on the Comic Sans debate. Do you have a favorite or go-to font? If you’re looking for new typefaces for your own website or that of a client’s, what style are you aiming for? Let us know in the comment box below….