Comic Sans: The Innocence and Hijacking of a Much-Hated Type
Few things stir such levels of nostalgia more than a flash of Comic Sans font. And, well, maybe there’s a sort of magic to that reality. Or maybe not.
Depending on where you fall on the spectrum, you either really despise Comic Sans or can sort of appreciate its unabashedly crude kitschiness. In either case, there’s no denying that Comic Sans is somehow iconic.
Though the vast majority of us are familiar with the font (hello, grade school book reports), even we were excited to dig a little deeper into the history of this much-derided sans-serif. Join us as we dip into the history of Comic Sans MS.
First created by Vincent Connare, Comic Sans came into the world way back in 1995, at a big time in computer history. Connare, a member of the Microsoft typography team, was asked to give feedback on the fonts for a new Microsoft program, Microsoft Bob, designed to coach computer users (especially kids) through issues they were experiencing. Connare loaded in the install CD and was met with a friendly pup there to guide him through the process.
“When I loaded the CD a little dog came up. He talked in a speech balloon like you would get in a newspaper cartoon strip, but it was in the system font Times New Roman,” Connare recalls. “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman!” he thought.
Connare set out to create something a little more fitting. Referencing comic books like The Watchmen and graphic novels of the time, Connare began sketching out a typeface that felt like hand lettering. “I didn’t have to make straight lines, I didn’t have to make things look right, and that’s what I found fun,” Connare shared.
Comic Sans was born. The font didn’t make it into the world in time for the Microsoft Bob drop, but it was included in the game-changing Windows ‘95 operating system, which means it eventually found its way onto darn near every computer—and into the hearts of computer users everywhere.
Connare is not in the dark about his creation’s polarizing impact: According to Huffington Post, he has called Comic Sans “the most hated and most loved font in the world.” There was even, not too long ago, an attempt to “ban” the font, and now there’s a nifty little website called Comic Sans Criminal, devoted to ‘rehabilitating’ Comic Sans abusers.
This is all largely because while Comic Sans was designed to be the type personification of a friendly dog, it has been used in all manner of inappropriate settings. From the menus at upscale French restaurants (but why?!) to scientific presentations on the Higgs Boson (no, really, why?!), Comic Sans crosses the wires of form and function in a way that rubs many design-inclined individuals the wrong way.
The underlying cause for such derision is, ultimately, the font’s widespread use and, arguably, misuse. If Comic Sans stayed in its lane and only appeared on kid-oriented materials, there would likely be impassioned slurs on the subject. Yet, here we are. Thanks to the wave of 90s-era personal desktop publishing (creating banners in Microsoft Word, printing your own flyers, etc.), the power to chose a font was suddenly very much with the people. Once a decision reserved for studied designers, anyone with a weakness for cute could now choose Comic Sans as their weapon of choice. And so the world suffered the consequences.
Okay, so now that we’ve acknowledged that we’re all sort of overreacting a bit when it comes to hating Comic Sans, let’s turn to the critical assessments of the font that might be contributing to its distaste.
Uneven Weight: Comic Sans is inspired by the freehanded nature of a round, felt-tip pen or marker. But the stroke of a felt-tip pen or marker is unpredictable and unmodulated, which makes for uneven, even messy execution. Rendered as a typeface, the font’s off-kilter weight or texture makes reading it a little more challenging than reading a well-balanced font like Helvetica.
Poor Letterfit: Letterfit refers to the ability of individual letters to come together in a pleasing manner to form a word or string of words. The kerning (space between letters) of Comic Sans type is uneven and erratic, and while a solution might be to manually increase or reduce character spacing, most word processing subjects simply don’t allow it.
A Font for Good
Before you join team “Ban Comic Sans,” we want to pause to acknowledge an interesting fact: According to a piece in New York Magazine, Comic Sans has been found to help people living with dyslexia (15% of all Americans!). Apparently, the irregularity of the font and idiosyncrasy of the shapes and sizes of letters helps people with dyslexia differentiate and identify.
While many fonts use consistent, repetitive shapes in different letters, Comic Sans uses few repeated shapes. Times New Roman, meanwhile, is nearly illegible thanks to its showy serifs.
According to the article, the American Institiute of Graphic Art posited that it might be the most helpful font for dyslexics due to its character disambiguation and varying letter heights. Comic Sans is even recommended by the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland.
A final thought, then? Live and let live. There’s a world of font alternatives out there, sure, but Comic Sans is certainly doing no one any real harm.