On occasion, I’ve been accused of being a serial optimist. Sometimes they actually mean it. In this case, maybe I’ve earned the accusation because I’m giving Comic Sans another chance.
While staring down at yet another flyer from my child’s daycare, I cringed at the mash-up of colors and font sizes and silently grieved for the tree that had to die for the wreck of a design I gripped in my cold, dry, winter-ravaged hands. There is simply no need to write in all-caps for the entire length of a single-sided A4 announcement. The second I laid eyes on the flyer, I recognized the font. Oh, that most reviled font of all. That one. You all know it.
The Internet is akin to the zombie apocalypse, the way things are picked up and circulated. It’s tapered off a bit now, but for a moment, it felt like every other typography article was about how terrible Comic Sans is. Papyrus ain’t too pretty either, but for some reason, Comic Sans landed squarely in the sights of the collective vitriol of the Internet. Standing there with that flyer, I realized I’d been bitten by the zombie and was frothing and moaning and staggering about looking for others to infect with my Comic Sans hater craze.
So I went looking for the source.
It’s a fascinating* font, actually. The guy who made it, Vincent Connare, was working at Microsoft at the time. Connare received a beta version of MS Bob, a comic software package. The beta was using Times New Roman as the font for speech bubbles and the effect was jarring to Connare. Want to talk about inappropriate font use? Slap TNR into a comic. In response, he began work on Comic Sans.
The end result was never intended as a typeface.
A project manager eventually included it into the list of system fonts in Windows 95 and it finally ended up in the system fonts for the original Internet Explorer.
But this side of the font’s history is rarely explored. Everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is to launch into a tirade and heap up the vitriol. Once in a while, someone chimes in with an actual fact – but often the zombie apocalypse has already claimed its victims and turned a comment thread into one big, steaming mass of hate without even asking why.
Comic Sans is actually a pretty good font. It’s informal, it’s legible**, and it’s one of the most widely used fonts. That’s the problem, though. Everyone knows it, everyone uses it, but not everyone uses it wisely.
That said, no font looks good when it has been effectively shot onto a piece of paper via a rainbow bazooka laden with every effect and in every size known to mankind.
And while I was visiting Connare’s website, something else caught my attention:
I wonder whether Chalkboard will get a free pass because Apple published it instead of Microsoft.
And no, my senses have not completely fled (yet). I’m not about to start heaping Comic Sans into all my projects. Breathe easy.
* I use that word rather loosely here.
** Several dyslexia organizations recommend Comic Sans as a font for those with the reading impediment.