An unprovoked attack on Comic Sans font

by DaniGirl on January 28, 2011 · 19 comments

in How I love the Interwebs, My inner geek

I was in a committee meeting of the boys’ school council recently, and one of the other members presented a letter of some import that would be going home with each child in the school on behalf of school council. It was a very serious letter with a significant call to action (we’re raising funds to equip each classroom with a SmartBoard), and the author finished his presentation by saying he was open to the committee’s comments on the content, the layout and ‘even the font.’ At which point I pulled my tongue out from between my teeth and said rather timidly, “Well, since you asked? I hate Comic Sans font.”

It’s true. I’m a font snob. I could spend a day or three simply poking around in free font download sites, leaving the children to run feral. Fonts are like the icing on a cupcake — they can make it exquisite or awful. My personal preference runs to classics like Times New Roman and clean sans serif fonts like the Helvetica you’re currently reading, but I’m also a fan of a well-constructed and playful handwriting font. You’d think that since it more or less intersects all of the foregoing, I’d be a bigger fan of Comic Sans — but I’m not. In fact, it pains me to do this, but in the name of objective reporting I have looked up the necessary coding to turn a part of this paragraph into said Comic Sans font. Are you loving it? I’m not, I have to turn it off now!

I don’t know why people use Comic Sans. To me, it’s the font equivalent of turning every statement into a question. It undermines your credibility. It’s the open-fly and lipstick-on-your-teeth of the font world. In my very humble opinion, you should graduate beyond Comic Sans about the time you stop dotting the letter i with a heart or a star. And apparently, I’m not the only one.

To his credit, my co-committee member took my comments in good humour. In fact, he laughed that I carried such a burden of distaste for Comic Sans. And just a few days later, he e-mailed me this article from the Globe and Mail, which claims that Comic Sans will “will improve your memory retention, help your kids do better in school and make your wife love you more.”

There you go. Different keystrokes for different folks. And for all of my sweet friends who now think that I think poorly of them because of their font choice I will concede that for personal e-mail, it’s not a bad font choice — but it’s not a good one, either.

That’s exactly the sentiment that infuses this long and geek-a-licious article that had me at its title: “Why you hate Comic Sans.” It moves through a designer’s analysis of the stroke and weight of the font, goes on for quite a while using terms like stroke modulation, aperture and anti-aliasing, and then moves on to the bit that really intrigued me — the history of Comic Sans.

His conclusion:

So, the story of Comic Sans is not that of a really terrible font, but rather of a mediocre font, used incorrectly on a massive scale. Windows 95 was the first operating system to really hit it big. Just as computers were starting to pop up in nearly every home in America, Windows 95 was finding itself installed on all of those computers, and with it, the font Comic Sans. So now, nearly every man, woman, child, and bake sale organizer find themselves armed with publishing power unlike civilization had ever seen; and few of them really had any design sense.

He also notes:

So, you see, Comic Sans is an archetypal enemy of the Graphic Designer. Its not only an unattractive font, but it also represents the invisible, evil force that is making the “print” designer less and less relevant. A natural reaction to being threatened is violence, and the hatred for Comic Sans is arguably violent.

A good old-fashioned smackdown between classically trained graphic designers and sixty million DIY publishers — how can you not love this stuff? (I have to admit, I have a vested interest in this one. In my day job, I’m a Web manager but Beloved is not only trained in graphic arts but a teacher of them as well. Apparently we’re the Hatfields and the McCoys of the digital world!)

So where do you fit on the continuum? Need a little help to find out? Take five minutes to take this clever and entertaining quiz from Pentagram: What Type Are You?

Apparently, I am Archer Hairline – emotional, understated, progressive and disciplined. I love it!

And you?

Edited to add:
props and bellows of laughter to @sproudfoot on twitter, who sent me the link to one of the most hilarious pieces I’ve ever read on the web, “Short Imagined Monologues: I’m Comic Sans, Asshole

It opens with this:

Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.

and ends with this:

I’m not just a font. I am a force of motherfucking nature and I will not rest until every uptight armchair typographer cock-hat like you is surrounded by my lovable, comic-book inspired, sans-serif badassery. Enough of this bullshit. I’m gonna go get hammered with Papyrus.

And the middle bits are even funnier than that. Really, go read it!!


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sally January 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Oh! I have to speak up on this one. I find Comic Sans to be annoying and childish too. However, there is one thing about it that makes it appealing, especially in a school setting. The lowercase “a” matches the way kids are taught to print. This is a big deal!

When I’m doing birthday party invitations, I look around for the easiest font for 5-7 year olds to read, and keep coming back to Comis Sans even though I really dislike it! That difference in how the “a” is printed makes a difference when a child is just learning to read. Yes, I realize I could probably download a good font with a proper “a” somewhere, but I never think to search for one. Then I have to do something for beginning readers and all the fonts have the other kind of “a” so I end up using Comic Sans…again.

It doesn’t excuse its use, but maybe this explains it a bit?

2 Danielle January 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I once worked at a company where my manager printed everything in comic sans, including client contracts. Seriously.

I dislike comic sans very much but I’m not really a font snob. I actually used Papyrus on my wedding invitations. I’ve been told in the design world this was a terrible cliche.

Also, this post made me think of this t-shirt:
http://www.bustedtees.com/helvetica

3 Sasha January 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Well, I like Comic Sans. But then, I always seem to like all the cheap wines at the Food & Wine Show too.

*sigh*

But there’s a time and a place, I’ll grant you that. Much like cheap wine 😛

4 smothermother January 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm

i can’t say i have a huge affiliation or dislike of any font. though i will reconsider my use of comic sans. though after reading the short imagined monologue, i might have to stick up for the under dog.

the link to the pentagram site isn’t working. i did the test (awesome!) and turned out to be van Doesburg. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of it, not really an every day application sort of type. I’ll have to see how to interegrate it into the blog though. I’m emotional, assertive, progressive and disciplined. I can live with that.

5 melissa January 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Good for you for trying to stop such a serious letter from being taken less seriously by using a less-than-serious font.

As someone who designs for print, it’s heartbreaking when I see documents done with poor font choices distributed to the world by people who often should know better. A problem is when a document needs to be used by many people and not just the designer, so it stays in Word in a hacked-together layout, boring fonts and everyone else destroys it on reading. All in the name of everyone being able to work with it.

Why can’t we all have nice fonts, at least some of the time 🙂

(And according to that quiz, I’m Courier.)

6 Paula January 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Personally, I like the simple clean fonts and at my age, in a size that I can read without squinting!

Keep getting 404’d when I click on the link to see if the quiz is going to make a liar out of my first sentence!

7 Sara in Montréa January 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I dislike it very much. It’s ok for kid’s birthday party or yard sales (although I never set foot close to this font). But in a serious letter? in a contract? in a request? in a report??? For me it’s just as bad as major spelling mistakes. It totally ruins your credibility.

(I’m french speaking, please disregard any spelling mistake in my english contribution to this blog, that would totally ruin my credibility 😉 ).

8 DaniGirl January 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Sorry all, fixed the bad link — I’ll be back later, but I’m glad I’m not the only Comic Sans hater! 😉

And Sara, your English is better than some native speakers I know!

9 Sara in Montréal January 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Even when I forget the “l” to Montréal?? :p I can’t believe myself.

10 Marianne January 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I’m not overly enthralled with Comic Sans, but as an elementary teacher I use it extensively as it is the most child-friendly font available without going searching for something else to download (and I don’t think the school computers support downloading other fonts anyhow).

11 Amber January 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I got “dot matrix” on that quiz, and I beg to differ.

As for Comic Sans, I have used it as header text when writing newsletters to parents when I was a Brownie leader. It was meant to be colourful and childish. But for actual content I go for something a lot cleaner and more readable. So I would say I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Comic Sans is not an all-the-time font, or a serious font. But if you’re trying for playful and child-focused, you could do worse.

12 Alexandre Enkerli January 29, 2011 at 4:31 am

Reader: An unprovoked attack on Comic Sans font:
I was in a committee meeting of the boys’ school council recently,… http://lar.me/cj

13 Liisa January 29, 2011 at 6:44 am

Good for you for telling it like it is! And bringing your school council into the 21st century typigraphically.

That being said, I might use it for kids if pressed, but I think they would actually prefer a cleaner font printed in a larger size.

14 Liisa January 29, 2011 at 6:47 am

Oh, I shouldn’t be allowed to comment before 7 a.m.. I meant ‘typographically’.

15 Coco January 29, 2011 at 8:45 am

I am new alphabet…it looks totally weird and almost illegible,,,guess I shouldn’t be surprised!

16 Mary @ Parenthood January 29, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I don’t hate Comic Sans. Actually, I think it has its place – and it looks like the research agrees with me 🙂 I don’t know that I’d distribute a formal document using such an informal font.

I took an informal poll here and my sister agrees with you – she says it’s too “rounded and cheesy”, but my husband kind of likes it. “It’s kind of pretty”, he says. I’m not sure if that should frighten me or not! Apparently my sister hates Comic Sans because she had a teacher that used it all the time. The teacher used it because the students could read it more easily – in part because the letter a is “correctly formed”.

17 SC January 31, 2011 at 8:31 am

Thanks for that, as Comic Sans annoys the hell out of me! However, in highschool, I have to admit, I thought it was cool, but now that I’ve matured, I really dislike it.

Personally, I am a Calibri lover. I use it for almost everything. I also hate Times New Roman. For a while I had a hate on at work for those outdated clients of mine who would send me their documents in WordPerfect typed in Times New Roman – please, for the love of god, get out of the ice age.

I really wish Arial was the standard instead of Times New Roman – but its one of those things like the double space after the period (or not!), you just learn to deal with it I guess.

Great post Dani!

18 Allison P. February 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm
19 DaniGirl February 14, 2011 at 10:05 am

Allison, that’s priceless! I’ve actually bought from that Etsy seller before — I have magnets that say “Optimism hasn’t failed me yet — well, it did but I didn’t let it get me down!” and “I am a cautionary tale.” I love his work!

This one is terrific, too: http://www.etsy.com/listing/62555458/death-before-comic-sans

Fun!!

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