A Facebook pal recently posted to his status:
Whenever you see this font, raise your fists and shout "Comic saaaaans!"
This is a splendid idea, and I have already promised him on your behalf that we will all join in this game. But it made me wonder: what is it about Comic Sans that inspires such excitement?
What excitement? Well, this font causes so much eye-rolling, the faces of its detractors resemble mid-spin fruit machines. Google 'comic sans' and you hit a legion of websites devoted to doing it down. The number one hit in the list, Ban Comic Sans, even aggregates anti-Comic Sans articles from other sites. It does not want for material. Recent entries include a notably lame 'Kill Comic Sans' game (that must have been a dreary Friday afternoon with the Actionscript) and even a snotty article on the blessed BBC Website. The Beeb's article, in turn, quotes the authors of Ban Comic Sans as asserting that misuse of the font is "analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume". Really? Oh dear. How awful.
The font of all wisdom
Some perspective for you. Comic Sans, as any fule kno, started life as an adjunct to a 1990s Windows 95 add-on called 'MS Bob' or, to give it its proper name, Microsoft Robert. (It is instructive to remember, in these days of Kin and Zune and Bing, that Bob had the distinction of being the very first monosyllabic Microsoft product to be laughed out of existence.) It so happened that in-house font designer Vincent Connare noticed that Beta Bob's word balloons were displayed in Times New Roman
Click on the door
to sign in...
which actually, looking at it, I think works quite well – gives the thing a certain, rather pleasant formality, not untinged by an undercurrent of threat. They could have hired Vincent Price to do the voiceover:
Click the door. Do it now.
Do not make me
tell you again.
Children love that sort of thing.
Anyway, Vincent (Connare not Price) didn't know when to leave well alone, and created jaunty Comic Sans, apparently cribbing it, in part, from the Batman book The Dark Knight Returns. Holy unlikely influences, Batman.
Microsoft Bob died quickly beneath a shower of journalistic scorn, but The Sonz lived on. It eventually escaped into the wild by clinging, like a freshly-born marsupial, to the soft, furry underbelly of Internet Explorer 3. This moment, the one just coming up right now, is the first time since 1997 you have remembered the existence of the not-very-good application bundled with IE called Microsoft Comic Chat. There. Sorry about that.
Once it was installed on every PC in the world, and the general level of computer training had reached the point where the average user could drop down the font combo with just three or four poorly aimed clicks, it was inevitable that the world and her live-out boyfriend would soon be using it for everything from email to spreadsheets. And so the trouble started.
What is it actually for?
Given its history, one might suppose that Comic Sans' niche would be clear. But it isn't.
Sure, it does look a bit like the fonts used in, well, comics – specifically the lettering used in speech bubbles – but actually not very much. Its tongue is too much in its cheek. It's la-ha-ha-laughing even before it's started to tell the joke. This won't do as a way of transmitting dialogue, even in children's comics. It's too distracting.
My first thought was what it most looks like is the kind of font used on a certain class of what I am snobbishly going to call "red top birthday cards". Yes, you do too know what I mean – I saw you in Clintons last Thursday, on a last-minute emergency purchase as usual, turning up your nose at
We all love you, we do,
And hope that this and every year
Are a lot better than the last few.
But that's not right either. For a font that is constantly being castigated for its vulgarity, it isn't really vulgar enough for the job. One really needs something plumper, jollier, more buxom. A font with a bust – no, a rack. Comic Sans is too flat-chested for the part.
However its very thininity (shut up, that could be a proper font-appreciation word for all you know) somehow suggests another application, the one I am championing as its natural purpose.
There is a certain variety of humour that is preserved for later consumption by a method akin to the way they freeze-dry instant coffee. It is poor quality stuff, compared with the real thing, but it is better than nothing. This freeze-dried material is printed onto car stickers and badges and posters and T-shirts, and eagerly purchased by those who, lacking any natural humour of their own, are obliged to ingest artificial supplements regularly.
I'm thinking about
I'm with stupid ☛
My other car is a Porsche
You don't have to be mad to work here, get a round tuit!
The Case for the Defence
Reading the twitterings and bloggery of the Anti-Comic Sans league, one eventually begins to wonder what it is that causes all this bile to be vomited over such an inoffensive target. One becomes, in fact, a Comic Sans apologist.
This is what has happened to me. Come here, little font, inside my coat, and let us see if we can't rub some warmth into your cold, thin limbs. Don't worry: Auntie Verity is going to make all the nasty people go away, but only once they have said they are sorry.
The league of anti-Sonzers broadly offers two principal arguments: that Comic Sans is visually horrible, and that it is persistently used inappropriately.
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