The Comic Sans Oppression

This innocent little typeface has been bullied for too long.

At church today, we had a guest preacher. She was introduced as a lady with a passion for justice, a defender and helper of the oppressed. She is the head of an orphanage as well as other mission initiatives.

She prepared some slides for her message, and one moment she was showing us Bible verses in Helvetica, and then later on in an italicized Comic Sans-like font. (Distracted by the slides I wondered, as she preached, does Comic Sans have italics? A real italics version, not just a computer-slanted Regular?)

So anyway the next slide, was, definitely, Comic Sans.

And I thought, how fitting that she would use a typeface that is, like those she cares about, oppressed. (How did she know?) Amazingly she picked Comic Sans (and its cousins). Helvetica, which she used, is also another typeface suffering constant criticism, mostly from people who have seen it too much and have been experiencing Helvetica fatigue.

So there I was sitting in church, snickering to myself, being so judgy about seeing Comic Sans (in purple, mind you — but then again, it is Pantone’s color of the year) on the giant screens.

And now, guilt-ridden, I feel the need to redeem myself from my evil thoughts by attempting to defend, and honor, the most oppressed typeface of all time.

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So here are some things I would like to remind the world about Comic Sans.

1. Comic Sans was created to solve a design problem

“Typographic Engineer” at Microsoft, Vincent Connare, could not accept that a Microsoft Bob, a very friendly software with a cartoon dog, was going to have the very formal Times New Roman as its typeface — to be used in cartoony speech bubbles. So he designed the friendly Comic Sans to fittingly replace it.

Unfortunately though, because the measurements of Comic Sans did not exactly match Times New Roman’s, and Comic Sans would be too big for the existing speech bubbles, (and I assume no one at Microsoft valued typeface choice enough to grant extra time to adjust the speech bubble sizes or type size), Comic Sans didn’t get to save the day. For that project, at least.

Instead, it became part of Microsoft’s Windows 95, and was happily adopted by hundreds of thousands of school term papers, and even corporate reports all over the world.

2. Comic Sans was inspired by the text in DC comic books

Hence the name Comic Sans (which is probably short for Comic Sans Serif, otherwise comic sans would just mean “no comic”).

Comic books’ text is handwritten, but Comic Sans was a fontified version of handwritten text, making that same text easily usable, without the time and effort of writing by hand. Using digitized handwriting of course sacrifices some organic qualities of handwritten text, which is why many designers find Comic Sans offensive. Because of its nature it doesn’t seem to belong anywhere — not as a typeface, nor as handwritten text, and is often misunderstood.

3. Comic Sans makes office people happy

“People like it because it’s not like a typeface,” says its designer Vincent Connare, as quoted by Simon Garfield in Just My Type.

Comic Sans looked different from all the other fonts in the Windows 95 package. It stood out, with its irregular shapes and fat strokes. Perhaps many found the curved stroke endings more friendly than the pointy serifs of the ancient typefaces. And people were happy to use it. Office people, bored to death looking at their corporate reports in Times New Roman, scanned the list of available fonts, and Comic Sans would be a refreshing, down-to-earth typeface in a sea of sophisticated, distinguished fonts. Not as fancy as Jokerman, nor as foreign as Papyrus, and definitely not boring like Times New Roman. Comic Sans just has what it takes to pop out of the “regular fonts” and capture the attention, and heart, of cubicle workers.

4. Comic Sans knows its purpose in life; it’s those who mis-use it who don’t

Comic Sans, like every typeface, is created to serve a communication need. Those who don’t see typefaces as tools of communication, but rather, decoration, will inevitably use it in a non-kiddie or non-comics context, and it will be disaster. But when that happens, it’s not Comic Sans’ fault. Don’t blame the typeface for the mistakes of its user.

5. Comic Sans was a pioneer

Comic Sans was born in 1994. It had no competition. Since then, so many handwriting-ish typefaces have been created, each for its own purpose. There are some Comic Sans look-alikes too. But Comic Sans was the first to be embraced then hated, and now it is probably the most unforgettable typeface of all time.

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