The Strange and Savage Tale of Comic Sans

These days admitting you like Comic Sans is tantamount to admitting you think Hitler had some good ideas.  I’m not sure exactly how this came about.  It’s very rare in this world that you’ll come across enough people with enough free time on their hands to advocate banning a font.  Sure, Comic Sans is overused and rarely used for its intended purpose, but I don’t think it needs to go away forever and I definitely don’t think it needs to die painful death.  After all, it’s just a font.  You can’t kill a font.  A better way of looking at Comic Sans might be to examine it as a font that’s frequently not used for its intended purposes.

EVIL!  Straight from the 9th dimension!
EVIL! Straight from the 9th dimension!

Here’s a wee bit of history for you: Comic Sans MS was drawn up in 1994 for a little known application Microsoft was cooking up called Bob.  Bob was a layer on top of Windows 95 that was designed to make computers easier and more friendly.  Bob used so many resources it frequently rendered computers inoperable and, therefore, easier to use.  It had a cute little dog that would come out and offer to help you do things.  That dog communicated through speech bubbles, not unlike a comic book character.  The original cuts of Bob had the dog “speaking” in Times New Roman.  Vincent Connare (the man who designed Comic Sans MS) was a font designer for Microsoft at the time and when he was shown what the dog’s speech bubbles looked like, he realized Times just didn’t fit with the feel of the application.  Connare turned to the comic books he kept in his office and made up a font that would look better for the dog’s voice.

Comic Sans MS wasn’t finished in time to be shipped with Bob, but it was added later as part of a font pack for Windows 95.  It has since become one of the most popular – and reviled – fonts ever designed.  Ask any designer what they think of Comic Sans and you’ll get an earful about how terrible the font is.  It’s almost like asking web designers what they think of Internet Explorer.  Ask the average person on the street and you’ll likely find some people who like it and use it regularly.

That, in and of itself, is interesting.  Ask the average person how many fonts they can name off the top of their head and you’ll likely get Times New Roman and Comic Sans.  Times New Roman you can kind of understand; it was the New York Times font.  But Comic Sans?  A font created solely for dialogue bubbles from a cartoon dog in a program everyone has tried to forget about?

It doesn’t make sense, yet Comic Sans is still one of the most popular fonts on the planet.  I guess this just goes to show something or another.

The bottom line is, Comic Sans is just a font.  It’s also a font designed for a very specific purpose.  It wasn’t designed for book covers.  In fact, I don’t think there’s any way you can make a book cover look good with Comic Sans.  Take for instance, these:

jurassic-park-in-comic-sans
I can almost hear Yakety Sax as the dinosaurs eat people.

godfather-in-comic-sans

The basic design is there, but the font just kills it.  And these are a couple of the most iconic book covers ever put together.

Of course, the same could really be said of any font.  Font choice is amazingly important in cover design.  You can have the best layouts and best imagery in the world and your font can cripple the whole thing immediately.  Interestingly enough, if you tried to use Times New Roman in place of Comic Sans in either of those covers they would still look like crap.  That’s because Times, like Comic Sans, has a very specific intended use in mind: newspaper type.  The New York Times no longer uses Times New Roman due to design changes in the paper over the years, but Times New Roman is still widely used for book text.  You don’t see Times New Roman used very often in book covers.  It’s just not that type of font.  Times, like Comic Sans, is designed for strings of text.

In my opinion, Times isn’t a great graphic design font (arguably better than Comic Sans, but that’s still debatable).  Yet no one hates on Times New Roman like they hate on Comic Sans.  This is probably because people have realized what Times is good for and use it there rather than trying to shoehorn it into places where other fonts will work better.

This is what Comic Sans is designed for: Rover from Microsoft Bob.

So happy to destroy the planet
So happy to destroy the planet

This is not:

A good book, by the way.
A good book, by the way.

So, rather than hating Comic Sans, it would be better to realize it was designed for a very specific use and that use was not eBook covers.  If you’re writing an application for kids and want to make something that’s easily accessible and not too intimidating, Comic Sans is your bud.  If you’re designing a book cover, eschew Comic Sans.

Next time you sit down to design a cover, just ignore Comic Sans.  Please.  That’s not what the font was designed for and it just doesn’t work.  Besides, if you put Comic Sans on your book cover, the other designers do get to point at you and laugh.  It’s in the rules somewhere.

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3 thoughts on “The Strange and Savage Tale of Comic Sans

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