There’s one font that is almost universally reviled. Just the sight of it causes people to cringe in disgust. You know exactly what font I’m talking about (even if you ignore the title.) Why does everyone hate Comic Sans?
Comic Sans is one of those fonts that seem to have been around forever. It’s as iconic as Times New Roman and Arial in the font world. Who created Comic Sans? Was it always as hated as it is today? Let’s learn about the ugly duckling of fonts.
Who Created Comic Sans?
The origin of Comic Sans is intertwined with another much-maligned Microsoft product: Microsoft Bob. While Microsoft Bob failed so quickly that many people don’t even remember it, Comic Sans has lived on.
Microsoft Bob was a wildly re-imagined desktop interface made for Windows 95. People could create their own virtual “rooms” that acted as desktops, and guiding them through everything were cartoon companions.
The companions used speech bubbles to communicate with the user. Microsoft designer Vincent Connare saw an early version of Bob that used Times New Roman in these bubbles, and he felt that it was too formal for the playful aesthetic. He went to work on designing a new font.
The inspiration for Comic Sans’ design has been hiding in plain sight all along. Upon seeing the ill-fitted Times New Roman in Bob, Connare pulled out two comic books that he had in his office, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
Connare based Comic Sans off of the lettering in these two comic books, and within a week, he had finished the font, having drawn it on his Mac computer. That’s right, Comic Sans was created on a Mac. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready in time to be included with Microsoft Bob in August of 1995.
Comic Sans’ Big Break
Comic Sans missed the boat on Bob, but the programmers of another Microsoft product took notice. Microsoft 3D Movie Maker also used cartoon guides who spoke with speech bubbles. It was designed for children, and Comic Sans was a perfect fit.
Microsoft 3D Movie Maker was launched in 1995, with Comic Sans as the font for the speech bubbles. It was later downgraded to only the pop-up windows and help sections, but by then, Windows had already been infected with Comic Sans.
(You can see Comic Sans in a speech bubble at 2:48)
Microsoft Plus! was an optional service pack that included additional games, themes, and programs for Windows 95. Comic Sans was one of the bundled fonts that came with the pack. It was later included as one of the default fonts in the standard version of Windows 95.
Connare says that he never expected Comic Sans to be used in applications that weren’t intended for children. He couldn’t predict how popular it would be. Nowadays, Comic Sans is installed as a default font on the majority of computers worldwide.
Why Does Comic Sans Look Like That?
Comic Sans is one of the most identifiable fonts on the planet. Many people who have no experience with graphic design can instantly spot it. So what gives it that distinct look?
As previously mentioned, Vincent Connare was inspired by comic books, which is where the “Comic” in Comic Sans comes from. The lettering is meant to mimic the handwritten text that’s often seen in comic books.
Technically speaking, Comic Sans is categorized as a sans-serif typeface. While it’s also referred to as “script,” it’s non-connecting, meaning that the letters don’t connect like they might in real-world handwriting.
Microsoft describes Comic Sans as “casual but legible.” Legibility is an important characteristic of Comic Sans. Many script fonts are more elaborate with connecting lines and providing extra flair. Comic Sans isn’t as stiff and formal as Arial, yet it’s still very easy to read.
All of this has contributed to Comic Sans’ popularity. It’s the font of choice when people are trying to convey a message as friendly and casual. There are only so many built-in fonts to choose from, and Comic Sans clearly stands out from the formal fonts.
Of course, anything that’s widely used will have its detractors, and Comic Sans is certainly no exception.
The Case Against Comic Sans
The hate for Comic Sans far surpasses any other font. You see, the people who hate Comic Sans don’t just avoid using it, they’ve organized a whole movement against it.
In 1999, still early on in the life of Comic Sans, two Indianapolis graphic designers created a website titled “Ban Comic Sans.” The movement was started when an employer insisted that they use Comic Sans on a museum exhibit.
The duo’s main argument against Comic Sans is that the typeface often doesn’t convey the emotion of the message. For example, a “Do Not Enter” sign in Comic Sans sends mixed signals. It’s stern, yet playful.
The comic book artist responsible for the inspiration for the font has even weighed in. Dave Gibbons, an artist who worked on Watchmen, said, “I think it’s a particularly ugly letter form.”
The “Ban Comic Sans” website has since died, but there are still movements against it out there today. “Comic Sans Criminal,” for example, explains the humble origins of the font as well as its incorrect use. The site even lists alternative comic book fonts that you can use.
The Most Misunderstood Font
What does all of this tell us about Comic Sans? Well, it’s the story of a font that is simply misunderstood.
Comic Sans was not created to be part of a handful of fonts available to every computer user on Earth. It was designed for a niche use-case, but it ended up being shoved into primetime.
Another problem is that there aren’t really any great alternatives to Comic Sans. If you look at the list of default fonts included in Windows, Comic Sans stands out. The other fonts are either bland and formal or too fancy.
Lucida Handwriting, for instance, is a nice simple script font, but it’s actually just cursive with connecting lines. You lose legibility with cursive fonts. Comic Sans is the clear go-to if you want something casual, but not too casual.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what Comic Sans was designed for or how it’s supposed to be used. Comic Sans is at the mercy of those who use it. As long as it’s included on computers, it will remain a popular font.