Some of you may have heard that Comic sans, a font some might call iconic, is among the typography inventions most hated by graphic designers. It has gained a rapid immense popularity almost as fast as it has become the worst enemy of graphic design professionals. Why is that? Read on to find out the story behind Comic sans!
Comic sans – the font’s origins
When Bill Gates gave us Microsoft, he did not only give the world arguably the most popular operating system in history, but also one of the most hated fonts ever. The Comic sans font was designed by the typeface designer Vincent Connare, who came up with the idea while browsing through the Windows 1995 frontend Microsoft BOB. One of the characteristic elements of that operating system was the yellow puppy called Rover, who communicated with the users through comic speech bubbles. The messages in the bubbles were typed with the standard Times New Roman font, however, Connare thought that the ordinary serif typeface didn’t go well with the content of children’s comics and went on to invent a new, more suitable one.
While creating the font, Connare was inspired by various comic books, notably ‘Watchmen’, and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, telling the story of Batman. The Comic sans font was launched in August 1995 along with the Windows 95 Plus Pack. For over 25 years it has been included in all of the later versions of the Microsoft operating system. Over time, the font made its way also to the Internet Explorer browser as well as other software, for example Microsoft Publisher. On top of that, several versions have been created, for example Chalkboard (launched in 2002) by Apple, who had been previously using the Microsoft font in their iCards service for sending e-cards.
What makes Comic sans so popular?
The first few years since the creation of this comic typeface saw a rapid growth of its popularity, much like it had been the case for Helvetica. Comic sans was everywhere, popping up on restaurant banners, billboards, building signs or birthday and other occasion cards. And not just that – the font started being spotted even on ambulance cars or police announcements! Over time, the intrusive presence and pervasive visibility of the font began to meet with the disapproval of typeface and graphic designers, lamenting over the way it was being used.
Comic sans is by definition childish and informal. It brings to mind children’s comic books, but that didn’t stop it from being used on signboards, posters and leaflets of serious companies or institutions. It was precisely that overuse of the font that contributed to Comic sans acquiring an unfavourable reputation, and being considered ridiculous and cringy, much like those using it.
Soon after, a new font, Ban Comic Sans, came to life, created by a couple of Indianapolis graphic designers, Dave and Holly Combs, who were fed up with the horrible Connare’s font and its exaggerated ubiquity.
According to its creators, Ban Comic Sans is an outcry against Comic sans and a statement of rejection of the font and what was considered a lack of respect for the quality, traditions and established standards of typography, particularly in the context of the misuse of fonts and styles. Ban Comic Sans exists until today, but its creators have softened their stance and begun to emphasise rather the importance of aesthetic education. In their manifesto, however, one can still find explicit statements about Comic sans being the ‘evil of typographical ignorance’.
Comic sans – fun facts
The Comic sans font has provoked outrage and revolt among graphic designers. One would think, then, that it wouldn’t be used too often, but surprisingly the case seems to be the opposite. It boasts a huge popularity until today, so much so that it has earned its own holiday in some countries! In the Netherlands, Comic Sans Day is celebrated on the first Friday of July every year. On that day, radio presenters encourage their audiences to use exclusively the infamous Comic sans font.
In 2013, the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines revamped their website, editing the entirety of the content so that it is typed in Comic sans. On top of that, a peculiar offer was launched, where every person called C. Sans would win free flights. Also in 2013, on the official website of the Vatican, a special tribute to the Pope Benedict XVI was published, typed entirely in Comic sans. Another fun fact is that the font has spawned its very own fan song recorded by the organisers of the #22songs initiative on YouTube. The song goes:
Comic Sans is the best font in the world
If you want your designs to look like they’re done by little girls
Comic Sans, best used in moderation
Come on join me, the Comic Sans Nation
Controversial? Perhaps. What do you think about the Comic sans font? Are you willing to acknowledge the respect it deserves?