The Return of Comic Sans


Written by Dan Haze
03 Wednesday 03rd January 2018


Outrage is the currency of our time and never has a public figure's ability to cause anger been so transferable into influence than in 2018. Trump, Hopkins, Farage and Coulter often vie for the top spot, their vitriolic rhetoric dominates global networks. Yet none of these can create the same backlash, the same level of hatred that a few unmodulated strokes can, in just a matter of words.


Much like fashion, typeface is a way of expressing yourself. Now there are a lot of fonts for us to choose from. There are boring fonts and ugly fonts, but none became as ubiquitous or divisive as Comic Sans. Designed in 1994 by Vincent Connare after Melinda Gates asked him to create a font for a cartoon dog in Microsoft Bob. Previously ‘voiced’ by Times New Roman, Connare thought that the dog needed a more child friendly print. He invented Comic Sans after taking inspiration from the font used in comic books. In the end it wasn't used for Microsoft Bob but was subsequently released as a font choice on all Microsoft products making it readily available to millions.


The birth of Comic Sans also coincided with one of the most important design revolutions of recent memory. The release of Microsoft Office turned the average Joe (gender was a thing back then) into their very own design and publishing agency. A gap was created in between people’s new found ability to mass-print and their desire for it to be personable and individual. Comic Sans was the obvious choice for posters, flyers and print outs as it perfectly encapsulated the kind of colloquial styling needs of the many. It meant that seemingly overnight Comic Sans was everywhere.  


Comic Sans proved that design works, it taught the public that type means more than words and gave everyone the chance to be a personal publisher. Despite this, or maybe because of it designers across the globe were the first to denounce the new font. Typographically speaking Comic Sans is sans satisfying design. The mismanagement of visual weight is the main issue that makes reading Comic Sans an unpleasant experience for designers. It is not a calculated precise font like Times New Roman, but it's not like organic handwriting either. It exists in a space between the economic and the organic, the man made and the natural, you could say it falls into the “uncanny valley”. The same space in which Polar Express and Sophia the Robot linger which creep people out.


Comic was famously overused and comically misused by the public which lead to its current status as public enemy number one, its been the subject of a hate campaign for nearly 20 years now, there's even an online kill Comic Sans game. Hated by the professionals, forced into the shadows of Word and branded indefinitely inappropriate will Comic Sans ever return from its liminal space and rejoin the mainstream?


Looking to the future as well as the past it would seem that the answer to this question is yes. Adrian Frutiger once compared typeface designers to dress makers, as both are forms of self expression. It would seem likely then, for Comic Sans to make its return to the zeitgeist through a fashion, as it’s unlikely that the design world will readily accept it back into the fold.


For comparison lets study the trajectory of another much meligured modern creation. With a similar childish aesthetic and predilection for overexposure, emojis went from a creative, tech shorthand to a pillar of modern society that many detested. Starting as a way to show sentiment and passion emojis soon became the go to font of the masses. Hitting peak annoyance this summer when their eponymously titled film was released it seemed like it was the end for the text titans. The little credibility that emojis ever had was gone completely.The blockbuster made them even more accessible than they were before, devaluing them exponentially. But fast forward a few months and emojis can be found in the latest collection of the first fashion house on the left for re-appropriation: Vetements.     


However, it's not just that Comic Sans could be fashionably unfashionable, it has a story. People have forgotten what Comic Sans stands for; it's arguably a bastion of self expression and to use it is a form of active rebellion against the status quo.  It shares the same fairytale story of over exposure and misuse of so many institutions that we now covet; Burberry, The Kardashians, Bieber and so on. Comic Sans is dangerous and surprisingly ‘edgy’ for such a soft font. It's a threat to the elitist typographical design world and challenges our antiquated ideals of appropriateness: why can’t it be used on a gravestone? Why can’t we think outside of the text box?


Due to the cyclical nature of fashion and our obsession with retrospection along with designer’s yearning to create the edge before its sanded down, it's only a matter of time before Comic Sans is reappropriated to be the new must have font. So don’t sit by and wait for Vetements to start using it or Supreme to do a collaboration with Microsoft, reclaim Comic Sans for what it was and will always be: the People’s Font.

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