The Comic Sans Comitragedy

As a designer, I often stumble into the topic of Comic Sans. Sometimes I’m pushed into it, sometimes I approach it voluntarily, but whatever its introduction it seems to come up with an inevitable and startling frequency. Partially I think this is because Comic Sans has inspired such a strong reaction within the design world that it is one of the main topic non-designers think of or already know about when they think of the world of design. (Usually brought up either right before or right after the comment “I saw this documentary the other day, all about a font! Have you heard about it? I think it was called Helvetica or something.”)

And to some extent I understand. The furor over the font has reached practically legendary proportions. Personally, I think that some of the responses and commentary are hilarious, some are actually quite intelligent and some are merely perplexing. I have listed below what I believe are some of the most noteworthy jokes, facts, and websites on the whole Comic Sans debacle. Feel free to pass them on or rely on them for your own future Comic Sans conversations. And if you know of any good ones not listed here, please share—I would love to add to my collection!

1. I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.

This delightful monologue, from the wonderful people at McSweeneys, is a strong and hilarious defense of the font’s strengths, belligerently taking on all of its detractors. Here is the beginning of the rant, and you can read it in full on the McSweeneys website.

Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.

2. You’re a Comic Sans Criminal, But We’re Here To Help You

On the other side of the debate is the beautifully designed and delightful website comicsanscriminal.com. It does the most concise and convincing job I’ve seen of explaining just what exactly is so bad about Comic Sans. I highly recommend you go check it out, and refer all your friends and family to it. The gist of its message is that there’s nothing wrong with the font itself, it’s just its chronic misuse and overuse that have ruined its reputation forever. As a font designed for children and based off of comic strips, it is an inappropriate choice for serious topics, perhaps most poignantly seen in the example of the Surrey police station’s use of Comic Sans for its rape victim information sheet (definitely not a laughing matter).

comic-sans-police

3. Googling “Helvetica”

If Comic Sans has an archenemy, a nemesis, or perhaps just a polar opposite, in style as well as in the hearts and minds of designers, it would be Helvetica. Which is why Google chose it for one of its April Fools pranks in 2011. When anyone googled the word “Helvetica” (or “Comic Sans”), the Google results page was displayed with all text written in Comic Sans. The results were truly cringe-worthy, and got a lot of notice and chuckles.

www.google.com-2011-4-1-12-41

4. Comic Sans Pro?!

At the same time as said famous April Fools Prank, a more serious development was going down in the world of Comic Sans. Monotype Imaging announced the release of their new typeface, Comic Sans Pro. Available for the low price of $120, the newly upgraded typeface will now provide swashes, alternates, and comic-themed icons.

Comic Sans Pro Font Specimen
Comic Sans Pro Font Specimen

“But the company wasn’t taking itself too seriously. The typeface is good for scrapbooking and school projects, but that’s not all, said Allan Haley, director of words and letters at Monotype Imaging. “Comic Sans is also a favorite in professional environments, used in medical information, instructions, ambulance signage, college exams, corporate mission statements, and executive reprimands–even public letters from sports team owners to their fans,” he said. “Breaking up with your spouse? Why not write a letter in Comic Sans Pro, embellished with a typographic whack!, pow! or bam! Comic Sans is everywhere, and now it’s even better.”” (read the full cnet article here). It’s nice to know that the publishers know exactly how ridiculous the typeface is!

But my problem with this whole situation is that the only people I know who are even aware that typefaces can be bought, nonetheless actually have bought them, are designers. And Comic Sans has such a strong stigma attached to it, that no designer can ever really feel comfortable about using it. So who, exactly, is the target audience for this new typeface?! I’m sure I don’t know. Coincidentally, if you feel inspired to purchase Comic Sans Pro, it is available here.

5. The Personal Tragedy of Comic Sans

The saddest part of Comic Sans, to me, is the type designer who created it. Vincent Connare, who designed Comic Sans in all of a week, has never received the recognition for any of his other typefaces that Comic Sans has gotten.

“Mr. Connare, 48 years old, now works at Dalton Maag, a typography studio in London, and finds his favorite creation—a sophisticated typeface called Magpie—eclipsed by Comic Sans. He cringes at the most improbable manifestations of his Frankenstein’s monster font and rarely uses it himself, but he says he tries to be polite when he meets people excited to be in the presence of the creator. Googling himself, he once found a Black Sabbath band fan site that used Comic Sans. The site’s creators even credited him. “You can’t regulate bad taste,” he says.”

The rest of the article on the Wall Street Journal is really interesting, and I highly recommend reading it. Being the creator of a widely-reviled typeface is a bizarre legacy for a type designer to live with. I imagine it would be rather disappointing from a career standpoint too.

Just some food for thought on the ever-present Comic Sans. I’d love to hear your thoughts, responses, comments, or any additions to my list.

The Story Is Starting! A Review of The Silent History

I am more excited about The Silent History app than any other app I’ve seen in a long time. Ostensibly a novel, The Silent History is an ebook for iPhone and iPad that unfolds only over both time and place, transforming the reading experience from a passive experience into one of participation and exploration.

20121003-144232.jpg

A collaborative project with many contributors, it is in part the brainchild of Eli Horowitz, managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s. Apparently Horowitz has brought his expertise in pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a book or a magazine into the digital realm. It is hard to know yet how successful he has been in pulling this off, as the book has only released three days of content so far:

20121003-143721.jpg

So how exactly does The Silent Histories work? Good question! The Silent Histories is the only book I’ve purchased that comes with an extensive FAQ section.

20121003-143640.jpg

I’m still discovering exactly what it is myself, but I think at its most basic it is a novel that is being released in segments. The whole story line is broken up into six volumes and within each volume, individual segments will be released one each day until that volume is finished. So far in the three segments released I’ve been introduced to Theodore Green (a new father), Nancy Jernick (a new mother), and August Burnham (a doctor specializing in Childhood Disintegrative Disorder). The book’s description says it will track the emergence of a new generation of children with a communication disorder that no one has seen before. In fact, at a basic level it reminds me a bit of the book Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear that also deals with a whole generation of children being born with unusual characteristics.

But the book is not merely a serially published novel. In addition to having content released over time (referred to as Testimonials) the app/novel also has content released only in certain places. Referred to as Field Notes, these additions to the story line are tied to a physical place and are only available when the reader is in close physical proximity to that place. The app’s full description of field notes is the following:

“The Field Reports are short, site-specific accounts that deepen and expand the central narrative, written and edited in collaboration with the readers of the Testimonials. To access and comprehend a Field Report, the reader must be physically present in the location where the Report is set. Reports are deeply entwined with the particularities of their specific physical environments — the stains on the sidewalk, the view between the branches, a strangely ornate bannister, etc — so that the text and the actual setting support and enhance each other. Each of these reports can be read on its own, but they all interrelate and cohere within the larger narrative.”

What is perhaps even more intriguing than the fact that they are tied to physical location is the fact that readers can edit or add to them. Reading The Silent Histories is in fact a participatory act.

Will The Silent History forever change what it means to be a book? We’ll see. The news media is going crazy over it, and of all the apps I’ve seen that play with the possibilities offered in new ebook technology (and I’ve looked at quite a few), this is by far the most amazing and exciting. So what is my answer? It quite possibly could change the definition and experience of reading a book. And I’m looking forward to it.

What do you think?