Comic Sans is the Crocs of fonts, here's why
Comic Sans is the font of smiles and accessibility, of nostalgia and practicality. Let’s change the narrative around it.
image Robert Kamau / Getty
words Rhys Thomas
Do you remember the first time you set your eyes on it? Those wonky, round letters with large spaces between them, all curved and unbalanced, the sort of font that Simon Garfield describes in his book Just My Type as looking like “it was written neatly by an 11-year-old”? Do you remember how every word, or perhaps even every letter, was a different colour?
The unbalanced, childlike and controversial world-renowned font Comic Sans exists because of Vincent Connare, a type designer from America who was working for Microsoft in the early '90s. In 1993, Microsoft was developing something called Microsoft Bob, which was meant to be for people who couldn’t use computers very well, including children. There were nice illustrations of cartoon dogs throughout who assisted you (like Clippy the paperclip, RIP), but the speech inside the dog’s speech bubble was in Times New Roman, a font used in newspapers which was designed back in the 1930s.
Connare felt Times New Roman was too formal for these purposes, and that Microsoft Bob's instructions for using a computer needed to be a little more fun. So using just a mouse and cursor, while looking at graphic novels Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (which includes dialogue written in the ‘comic book’ font) he developed a lettering style that would become known as Comic Sans. In the end, it wasn’t used in Microsoft Bob (and you’ve never heard of Microsoft Bob, so perhaps that’s why!), but it was used in Microsoft Movie Maker, and then released as a standalone font on Windows 95.
This put the cheerful, playful, and undeniably ugly, font at the fingertips of millions. And the world has never been the same since. Despite being intended for a pretty specific use - an accessible computer programme - Comic Sans can be seen everywhere, and is universally loathed because of it.
The hate probably started mere moments after the font was first printed out for use on a missing cat poster. When Comic Sans Pro, an improved Comic Sans which included bold and italic options, was released on April 1 2010, many assumed it was a joke. Until very recently, Comic Sans was the font of choice for primary schools and memes, nothing more. But ripples of a Comic Sans boom came back around with meme culture, and a similar handwritten aesthetic featured in absurd humour-led works by artists like David Shrigley and Babek Ganjei. In 2020, Instagram added a font to its stories that looks very, very similar to Comic Sans. But on February 23, the resurgence of Comic Sans tipped into the zeitgeist properly. That was the day youth culture magazine The Face revealed (and sparked debate for using) rainbow-coloured Comic Sans spiralling all over its cover starring Halle Bailey, and in many places throughout the entire magazine. “Me n my graphic arts degree r cryin rn” reads one Tweet, while a comment on the Instagram post says “Me using Paint to create a cool image for my newspaper article, aged 12”.
This points to the fact that Comic Sans is still deeply hated upon, at least as much as it was back in 2002, when Ban Comic Sans, "a campaign to eradicate the misuse of the font Comic Sans" came to fruition. But we shouldn’t hate on Comic Sans. And there’s many reasons why.
If we think about fonts like shoes for a second, Times New Roman is a pair of black leather shoes with a wooden sole, you can hear them coming down the corridor and it makes you stand up straight and lower your voice. Times New Roman is your headteacher. Comic Sans is a pair of light up trainers whizzing around the garden after a Tango Ice Blast. There are places it shouldn’t be seen: a gravestone, a court order, signposting medical equipment. Yet it is seen there, and we know it is wrong, and so we cringe and we enjoy mocking it.
Comic Sans is the Crocs of fonts. It is ugly, it is childish, it is often colourful, it looks soft and curved and strange. It is the antithesis to all of the lovely liquid fonts out there, a wonky alternative to the minimal clean Helvetica of the world. It is also a breath of childhood innocence against the seriousness of serif-based fonts like Times New Roman or Georgia.
Comic Sans is also a very natural typeface for the ‘ugly’ era we are all enjoying in fashion and beauty. From ugly fashion taking over Paris couture with the likes of Schiaparelli’s faux taxidermy dresses, and that red crystal dipped Doja Cat outfit. To the shoe everyone hates to love and loves to hate, but mostly loves to love for all its wrong-but-right-ness: the Margiela Tabi.
In a world that has a lot of grey and seriousness and sadness to it, it makes sense that we’re reaching for the weird and the wonderful, the strange and the uncanny, the childish and nostalgic. Comic Sans is many things, but it is never unhappy. Comic Sans is often ironic and silly, and dumb and fun, and yes, perfectly Y2K ugly. So if we’re writing this era of blotchy makeup, highlighter yellow lip-liner and all things aesthetic a la Julia Fox into the history books, there is no better font for it than Comic Sans.
And there’s more to Comic Sans than being a bit of a silly vibe. Though not intentional at the time, the design Connare came up with that he intended to help add a bit of fun to reading a screen, ended up having a few pretty remarkable effects. These effects also tell us why Comic Sans is so prevalent in schools.
A study from Princeton University in 2010 led by associate professor of psychology, Daniel Oppenheimer, has shown that people retain information better if they’re reading in fonts that are ‘harder to read’. Because of the wonkiness of Comic Sans, and the fact that many letters are different heights, it is classed as a more difficult font to read in this sense, and therefore is a font that can help us to remember more information.
Interestingly, the British Dyslexia Association actually recommends Comic Sans as part of its suggested style guide when it comes to fonts. There are fonts designed specifically for dyslexic people to use, but you won’t find them on Google Docs, so Comic Sans is one they highly recommend. Again, it has to do with the wonky lettering making it easier to focus on parts of the word.
Recently, Dyslexia Scotland launched a campaign using Comic Sans, it’s called ‘there’s nothing comic about dyslexia’ and is aiming to raise awareness about the need to design fonts and other visuals that are more inclusive.
So Comic Sans is an inclusivity legend, but above all, it is simple and happy. What more could we want in a font? Nothing. Comic Sans is perfect.
Love you, Comic Sans. x
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