041: We Meet Again, Comic Sans: An Incomplete History of Type
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Name: Comic Sans
Release Date: 1994
Designers: Vincent Connare
Classification: Sans serif script
Owned By: Microsoft Corporation
Claim to Fame: The world’s most loved-to-be-hated typeface.
It’s been nearly 500 days since Comic Sans and I had our initial rendezvous in this podcast’s very first episode in 2019... it’s about time we meet again, Comic Sans.
I’m going to continue where I left off from in episode 1, filling in the gaps and tracing this typeface’s history, telling the interesting story of how it came to live and breathe and take over the world.
Comic Sans was developed inside the walls of Microsoft Corporation. Type designer, Vincent Connare, worked for Microsoft and it was within these walls that Comic Sans (originally called ‘Comic Book’) was born.
It started out innocently enough. It was the mid-1990’s. Vincent got his hands on an unreleased trial copy of software called Microsoft Bob. This software was designed to be user-friendly word processing and finance manager. Vincent did not like one specific thing about Bob; namely the typeface used by Rover, the software’s helper dog. His speech text was set in Times New Roman and it felt cold in a space that was designed to feel warm and inviting. Vincent convinced the Bob team to help him revamp the typeface. He worked within software called Macromedia Fontographer and manipulated the letters until he landed on a style that worked. He sent over the type design to the people working on Bob, but he got some bad news… Bob had been designed to fit Times New Roman’s measurements. Comic Sans was slightly larger and it couldn’t be substituted in.
Microsoft Bob was canned one year after it’s release.
Maybe if they’d used Comic Sans we would all be happily sitting in this cozy library, clunking away on our 1990’s spreadsheets today.
But it wasn’t all sad news for Vincent. After all, Comic Sans is now EVERYWHERE.
Soon after it’s design, Microsoft adopted Comic Sans for Microsoft Movie Maker and it was a hit. Comic Sans was also included as one of the typefaces in Windows 95 so anyone could now choose to use it.
Joint authors of a book about the social history of the sticker, called Peel, Holly and David Combs, met and fell in love over their passion for fonts, and specifically, their distaste for Comic Sans. The two even started a mail-order business with ‘Ban Comic Sans’ mugs, hats and t-shirts.
The duo have said this: “When designing a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign, the use of a heavy-stroked, attention-commanding font such as Impact or Arial Black is appropriate. Typesetting such a message in Comic Sans would be ludicrous… analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.”
In an interview about The Story Behind Comic Sans for fonts.com, type legend Ilene Strizver interviewed Vincent Connare asking him some very important questions to get to the heart of the typeface. When asked about individuals who dislike Comic Sans, Vincent had this to say: “I think most of them secretly like Comic Sans — or at least wish they had made it. Interesting fact: the main designer at Twitter tweeted that the most server space is used by complaints about: first, airlines; second, Comic Sans; and third, Justin Bieber. So not even The Bieber can beat Comic Sans!”
One final note about the designer, Vincent Connare.
He’s gone on to design other notable typefaces, including Trebuchet. Both Comic Sans and Trebuchet have been regarded as excellent typefaces to use to help individuals who are dyslexic. Both typefaces provide enough unique attributes of each letterform that the d’s and b’s + p’s and q’s are easily distinguishable from one another, making it less likely to flip characters and read them backwards. Comic Sans (dare I say it!) is actually an accessible choice.
Vincent has taken all of this fame (primarily that he’s loved to be hated) in a good-spirited way. Here’s what he has to say about preferences to his most famous typeface: “If you love Comic Sans, you don’t know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”
And finally... Comic Sans walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve your type’.
Thank you Mr. Connare, for your important contributions to an incomplete history of type. From the middle ages to the Middle East, from Futura to Freight, thanks for joining us on a journey across the type universe and going where no designer has gone before… next up: a place where Batman and Barack Obama have a crossover episode - it’s GOTHAM.
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