Why We All Hate Comic Sans
It is a very interesting fact that a single font could create phenomena to such extents, spurring their own hate groups on one side (mostly designers) and being loved by another (mostly amateurs). What is it with Comic Sans? I am of course not asking about typography history or other things that make man’s love-hate relationship with the font contingent to historical events, as many would. Instead, a much more interesting question would be: is there something inside the font itself that makes it possess such a property?
What is typography? Here I would refer again to a Lacanian textual analysis. Is not typography that which is precisely an excess to the meaning of a word — that which remains, rather incessantly, after we get the entire meaning of the word? In this sense, typography may be considered the voice of the movable type, insofar as it is a ladder to get to meaning, but useless after we achieve meaning itself (I am here referring to the definition of voice by Mladen Dolar in his book A Voice and Nothing More).
Good typography, then, like the good art of voicing, may be compared to music, the music of written words — in Lacanian terms, its jouis-sense, enjoyment-in-meaning, enjoy-meant. Is, Comic Sans, then, bad typographical music? Why so? The first thing most of us associate Comic Sans with is childishness, immaturity, and non-professionalism. Comic Sans is thus like an annoying children’s music (it may not be a coincidence that many people I know who loathe the font also do not have that strong an affinity with children). This can be excellent, of course, in the right context.
What is the right context? As the name suggests: comics. Following comic art theory (read with Lacan), comics depict subjects drawn simply or use a lot of shadows to maintain the character’s subjective attachment — to put it simply, a lack, an unregulated place for the object little a, to maintain the little other. Is this not also precisely the case with Comic Sans, that there is too much room for subjective attachment due to its inherent lack in design?
In what sense can we talk about this? Let us now borrow a term from Derrida: that of undecidability. Comic Sans is precisely undecidable on the category it tries to occupy: On one side, there are the more professional fonts: Times New Roman, Helvetica, etc. On the other side, there are the obviously decorative fonts ranging from script-like cursive fonts to Wingdings, with Jokerman and the like somewhere in the middle. Does not Comic Sans lie precisely in the middle — not as a compromise between the two, but as a kind of spectral object that leans towards both ends simultaneously, just as a good Derridean undecidable object would do?
Comic Sans is thus the undecidable object of typography, an undead type. As such, there is a huge gaping void of lack, a spectral appearance of the object-cause of desire that on one hand captures the heart of sixth-grade first-time presenters, and on the other freaks professional designers out.
(But why is my title “Why We All Hate Comic Sans” if I acknowledge that some people love the font? The reason is tautological — is it not, today, to be considered a “we” in the digital age, we have to be more professional and shun Comic Sans for good? We all hate Comic Sans because the big Other does — we must hate Comic Sans.)
I’ll leave you with a video to give you more idea of the undecidability of our undead font. Feel free to comment your thoughts away.