Why We All Hate Comic Sans

Mmm, Comic Sans...

Mmm, 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.


6 Responses to “Why We All Hate Comic Sans”

  1. Atherton Bartelby Says:

    I must admit I used to be a part of that “we,” flying into rages at my last permanent design job and posting blog rants regarding my non-designer colleagues’ use of Comic Sans. But as some point in early 2006 I came across a piece written by Vincent Connare, the typographer who designed the typeface. The piece goes into great detail with regard to the specific design problems Connare was attempting to address by designing the font, as well as to the amazing amount of work and effort that went into its design.

    So although I still “hate” Comic Sans, I cannot anymore vow that I will never again use it, because someday I just may come up against the same challenges as Connare did, and it will (shockingly!) be the perfect choice for typography.

    That said, though, this was a fascinating piece. Only you could explore the culture of hate surrounding a typeface by gazing at it through Lacanian and Derridean lenses (all of your points, by the way, I completely agree with).

  2. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    Yes, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? The documentary above also mentions those facts. Thanks for the insight and link.

    I must admit I still fly at rages regarding my colleagues Comic Sans usage even though I know the big Other does not exist :) I’m opposed to banning it though. I had good old times meddling around with it at fourth grade.

    But doesn’t one curious fact remain? We can only appreciate Comic Sans once Connare has filled in the undeadness of the typeface with a professional story of typography history, as though to finally properly castrate the font with a Name-of-the-Father.

  3. I think you’ve missed an aspect of Comic Sans and Times New Roman – that is that people who choose them obviously don’t care and therefore don’t put the effort into it to look for something else. The fact they are being chosen so often is basically a perceptive limitation – when an inexperienced or just lazy user is faced with the task of choosing a font in Microsoft Word (or some other popular computer applications for that matter) their choices seem very limited and it’s interesting to me that a decision from a very small group of people inside Microsoft had that big of an impact in the basic “typographic spectrum” of our everyday life. Comic Sans is basically a consequence of the Real in Microsoft Word.

  4. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    I don’t know about that… After all, they do have a lot of choices but still use Comic Sans because the inexperienced or lazy, as you put it, thinks it’s the cutest easy-to-read font.

    A decision from a very small group to use the font as the standard for Windows 95 chat, you mean? Yes, that is interesting, although to me the more interesting question is why they choose Comic Sans in first place. Obviously at that time Microsoft views chat conversations as having a strong affinity to comic strip conversations.

    That said, “a consequence of the Real” is an excellent way to put it, because it is indeed an attempt to symbolize the unsymbolizable kernel of text: the “cute”.

  5. I have to agree that Times New Roman and Comic Sans aren’t the best typographic examples. I actually recently wrote on my website that I’ve felt tired of Times and I hate Comic Sans.

    Word has had a huge role to play in that, and nowadays school and university also play a huge role there, at least where Times New Roman is concerned.
    I, for example, only started truly using another typeface than Times New Roman a few months ago (upon my purchase of Bembo, which I prefer to Times by a long shot). I’ll still have to write my thesis in Times New Roman (though most probably I’ll do most of the work in Bembo and then change the typeface), and cannot remember a time when school or university didn’t require Times New Roman as a typeface for papers & essays.

    Fortunately, in the past few years, my closest encounters with Comic Sans have been instant messaging chats, because MSN shows other people’s choice of typeface (I’m seriously considering turning that option off in Adium). I’m surprised to see that even young adults my age use Comic Sans for that, and my general opinion is that it’s because they grew up with it being a “fun” typeface. “They’ve never known any better”, I’m tempted to say.

  6. As someone who’s never bothered to use Comic Sans EVER, it’s ridiculous to think that it must be banned based upon the over use of it. People grow up and learn it’s not the best. Hating it for design, Hating it for popularity is just being ridiculous. Banning it is just going overboard.

    Comic Books did not the use the font because they were lazy, but because they do not need overpowering nonsense taking away from the visual images. The point of graphic novels and comic books is to be able to draw a story through scenery and setup of the drawing, not the dialogue. For Advertising and Graphic Design, it’s a completely ridiculous font, but for comic books and children’s books that rely on visual images and not ridiculous analyzations of font that none of those readers are ever going to go into , especially children who are supposed to look at the pictures, but have something legible enough to read.

    I find all type faces ridiculous. Not a single one is perfect and everyone has a different perception of it too. My Typography teacher loved one poster and its use of type, but I hated it. It’s type was annoying, hard to read, and just…convoluted with obvious design choices.
    You must realize different age groups see type differently because of differing eye sights and the simplicity of it. Graphic Designers are often working with type, seeing every nuance of the single letter and its spacing. Regular people take a glance and either look for an image or the general shape of the letters (Proven to be true that we can still read something clearly based on just general shape, even if it looks fuzzy).

    Graphic Designers OFTEN think too much on the level of the minute detail and that design is set in any sort of formula. A regular person does not see this, or work with this every day. They’re not looking for anything like designers are. I think people need to think in terms of not being over used, or lazy, or whatever, but how does the regular person look at it. …So far they don’t care.

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