Comic Sans Font Examined

Over at The Beat this week, Heidi MacDonald linked to a Wall Street Journal article about Vincent Connare, the designer of the COMIC SANS font found on most Windows PCs (and users of Microsoft products on other platforms). The font has long been a subject of hate and scorn by designers, computer users, and comics fans in particular, and the post on The Beat sparked many comments, the best of which was by Lee Hester:

My chief complaint is that it is not suitable for doing comics, yet every brain-dead newspaper graphics person in the world uses it as the default font when they are laying out a ad for a comic book event. Then I have to give each one a schooling.

“How can it not be for comics, if It’s called COMIC SANS?” they cry.

“Have you ever seen a comic book, or have you ever looked at a comic strip like the ones they run in YOUR OWN NEWSPAPER?”, I Say. “Does any of the lettering you see in those strips remotely resemble Microsoft Comic Sans?”, I ask.

“Well, er, no.” They allow.

I’ve had to go through this countless times. Now I just nip it in the bud and discuss fonts in advance and tell them that MSCS is strictly prohibited.

Perhaps if you wanted to show a little kid who was trying to do comic book lettering it would do. Otherwise, it’s useless for any purpose.

Remember the “Extrosion” Comic Con in Las Vegas? Remember what a disaster that was? I knew in advance that it would fail. They used Comic Sans for their logo. That was enough evidence to know that the whole enterprise was doomed from the start.

Comic Sans is not for comics.
It needs a name change.

I suggest:
Microsoft Elementary School Sans
(MESS, for short.)

Well said, Lee!

In the Wall Street Journal article, Connare describes his moment of inspiration thus:

The proliferation of Comic Sans is something of a fluke. In 1994, Mr. Connare was working on a team at Microsoft creating software that consumers eventually would use on home PCs. His designer’s sensibilities were shocked, he says, when, one afternoon, he opened a test version of a program called Microsoft Bob for children and new computer users. The welcome screen showed a cartoon dog named Rover speaking in a text bubble. The message appeared in the ever-so-sedate Times New Roman font.

Mr. Connare says he pulled out the two comic books he had in his office, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen,” and got to work, inspired by the lettering and using his mouse to draw on a computer screen. Within a week, he had designed his legacy.

There are many things about the Comic Sans font which make it wrong for comics, and I’ll get to them, but first, let’s compare most of the alphabets from Connare’s two sources with the font. In the left column are characters scanned from WATCHMEN, lettering by Dave Gibbons. In the middle are characters from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, lettering by John Costanza. At the right are characters from Comic Sans.

alphabetsrev

Keep in mind that the first two columns are many times removed from the actual original hand-lettering, and are further reduced in quality by my scanning it at a low enough resolution to use here. That said, I see much more style and consistency in both Dave and John’s letterforms than in Comic Sans, the result of many years of practice. Add in the fact that Connare created his letters by drawing them with a mouse on a computer screen, a notoriously difficult way to draw anything, and you can understand why they look the way they do. You can sit anyone down in front of a printed alphabet and ask them to copy it, but the result isn’t likely to look nearly as good as the original. Make them draw with clumsy tools, and the result will be even worse.

tkupperlowerrev

Another way that Comic Sans falls short is in the way it’s set up. Here are upper case (top row) and lower case (bottom row) characters from one of my own computer fonts made from my hand-lettering. A different set of characters or glyphs is used for each, for variety, which is especially helpful when typing a word with pairs of the same letter, like assassin. More important, compare the upper case and lower case I. The upper case one, with serifs, should only be used for the personal pronoun I and contractions like I’ll and I’m. The rest of the time you use the sans-serif lower case i, which the font Comic Sans doesn’t have. Using lower case in Comic Sans gives you actual lower case letters:

sanslowercaserev

Not bad looking ones, actually, I like them better than the upper case. There are certainly comics fonts that use lower case, but the vast majority of comics throughout their history have used all upper-case letters.

davejohnbolditalrev

Another thing comics lettering usually requires is a way to show emphasis, generally using a Bold Italic version of the same alphabet. Above are emphasized words from Dave and John from the two comics sampled. John’s is a lot thinner and less bold, but still works to set it apart in context.

sansboldrev

The only option in Comic Sans is the Bold version, which is the same alphabet made a little thicker and heavier.  Not really enough of a difference to work well. And, look at the huge gap between the T and A in TANGLED, an indication that the font was never kerned correctly, something required for good design with any font.

Comic Sans fails on every level, and I think deserves the scorn it’s gotten. Only the fact that it comes with so many Microsoft products, making it easy for the design deaf to turn to, has kept it prevalent. Computer users beware, Comic Sans is nothing more than a way to label yourself clueless about comics, fonts, and good design.

59 thoughts on “Comic Sans Font Examined

  1. Pingback: 4thletter! » Blog Archive » Todd Klein on Comic Sans

  2. Meaghan

    Interesting post! It always bothers me when people use Comic Sans in a comics-related situation, especially given that it’s now possible to download fonts that actually do look like comic book fonts all over the internet.

    The worst use I’ve ever seen of Comic Sans, though, was on a flyer advertising a seminar about how to build a better resume. The first tip there should be “Don’t use Comic Sans,” so why would anyone take a seminar from the person who made that flyer? Puzzling.

    I’m a big fan of your work, by the way. :)

  3. Lee

    Todd,

    It’s great to read your detailed analysis of the failings of Comic Sans. I’m pleased to know that there was a rational basis to my aversion.

    Mr. Connare says, “if you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”

    I guess the both of us need another hobby!

    Shall we take up Bagpipes?

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  5. Tateru Nino

    I must admit, I’ve never used Comic Sans. I’ve flipped past it a couple times when I was looking for a suitable webcomic typeface. I never considered using it though – I really just didn’t like the look of it against the page.

  6. Felicity

    Comic Sans certainly shouldn’t be used for comic lettering or or professional documents. However, as its own font, it doesn’t look that bad, at least in mixed case.

    IMHO the only good *free* comic lettering font is ACME Explosive. The other free comic lettering fonts look weird. There are of course pay fonts which look good: Whizbang and Gibbons, for example.

  7. Todd Post author

    I was with you until “Whizbang,” Felicity. I’ve never cared for it, perhaps because it was so overused when it first came out. Both Comicraft and Blambot have many comics lettering fonts for sale that work well, in my opinion. Free ones are generally worth what you pay for them.

  8. Laura

    The most suitable use of Comic Sans I’ve ever seen is on Pharyngula, where Myers uses it when quoting the hateful or unintelligent (or both). Thanks for your insight here, it helps explain why CS is such a poor font.

  9. Scott T.

    I teach grade three and it is a great font for kids because the ‘a’ is right, not that odd a that is showing up on my monitor right now.

    Of course I agree that it should be nowhere near a comic.

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  12. Adam

    Todd,

    Great post – thanks! Also, the image of TDK/Watchmen/ComicSans fonts side-by-side wasn’t working for me – is there a chance you could re-link it? I’m really curious to see what it all looks like together!

    Thanks!

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  14. A P

    I wonder if Connare also designed the lower-case letters as well. My recollection is fuzzy, but I think Comic Sans was upper-case only when it was introduced and the remainder was added later.

    It would explain why the lower-case looks better, and I agree with you that it does — almost like a different font.

  15. GL

    Pretty hard to tell the difference between fonts when there are no fonts to look at [e.g. blank images]

  16. Todd Post author

    The links are there, one other person reported a similar problem, having to do with the particular browser they were using, probably. Try Firefox.

  17. Tyson D.

    I find that fonts tend to blur together in direct correlation to the amount of beer that the reader consumes.

    In conclusion, if you want to make Comic Sans look sexier, break out the booze.

  18. Dusty

    I think in principle, the font works. The idea of creating a font that looks like comic book lettering, is sound. The issue might be two-fold. One: if someone earns their living by lettering comic books, this font certainly poses a threat to their livelihood. I think then, any font that would be created, would be up for criticism and attacks on the creator.

    Second: perhaps more importantly, there is a lack of immediacy to the design of the characters. They appear more static and less organic then the actual hand rendered font. Compare each character individually and you’ll see what I mean. Line weights are a problem and “angle” of the letters is also an issue. I think a more keen eye, and giving multiple variations on each character would make this a more acceptable font. Actually, it doesn’t deserve to be bashed as much as it has been. There are certainly alot worse fonts out there.

  19. Todd Post author

    Well, Dusty, I do make my living lettering comic books, and I use computer fonts of my own based on my hand lettering. No one at the established comics companies would use Comic Sans in any of their products because there are much MUCH better fonts for the same purpose available for sale from vendors like Comicraft and Blambot. I don’t criticize those fonts because, by and large, I like them. Comic Sans is mostly used by those who don’t know much about comics or comics lettering and haven’t taken the time to educate themselves on the subject. Those people are no threat to me, I would merely consider my original post as a chance to inform them. What they do or don’t do after that is their business.

  20. saidestroyer

    if there is an official campaing to ban comic sans, count me in
    editorial vid (mexico) uses it to letter their comicbooks. it’s a crime i have to pay for THAT so i can read comics in spanish

  21. Nef

    I did not realize all this but I knew for sure of one additional reason not to like it. The space between lines is too big, making it almost impossible to write any text without using a ridiculously small font size or taking the whole panel for text. There are ways to alter line spacing, but at the time when I tried this font, I did not know how to do it, so I discarded it.

    I use a diferent font for my comic now and am very pleased with it.

  22. Vincent Connare

    I would like to add that copying the actual comic books would be Illegal (in Europe) or at least in America it would be unethical. And as an experienced type designer I respect that.

    This is why I manually drew the letters with the mouse to get the ‘flavour’ of the lettering in Watchmen and not scan or copy. This is why Comic Sans is not exactly the same as Comic hand lettering. It was made for a software product and it is a ‘typeface in an alphabet in a straight jacket’, a quote by Alan Fletcher. Since computers started being used experimentally in comics in the 1980s the use of fonts has never proven satisfactory. The irregularities that are in most letters are difficult to recapture in font files (even with OpenType substitution or the random code provide by the PostScript language).

    Comic San was never meant to replace comic book hand lettering or match that style exactly. It was intended to be different from the beginning.

    vincent

  23. Pingback: How Comic Sans Works – the font people love to hate – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks

  24. Bryan Broussard

    Thank you for a thoughtful and useful explanation of WHY Comic Sans is not a useful font.

    I just googled ‘why is comic sans bad’ and yours was the first result that EXPLAINED why it is not a font to be used, rather than just flaming the font.

    Thank you again!

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  26. Peter V Cook

    Another important point is about how droopy Comic Sans is. Take a look at letters like B E F P R from the sample above. The real comic book lettering slopes up, while Comic Sans version of those same letters just appear limp.

    Is it any wonder that Microsoft Bob and Comic Sans were separated at birth?

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  30. Jackie

    I’ve always hated Comic Sans. The only time I’ve found it useful is in very small amounts on one daycare website I did once. Other than that, there’s many, many more fonts that work better.

    The unfortunate thing that I’ve begun noticing is that Calibri has become the new Comic Sans.

  31. angie

    i agree with you on your points, but i am confused by what you mean when you say “A different set of characters or glyphs is used for each, for variety, which is especially helpful when typing a word with pairs of the same letter, like assassin.” are you saying it’s not a fixed font? or is it that when using lowercase “caps” it looks slightly different than the actual caps?

  32. Todd Post author

    Yes, there are different examples of each letter in the upper and lower case slots for each alphabetical character in a real comic book font. See those from Blambot or Comicraft for examples.

  33. Tanu

    Whether or not, it was meant to be used in Comics, or whether it is used…..is not the matter.
    Why people love Comic Sans, is very very simple.Look at all the fonts available with Microsoft. All look so alien, so digital…….and suddenly one font, looks so friendly, so much like us, as if we had written it yourself!!
    The curves, the impact, is all so sweet, which is why kids and normal people love it. Fine, they may not be great designers. But the number of people who are not designers is larger. It is a font that a common man or woman or child can REALLY relate to.
    I havent seen the similar smooth edges in any other fonts that come in default.
    People use it everywhere, it gives you the power to be different yet humble, creative yet friendly.
    The reason why urgent notices have the font is, that people will RATHER SEE IT than a normal font.
    Before French Script or Rage Italic or Bradley Hand or even Seigo Script were there, it was the best one could have close to a handwriting like font!
    Everyone has an opinion. I am afraid, I think it’s really good and never deserves this hate. Anyone who has ever admired it, means the person has the dare to be different, creatice and friendly to choose it over the screeching fonts, that are so unsympathetic, insensitive and seem to be without any life; absolutely inanimate.

    P.S: The word “comic” in it, makes it even more relatable and amusing, especially for youngsters, whether or not, it is actually used there.

  34. Todd Post author

    Hi Tanu,

    They say every book is someone’s favorite, and the same is true of fonts. The key statement here, though, is “all the fonts available with Microsoft.” If you aren’t willing to look further than that, your font world is very limited indeed.

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  45. karen patrick

    I use Comic Sans every chance I get. I prefer it, mainly becuse the obnoxious twits who “hate” it get irked when I do. They will just have to get over themselves. Comic Sans will *never* get banned, so get used to it.

  46. Petros Tsanlaredes

    Thank you for the thoughtful article: Comic Sans Font Examined.

    I am curious as to where you stand on other fonts aside from Comic Sans in place of hand lettering in general? I can’t glean from the article as to how you might feel about a well designed font and its use in comics.

    And what about fonts that are created by the letterer him or herself from their own hand lettering — would that change the equation in any way?

    Thank you,
    Petros

  47. Todd Post author

    Comics fonts designed for that purpose are fine, I use mine all the time. Commercial fonts from Comicraft and Blambot are generally excellent for lettering comics.

  48. Sauvik Biswas

    I had earlier bought the facsimile edition of three Tintin albums – Tintin in America, The Cigars of Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus. These editions were published by Casterman. I have no idea why these guys have decided to use Comic Sans and ruin the presentation.
    Here is a sample scan from Tintin in America

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