Is Comic Sans really a bad font?


…do you even  have to ask?

i get the SitePoint newsletter, Design View.  I used to pretty much auto-delete these or filter them to my spambox but when i started using Outlook again, and was creating rules to keep my inbox clean, i decided to just filter it to the folder where all my other newsletters go.  i’ve seen people reference SitePoint occasionally and it does talk about design, so i figure it’s worth a glance every once in a while before it hits my deleted box.  i don’t remember how i was subscribed, but i’m fairly sure it was something sneaky.

today’s newletter popped in my inbox with this title in the subject line, and my immediate response was: really?  you really have to ask? i scrolled down to the bit about comic sans, because that was the part i was really interested in.  it was part of an interview with mark boulton, a designer, speaker, and kind of a big deal in the typophile world.  (i guess.  i’m not really in the typophile world, i’m more of a type-newbie.  a typo-n00b, if you will.)  here’s the comic sans quote in question (just for my own amusement, i will put the entire quote in comic sans):

“I don’t think Comic Sans is a bad typeface. Bad designers have used it, and it’s been used by non-designers who are making a design decision without having the right tools available to them. So, for example, my mum and dad might create a newsletter for their church. They want it to be friendly, so they use Comic Sans. And we see that all over the place.

It’s just been used in the wrong context so many times, because the barrier to entry is so low — no typographic schooling is needed to be able to choose it from a drop-down. People berate it for no good reason. It’s a font that’s been overused, rather than a font that’s inherently bad.”

he goes on to talk about some of the free fonts you can get on the web, which he believes the majority of which are “pretty crappy”:

“The biggest issue that I see quite a lot with free fonts is bad kerning — the distance between individual letters. For example, if you have a capital T with a lowercase r next to it, the r has to go underneath the crossbar of the T…With free fonts — because they’re free, and there’s no commercial backing behind them — then perhaps that time is reduced, and as a result the kerning is poorer.

Also, free fonts generally lack the breadth of weights available, making them counterproductive to be used commercially. Quite a lot of designers will choose a typeface in the print world, and will want a full family of fonts to be able to use throughout the design; that way they can use just one typeface and use it right across many applications. Free fonts, on the other hand, are generally only available in single weights…So that’s another issue.”

so, back to comic sans: no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the font — by which i mean, there is nothing functionally wrong with it.  but an overused font and a bad font amount to the same thing: it doesn’t look good, you don’t want to use it.  Papyrus is a great example of a font that’s just so overused that it’s painful to look at (which is the inspiration behind Papyrus FAIL).  there’s nothing inherently wrong with the font.  the font is actually kind of cool.  but it’s been used so much that you can’t look at it without thinking of the 999,999,997 other places you’ve seen it used.  erin will walk through the grocery store — the effing grocery store — and be like: “i spy Papyrus…i spy Papyrus again…i spy Scriptina…”  As a web designer, which, by definition means that we’re forced to settle with the lowest common denominator among typefaces — choosing between a small handful of different fonts that are compatible across Windows, Mac, and *nix operating systems, and all browsers — kerning issues are the last of our problems.  i’d like to say when i download a free font that i expect it to be fully functional and perfect, but the truth is, those are the good fontographers, and they are few and far between (last soundtrack and vtks are my current favs and have been for quite a while).  kerning can be fairly easily fixed in photoshop and illustrator, and since we’re not using those fonts for copy, it doesn’t matter as much if it has to be done by hand.

so no, there may be nothing wrong with comic sans, but please don’t take that to mean that you should use it.

…oh wait, i just did.  damn.



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