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In defence of Comic Sans

Comic Sans Relief? I already gave

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Readability as a virtue?

Against the aesthetes (and not forgetting, given the fonty subject, the æsthetes) one could try to suggest that Comic Sans' high coefficient of spindle, combined with dramatic diagonals particularly noticeable in the Ys, makes it a bold choice for mass communication in the early part of the 21st century. But I have to tell you that the Design Gang would be quite undeceived by this. This is the sort of tosh they are in the habit of dishing out, and they have no intention of taking it.

One might have thought that one could reasonably cite Comic Sans' readability as a virtue – for example the British Dyslexia Association identifies it as a good choice. So what if it offends the hypersensitive eye; if people can actually read what it says, that surely counts for a lot? But then the Counter-Sannists could point out this item in the Telegraph which claims a) Arial is easier to read and b) anyway "easy to read" is a bad thing, like "sugar is easy to digest", thus defeating the argument both ways round before it has had a chance to draw breath. Me, I suspect the Telegraph piece is rather lightly researched, but to cry [citation needed] sounds like wiki-weakness.

No, the thing to do with the aesthetes is to ask: what do you suggest as a replacement? The answer, wonderfully, is this page. As Terry-Thomas might have observed, what an absolute shower: as hideous a mixture of dragged-in-by-the-cat alphabettary as you could wish for. If one accepts, and I think any honest defender of Comic Sans is bound to accept, that its I'm the font that laughs at your jokes attitude gets up one's nose after a while, how much more annoying would any one of these alternatives be? Their only teeny advantage is that their novelty has yet to be transmuted by exposure into irritation. But it is surely clear, that the cuteness of, say,

is beginning to jar even before the end of its own name, never mind a whole sentence.

We now turn to the overuse merchants. Here it must be conceded that there is a case to answer. I think most of us have seen peculiar uses of Comic Sans. If not, then a brief search will speedily furnish you with dozens of examples similar to this notice from a DVD store:

AGE MATTER'S
THE LAW
It is an offence for us to sell any video
DVD or game classified with a 12, 15 or
18 age rating to any person who is not
12, 15 or 18

I chose this instance because as well as demoing the font it also, as is often the case, suffers from problems of punctuation and logic. (If you happen to be 19 not 12, 15 or 18, would it really be an offence to sell you a DVD?)

This is suggestive. People who use Comic Sans for plaintive little notices and inappropriate medical letters are not designers of websites, nor are they running fancy Mac laptops with vast font libraries. They do not view typography and layout as an opportunity to express their inner souls. They just want a carrier for their thoughts that is clean, polite and, above all, amiable. When they see Comic Sans nestling in their font list, they – correctly – think they have found their solution.

They want a voice that is cheerful but clear, unthreatening but unambiguous, friendly but firm. A voice that says:

Polite Notice

If you put your fingers into this bacon-slicing machine,
they will probably get cut off.

As you can see, Comic Sans does this job bloody well. What is there not to love?

Clinching the argument

Finally, I would like to wheel out in my support an example of its use that is so striking, and whose author was such a famous and much-loved champion of the Mac-using class, I feel confident that it will silence forever these dreadful font snobs – for that is all they are.

My example in fact predates the existence of Comic Sans, which with a lesser work would quite defeat my attempt to cite it. However, in this unique instance, the description is so particular as to be quite unambiguous. I have merely to observe that the font must have slipped through a wormhole in time, and my case is actually strengthened. (Ah, I see the bright kids at the back of the class have already tumbled it.)

For I am referring to an electronic tablet reader that is yet to come. And I speak not of the next generation iPad, nor the Kindle, nor yet of the Sony thing in Waterstones where the switch fell off the side but you hastily put it back before the lady noticed. I foretell a device that runs neither WebOS nor Android, but of something which comes with its own protective cover. And on that cover, printed in (to quote the man himself) large, notoriously-friendly letters, are the words

DON'T
PANIC!

Cue Journey of the Sorcerer. ®

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