Typing About Comic Sans Criminals

Just My TypeOne of the most-important and most-used skills I’ve had to develop as a writer who works as an editor is steering clients away from their mystifying obsession with using the most heinous of all fonts every created: Comic Sans.

It’s the kind of noxious weed of a typeface that I have to cover my eyes, Command + A a document, and change its font to something more palatable like Garamond before I can even begin to take in or edit its contents.

I’m not alone, with Comic Sans, the font created to not look like a font and to add a playful, non-threatening element to a Microsoft program, now (as with most Microsoft products) the bane of writers’, editors’, and designers’ lives.

So much so that one designer has created a tongue-in-cheek website that uses humour to politely tell clients that no way, not now, not ever, is Comic Sans an appropriate choice of font. It’s called Comic Sans Criminal and you can order posters and stickers that bear the words like ‘You’re a Comic Sans criminal, but we’re here to help you’.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the first chapter of a book about fonts that I bought myself for Christmas (or bought just for having because I’m obsessed with typography) contains a story warning of the pitfalls of this font. Apparently some people thought it ok to use it on a gravestone. Yep. I know. It blows the mind.

Like the Comic Sans Criminal website, Just My Type contains some Comic Sans jokes. There’s the cartoon that states that every time you use Comic Sans, they’re forced to punch a bunny. And there’s the joke that when Comic Sans walks into a bar, the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve your type’.

But the book contains much more than diatribes against awful fonts and even more awful applications of them. It’s a comprehensively researched, thoroughly well put together thesis about the history of typefaces and their cultural impact.

In just the first few pages I learned that we have even more to thank Steve Jobs about than we thought, as he was the one who invented and brought a variety of fonts to computers. No, I’m not going to get into a how-Apple-is-better rant—I might be a Mac user, but I steer clear of that stuff and was, as I’ve previously mentioned, appalled by Stieg Larsson’s relentless naming of the now-outdated PowerBook in his Lisbeth Salander trilogy. But I am going to say that I’m bemused that many of the rubbish fonts that are now thorns in our sides can be traced back to origins within Microsoft’s evil empire.

Apple versus Microsoft arguments aside, the books outlines the history of the Transport font, which is used in the UK and Europe to clearly convey traffic directions and conditions. It introduces us to the founder of Gill Sans, a guy who had a dubious but well-documented relationship with a dog and his daughters (there’s a camp that believes we shouldn’t use the font on principle, and I’m inclined to steer clear of it now that I know its history).

The book also looks at the font being used for the 2012 Olympics in London and how fonts can have gender. It explains the now-iconic fonts Apple used to use up to the early iPods (Chicago). And, best of all, it contains on the inside covers an incredible and art-like periodic table of fonts.

I highly recommend Just My Type. I highly recommend dobbing in Comic Sans criminals. And if you know where I can obtain one of those font periodic tables in the form of a wall-mounted piece of art, please let me know.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.