The story apparently goes a little something like this: Back in 1994, a font designer at Microsoft named Vincent Connare invented this Comic Sans font. The obvious question is: Why? Well, based on a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal some 15 years after he created the font (which he originally called "Comic Book"), Connare says he was inspired by a Microsoft children's program featuring a cartoon dog barking in the much more staid Times New Roman font.
This clash of dog and font sent him reeling -- dogs most definitely DO NOT bark in Times New Roman.
And so he went to his comic books (which included "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Watchmen") and used them as inspiration as he created the Comic Sans font. He apparently did not take the font too seriously -- it only took him a week to design.* He had much more important work to do, such as his not-quite-as-famous Trebuchet MS font.
*In the WSJ story, it's difficult to even tell if Connare likes his Comic Sans font. His money quote -- "If you love it, you don't know much about typography ... If you hate it, you really don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby" -- is somewhat inscrutable.**
**Incidentally, there is apparently no italic version of Comic Sans.
It seems obvious that Connare saw Comic Sans as mere diversion, something fun for people who did not have much use for Baskerville or Didot. What Connare did not realize then, what he could not have realized then, was that he was creating a typeface whirlwind, a type that would be loved and hated in equal parts for the next 15 or so years. It is probably the most argued about typeface in English. Some people find Comic Sans to be whimsical and childlike, precisely the message they are trying to send when they invite people to parties or want to encourage the neighborhood to come out to their yard sale. It seems the perfect "Lost Dog" font, a font that expressed wounded love for Boomer while still giving voice to the hope that Boomer would indeed be found and returned.
And then there was the rest of the people who hate it, probably because they received a "You are fired" memo in this font that looks like it should be dangling above Jughead and Archie. The BanComicSans Web page is alive and well.
Of course, you know that point of all this. Last week, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made news (and Jesse Jackson's year) by writing a scathing letter to Cleveland Cavaliers fans in response to LeBron James' decision to "take my talents to South Beach."*
*THOSE words -- "I'm taking my talents to South Beach" -- should have been in Comic Sans along with the entire comic book ESPN broadcast of "The Decision." Host Jim Gray should be forced for the rest of his life to communicate only in Comic Sans.
Gilbert's words bugged people, yes, but it was really the font that set America off. Gilbert had gone with Comic Sans. Why? So far, we have not really heard a good reason why. (My guess is that Gilbert said to p.r. director: "And don't go putting my letter in some mainstream font like Helvetica ... I want it to stand out.").
But whatever the reason it is true that the font really makes a huge difference in how people read the words. It actually MAKES the words. Don't believe me? Look: Here is how Gilbert's key words look in Comic Sans:
"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED 'KING' WINS ONE"
And here is how those words look in a more staid font like, say, Franklin Gothic:
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... And one fine morning --
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Well, hey, if you're the empathetic type, it might not be too hard to understand why Gilbert went with Comic Sans that first night. He was obviously overtaken by emotion. He may have felt betrayed by a player he had worked very hard to keep happy. He may have felt Gordon Gekko fury because his team had, in one night, lost about half its value. He may have felt like he had to say something to Cleveland fans, and he had to say it quickly, or risk losing them.
And caught up in emotion, he may have just started typing out his letter in Comic Sans (maybe it's his default font ... hey, sure, he might send out a lot of eccentric and quirky emails). And then he just sent it off without thinking fonts. When it appeared that way online, he was embarrassed but he couldn't change it then -- he decided to just leave it up out of stubborn pride. Billionaires tend to have stubborn pride. OK. I get that.
But here's what I DO NOT get. Monday, Gilbert felt like he had to respond to Jesse Jackson's ludicrous charge that Gilbert's feelings of betrayal personify a "slave master mentality." Well, sure, he had to respond. And he did.
In Comic Sans font.
"I strongly disagree with Rev. Jesse Jackson's recent comments and we are not going to engage in any related discussion on it. Going forward, we're very excited about the Cavaliers and the positive future of our region."
Now, how are you going to take that seriously? It's impossible. This is like giving a State of the Union address in Groucho glasses and mustache. I appreciate that Dan Gilbert is not a stuffy billionaire who believes all his pronouncements belong in BIG CASTION type. I appreciate that he thinks of himself as one of us, a regular Joe, who wants to communicate in the impish type of comic books. But, Dan, there is a time and place for everything. When responding to Jesse Jackson's slave owner charges, yeah, you might want to go with something just a little bit more reserved -- a font that doesn't look like it was pulled from the pages of "Richie Rich."
Then, maybe this is just a problem. You know how Chris Bosh refused to come to play for Cleveland last week. Well, we all thought that was because of Cleveland's cold winters or the draw of South Beach or because he, James and Dwyane Wade have been planning to play together for four years or something.
But what if that wasn't it. What if we find this note somewhere?
I would love to play in Cleveland. You know how much I agree with those who say that the Cleveland orchestra is one of the finest in the world, and if I'm not mistaken the Cleveland Museum of Art has more than 40,000 works of art, a lifetime of exploration. However, while I appreciate Mr. Gilbert's enthusiasm, I simply must work for an owner who makes serious font choices.
Christopher Wesson Bosh
I'm not saying that we should ban Comic Sans. It should be there for those young-at-heart people with impish intentions and for teenagers typing love letters. I'm just saying that we should ban Comic Sans from Dan Gilbert's computer.