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Fighting the good fight against a very bad font

Youíve seen it. Youíve probably used it. Itís Comic Sans, the goofy, ungainly typeface, meant to mimic handwriting thatís somehow proliferated across the globe. Itís used everywhere: on fliers, on fax cover sheets, on signs of every shape and size. And Indianapolis graphic designers Dave and Holly Combs have had just about enough of it. So the two started a Web site, www.bancomicsans.com, that seeks to, uh, ban Comic Sans. Everywhere. Once and for all. But how could lighthearted stylized lettering inflame such passion? Easily, says Holly Combs. "Itís poorly designed. Its strokes are irregular. Itís a really ugly, comical, stupid, ugly font."

Comic Sans was conceived in 1994 by Microsoftís then in-house designer, Vincent Connare. Horrified to see the beta version of Rover (that helpful talking dog from the program Microsoft Bob) speaking in Times New Roman, Connare devised the more cartoonish script, using comic-strip speech balloons as a model. Initially, that was the extent of it ó Comic Sans was just meant for use in Microsoftís instructional software and some programs aimed at children. But then, somehow, it got bundled into Windows 95 as one of its system fonts. And that was that. From there, says Combs, "it just blew up."

Leave aside typographersí quibbles that Comic Sans is shoddily designed, with awkward weighting and haphazard kerning. The Combsesí foremost complaint is the fontís sheer omnipresence ó and the sheer inappropriateness of so much of its use. Holly Combs describes one of her first clients. "I had to do a project for a very popular Native [American] museum here," she says. "They wanted a gallery guide, and they made me do the whole thing in Comic Sans! Front to back! It was unbelievable. So I sit down and try to convince them that Comic Sans maybe isnít the best thing. I was like, ĎI hate this. You canít use it.í Basically, they said they had to use it, because they had printed their outside sign already in billion-point Comic Sans!"

When Holly found her soon-to-be husband shared her visceral aversion, they decided to take action. Their Web site struck a chord immediately. One college history professor wrote in to lament that "as I was grading essays today on the rather somber subject of slavery and the mental anguish it can cause, I came across an essay written entirely in Comic Sans! Ridiculously inappropriate to say the least." One fellow from north of the border reported that the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) included the clause "Ban the Font Known As Comic Sans" in its recent omnibus ban bill, proposed at the 2005 session of Ontario Model Parliament.

The problem has reached critical mass, Combs says, and action must be taken. "I got a funeral announcement in Comic Sans," she says, pausing to let the words sink in. "I mean, thatís sad! I donít want a funeral announcement in Comic Sans!"

Itís interesting to note that this font, hastily devised just 10 years ago in a corporate cubicle, has so thoroughly "taken over the culture." But clearly, thereís some appeal. While Combs says her group has received encouraging notes from almost every country in the world, the font still has its fans. A Comic Sans Appreciation Society does exist. And Vincent Connare has said that even heís been surprised by his creationís ubiquity. (He tells of sitting in a pub and having a patron walk up to him and say, "I have to shake your hand. I canít believe you designed Comic Sans, itís my favorite font.")

Still, says Combs, her side has the numbers. "The hatred is worldwide," she says. "Comic Sans is in the hands of people that shouldnít have it. Secretaries and librarians, they donít use it well. I think it would be fine if it went away for good. I think a lot of people would be very happy. Thatís what weíre here for: to help people not feel alone in their hatred for Comic Sans."

Visit www.bancomicsans.com for paraphernalia, propaganda, and alternate font styles.

Issue Date: June 3 - 9, 2005
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