Comic Sans gets a bad rap. It got so bad that in 2010, the font took to the site McSweeney’s to redeem itself (“I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes f*cking Gutenberg”).
Now, a short video has come to the contentious font’s defense, making the argument that to understand Comic Sans, you have to understand the time from which it sprung.
That would be the 1980s, the decade of over-the-top advertising, unapologetic luxury, and the blurring of lines between art and commerce. In the short, made by Really Great Big Stories, a documentary series in collaboration with CNN, the history of the font plays out against a backdrop of loud, Memphis Group-style graphics and neon gradients. This was not only a time when personal computers were poised to take over; it was also when art and design were railing against the symmetry and perfection of modernism.
Vincent Connare, the typographic engineer at Microsoft who created Comic Sans, wanted the font to stand out against a sea of boring, conventional fonts offered on the company’s early operating system, Microsoft Bob. According to the video, Connare turned to the aesthetic of Batman and Watchman comics as inspiration, as well as the artwork he saw in the ’80s in New York’s SoHo galleries. His art criticism sheds some light on the font’s genesis:
If you didn’t notice them, I’d consider that as bad. And if you did notice, it was good. Because at least that made you stop and look. It either shocked you or you really liked it. If you didn’t really notice and just walked through, it was a disaster.
Connare had to defend Comic Sans to his boss at Microsoft, but once released, it took off. Perhaps it was overexposure that led to the harsh backlash, but Connare says in the video he still considers it his greatest accomplishment. As the weirdness of the ’80s comes back into style, is Comic Sans due for a comeback?
Watch the full video here.