Comic Sans: The Documentary

I am posting to let everyone know that we are working with filmmaker Scott Hutcheson to produce a documentary film about the world's most controversial font, Comic Sans. The font's designer Vincent Connare has said, "If you love it, you don't know much about typography. If you hate it, you don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby." We agree with the first part of that statement. For nearly ten years now, our hobby has been hating on Comic Sans with the ban comic sans campaign.

In the vein of the Helvetica film, Hutcheson will explore the world's love/hate relationship with Comic Sans by interviewing top designers including Shepard Fairey, designer of the iconic Obama HOPE image.

Watch the trailer and please consider backing the making of the film on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/662700668/comic-sans-the-documentary-round-2

jasonc's picture

Shepard Fairey's a top designer? Just my opinion, but from what I've seen I thought he just got lucky once.

Anyway, good luck with the film.

Jason C

Joshua Langman's picture

I hope that if you're trying to create a legitimate documentary, you keep the second half of Connare's quote in mind as well. If you approach the project from an objective standpoint, you might create something very interesting. Did you know Connare is a member on Typophile? You should probably try to interview him and get a proper look at the history and rationale of the font. Sure, just like everything else, it can be inappropriate in the wrong context. But what if you're not "showing up to a black tie event in a clown costume"? What if you're showing up to a kid's party? A clown costume might be just the thing. Oh, and since Comic Sans was never anything but a digital font, why the film of metal typesetting in the trailer? I hope that in spite of being produced by the "Ban Comic Sans" group, this might turn out to be a valuable film. Or, if it's going to be completely one-sided, it had better at least be funny.

Joshua Langman's picture

"You don't come pre-installed on every computer since 1994 without making a few enemies."

Times New Roman seems to have managed that.

BrettR's picture

^True enough!

I find it interesting how people can become "top of their field" by having one project massively publicized.

On a different note, I am not sure how this documentary will compare to the Helvetica documentary. The Helvetica video showed psychological aspects of the typeface and how it is used in most advertisements. I think this documentary will end up being multiple interviews with designers that give their opinion on weather they like or dislike it. However, I do think that if you show impractical uses of it in advertisements, that could be entertaining.

Best of luck with it!

Nick Shinn's picture

Typophiles are interested in Comic Sans, like symphony musicians are interested in Britney.
Still, the world is full of minor celebrities who think they were asked to be talking heads because their opinion is important.

John Hudson's picture

I second the suggestion that you take seriously the second half of Vincent’s comment.

I also hope you will be able to get permission from the BBC to include this clip in the film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgfFyRGlUNo

BrettR's picture

Take a look at the right side.
http://www.connare.com/

Stephen Coles's picture

Sure, just like everything else, it can be inappropriate in the wrong context.

A lot of folks miss the point on this. Comic Sans isn't bad because it's a casual handwriting font used in the wrong context. It's bad because it's a bad casual handwriting font.

Pieter van Rosmalen's picture

If you think Comis Sans is bad go to DaFont, at least 90% of the typefaces over there are even more worse. DaFont the movie?

Pieter

quadibloc's picture

Comic Sans is not a bad casual handwriting typeface.

It is, however, a casual handwriting typeface with a narrow range of applicability.

Or, to put it another way, it isn't "bad" in the sense of having poor kerning or an ugly design. It was designed by a competent typeface designer.

It works just fine as a typeface for, say, an advertisement for "Cute Kids Day Care Center". Or for an invitation to a 5-year-old child's birthday party.

But it cannot be used as a substitute for Dom Casual. It cannot be used as a typeface for comic strip lettering. It certainly can't be used as a substitute for Papyrus or Hobo or President or Ondine. And so on and so forth. Since it's one of a handful of standard typefaces, like Times Roman and Georgia, that can be put on web pages, the fact that it isn't a versatile typeface is very unfortunate.

hrant's picture

> Times New Roman seems to have managed that.

TNR does have quite a number of "enemies" actually.

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

"A lot of folks miss the point on this. Comic Sans isn't bad because it's a casual handwriting font used in the wrong context. It's bad because it's a bad casual handwriting font."

I'm not saying you're wrong, but for the first three or four years of its existence there was no hate, and few if any quality complaints. In fact as I recall the consensus was that at small sizes, rendered bi-level it was a well hinted screen font. The complaints about quality only started when it became over used and inappropriately used, as a means of justifying the hate.

I'd be interested in any evidence to the contrary, in searching the archives the primary complaint I could unearth was that it was cashing in on the popularity of Tekton. :-)

Flickerdart's picture

I saw an ad for wines in Comic Sans once. It was unfortunate. Best of luck with your documentary!

hrant's picture

I wish I could once again find the single worst* case of
Comic Sans I've ever seen: on a funeral wreath gift for a
major Pakistani statesman, sent by the government of India.

* Unless of course, knowing the parties
involved, it was in fact intentional!

hhp

Gary Lonergan's picture

I have seen comic sans used on the fascia board of an otherwise old fashioned English pub. I will try and get a pic

Queneau's picture

I've seen a death notice in a local newspaper set in Comic Sans, now that’s a funny way to die :(

snow is nigh's picture

Comic Sans is dead. As dead as IE6. Died together with web 1.0, as the private “homepages” disappeared and social content became king.
Papyrus is almost dead too, not quite there yet, but will be.
Some home brewed designs still feature them, but only by those who can't operate google and just design their company in logo in MS Word. Preferably featuring a clip art.

The “new comic sans”—so to say—might be the Exlibris free fonts, especially Museo. Which is very fortunate actually, as they are of very good quality, and nobody can embarrass themselves using them, other than using an already much used font. Jos did a good job with self promotion and online marketing.

jonathanhughes's picture

"Comic Sans is dead"

If that were only true. Have you spent any time in an American office lately?

hrant's picture

Comic Sans will only die in WWIII.

hhp

Queneau's picture

What never lived, can not really die...

BrettR's picture

Nintendo used to use comic sans on a few old Gamecube games..

Té Rowan's picture

I did find a use for Comic Sans in my fanfic 'library' - emulate a mute child's writing.

hrant's picture

You mean blind.

hhp

paul d hunt's picture

i would much rather support a mockumentary on an imaginary Tragic Sans, maybe you could get Christopher Guest to be in it? if you can do that, i'll pledge anything you want on Kickstarter.

hrant's picture

Don't forget my Trajic notRoman!
http://themicrofoundry.com/ss_trajic.html

hhp

Claire Bibio's picture

what's wrong with comic sans? in my opinion it's good font that gets into the hands of bad designers.

Nick Shinn's picture


Municipal branding, Norwich, UK, photo taken in 2005.

ban comic sans's picture

Typeraisin, would you be willing to defend Comic Sans on film? I'm asking because the director wants different opinions in order to be fair.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I would be willing to defend Comic Sans on film. I don't think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I think the only thing seriously wrong with it is that it has been overused and misused. I may never use it, but only because it's overused. Well, also because I strongly prefer a two-story "a" for legibility reasons.

Cheers,

T

Nick Shinn's picture

…the director wants different opinions in order to be fair…

Either he has no point of view, in which case the film will be the usual snoozer such talking head docs are, (has he never heard of Moore or Spurlock?) -- or else he's just saying that to suck in cannon fodder.

flooce's picture

Don't you think it would be most interesting to focus on the question on why it gets used so much, by people who are completely unrelated to design?

I just ask because your trailer states: "There can be no pleasure derived from using Comic Sans" (or similar, not an exact quote). Well this statement is an ideological one. You don't even state something normative like "There should not be any pleasure derived...". You just say it does not fit your world view, why would it fit anybodies?

It is easy to say, that people who have something to do with a design decision, but are not educated about design might tab into using comic sans, because they don't know better. But is that interesting?

More interesting might be why it is used by people who do not care for DESIGN but for COMMUNICATION?
Why does it get used by people who are completely serious about their work (heck, even managers maybe for internal use?), what do they try to communicate? From which point of view do they come when using it? How does they audience (co-workers, public?) receive it?

Somebody mentions the American Office Environment. All this would make the subject more tangible. I mean yeah, making a movie about a font as a bad design choice? Who cares? Designers? Well, that would be a quite self serving audience. Would't it be more interesting to unravel the psychology behind it and tell a general audience: "This is why you use comic sans" and: "This is what other general audience people think about it."

Anyhow, I think there is more than the world needs than a movie on a insignificant typeface.

To Nick:
Better Talking Heads than Floating Heads

adambanksdotcom's picture

I've never thought Comic Sans was a good typeface, regardless of context, and I feel somewhat vindicated in that having looked at Connare's only (?) other commercially available typeface, Magpie, which has similar failings. (Since you're bound to ask: horrible curves, tedious wackiness, characters that are busy staring at their shoes, and no obvious way of setting it so as to achieve anything recognisable as rhythm.)

I do think it would have come in for less stick, though, if it had just been differently named. Calling a typeface "Comic" that would be hopelessly out of place in a comic can only result in people thinking you've tried to design a comic lettering face and failed. I suspect that's exactly what happened, but he needn't have drawn attention to it.

I really like the way people have chosen it over conventional alternatives for office signmaking. It says only good things about human beings. It's just a shame it was that particular casual handwriting face, when there are so many lovely ones. Then again, a lot more handwriting faces have come out in recent years; maybe people have been inspired to compete with Comic Sans, in which case, again, it's made a positive contribution.

If Connare reads this thread, I hope he'll forgive his work being criticised by someone who takes pride in using type well, and has done a fair bit of glyph wrangling, but has never released a typeface. Real artists ship, Vincent, and you've shipped in spades.

hrant's picture

Nick, if Gary Hustwit has an opinion on Helvetica, I can't tell what it is, but his movie is not at all a snoozer. You don't have to have an opinion on something to want to see it discussed - in fact it's arguably a great way to form an opinion on it!

Adam: "artist"?! Wash your mouth out!

hhp

Claire Bibio's picture

i'm delighted for the offer, but i think there are wiser people on typophile who will do it better than me. i'd like to see mr. Berlow or dezcom on tv.

Té Rowan's picture

@hrant - Nope. Definitely mute. IIRC, it was a Potterfic, though I can't remember which one. The child, one Harry Potter, was still of single-digit age, so I figured that Comic Sans would suit well. After all, not many children that young are concerned with sub-millimetric placement of characters.

ban comic sans's picture

Hrant, will you be in the movie? ...Please?

Thomas, your willingness has been noted. Thanks!

Flooce, you made really good points. Thanks for your comments.

Theunis de Jong's picture

I haven't seen "Helvetica The Movie" because that font doesn't particularly attract or repel me. It's a work horse, for sure, but nothing special, despite its illustrious history.
But I'm fascinated by the strong emotions Vince Connare's piece de résistance evokes in other people.

Surely it's too easy to make a mockery out of this new movie, showing only the worst misappropriate uses of CS and, uh, above-mentioned "talking heads", tripping over each other in finding the best metaphor to slam it down. So the idea of balancing it out with a few real-world designers that come to its defense (and, if possible, showing counterexamples of good usage of the font) sounds very good to me.

(It goes without saying I don't personally have any example of this hypothetical Fair Use of CS.)

jasonc's picture

>>I feel somewhat vindicated in that having looked at Connare's only (?) other commercially available typeface, Magpie, <<

Umm, Trebuchet anyone?

Jason C

Ray Larabie's picture

Comic Sans is a pretty successful font but what can you say about it other than some people like it, some people don't care and some people are dicks about it.

There is no single font family that can sustain a movie length documentary without filler. I can see doing 22 minutes on Futura because there's a design process that can be discussed. The Helvetica movie didn't get into the design process much because there's not much of a story there. Vince could probably describe the design process for Comic Sans in 30 seconds.

I'd rather see a documentary about the world of font geeks: people on the other side of the high-brow typography world who collect fonts, hack fonts, pirate fonts and make free fonts.

Queneau's picture

I agree with you, Ray.

Why would anyone want to watch designers slamming or glorifying typefaces in a feature film? Only other designers would be interested, I think. I've seen and enjoyed the Helvetica film, it's quite well done and, perhaps has helped to put typography as a whole in the general spotlight a bit. But in the light of its success now make a documentary on Comic sans? It seems a bit pointless to me, if it does not show a bigger picture.

Why do we slam Comic sans? Because it's poorly designed? Perhaps, but maybe that's the point with this kind of casual handwriting. It's not supposed to look calligraphic, it should look like everyone can write this way, making it 'personal' and 'friendly'.

I think it is most hated because it is overused and misused. It will hardly ever be used by professional designers, but it may have it's value for normal users who just want to make an invite for a garden party or a birthday. It should IMO not be used for formal or business communication, but there are worse things to worry about when it is.

If anything is to blame, it should be the combined sum of standard office software, PC's, cheap color printers, clipart, pre-installed system fonts, copy shops... etc. etc. If anything, comic sans is a symptom but not a 'disease'.

ban comic sans's picture

Oh, and by the way, I was simply sharing my opinion in stating that Shepard Fairey is a top designer. That's not based on the one "lucky" iconic HOPE image. It's based on 20 years of good design both as a fine artist and commercial graphic designer. I don't expect to sway anyone's opinion here if you're already in the staunch Shepard hating camp. But if you have never taken the time to look at his studio's work please take a few minutes to do so before forming an opinion... http://studionumberone.com/main/portfolio

William Berkson's picture

Helvetica is a good movie because it's about much more than Helvetica. It's about the past 50 years of graphic design and the modernist movement and reaction against it. If your movie is only about Comic Sans, it's going to be deadly boring. You need a stronger concept.

5star's picture

I agree with William, your effort seems trivial at best.

And good ole Shep is as original as his hope poster, remember the AP image he 'borrowed'. Throughout the graphic design / illustration community people like Shep who appropriate intellectual property are less than significant.

http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

In my humble opinion of course.

Good luck.

Queneau's picture

That referencing other well known graphics in street art and grafitti is not so problematic, as a lot of modern art reference other art pieces, directly or inderectly. It becomes a different matter if one uses these graphics and uses it to sell T-shirts... And using the SS-Skull is just... stupid. It just shows he does not really care for the source or the context of the graphics he uses.

riccard0's picture

Helvetica is a good movie because it's about […] the past 50 years of graphic design

One way to put Comic Sans in perspective would be linking it to the massification of typography due to the personal computer.

Té Rowan's picture

"How the masses were given (some of) the tools but had to find the knowledge on their own."

hrant's picture

I just remembered this...

> Hrant, will you be in the movie?

Sure. I'm already on IMDB... twice. :-)

No matter what else might end up happening around me in
the movie, I think I can make enough sense not to regret it.

hhp

TylerEldredge's picture

This reminds me of, well, this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tUut4J-DzQ

I mean, I wouldn't really recommend using Times New Roman in any sort of professional design work, but it has its place in the academic world. What does Comic Sans have? I think Comic Sans had its role when Microsoft debuted, but it's hideous doesn't serve its role very well...so it should go away.

Anyway, I think that this documentary could be interesting. I consider Comic Sans one of my biggest design enemies, but I'd be interested to hear what other people think.

Té Rowan's picture

Comic Sans does have a role, but it's not the role you think it is, nor is it a universal one. It's quite restricted, in fact. Comic sans's unluck lies in being the only informal face/font on a virally popular OS.

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