Love it or loathe it, Comic Sans has achieved a remarkable level of fame, particularly for a typeface. It’s remained in regular use since it was released in 1995, with the Windows 95 operating system, and almost 25 years later is recognised the world over – and not just by designers and creatives. Originally, the design was intended as a comic book-style typeface for the speech bubbles of cartoon characters used in Microsoft software, but with the arrival of desktop publishing it found its way into almost everything you can think of. This includes obvious places such as shop signs, school newsletters and children’s party invites as well as, bizarrely, legal documents – thanks to Donald Trump’s former attorney John Dowd.
Debate has raged for years about the right time and place to deploy Comic Sans, even inspiring campaigns to ban the typeface altogether. And while misuse of the design – who could forget CERN’s Higgs Boson announcement – still draws ridicule, there are some that have found a more subversive use for the sans serif. In 2014, NBA players began wearing t-shirts with I Can’t Breathe set in Comic Sans. The shirts referenced the last words of Eric Garner, who had been choked to death earlier in the year by a New York City police officer during arrest. People flocked to the story, in many cases to criticise the choice of font, which ultimately boosted press coverage for the issue. More recently, the UK’s Conservative Party used Comic Sans to share a pro-Brexit message on Twitter, drawing designers’ ire as well as speculation that the person behind the account was being purposefully ironic.
Reams more could be written, but suffice to say that Comic Sans is a genuine titan of the type world. Here, its designer Vincent Connare shares the story behind its creation, as well as his thoughts on the typeface’s future, and Nicole Phillips – designer, typographer and founder of type journal Typograph.Her – discusses the typeface’s controversial status and importance in visual culture.