What are the best comic book lettering fonts? Why is Comic Sans so bad?

Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,074
edited December 2014 in Technique and Theory
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Why is Comic Sans so bad?

I think Comic Sans is the way it is because it was designed for the early 90s b&w rendering of VGA screens, so its has a lot of 'rough edges' that made sense to meet the brief of the day, but don't look great when printed on a shop window banner or whatever. And people hate it because its so over-used.

But there must be good comic book lettering fonts, made without that technical constraint.

James Grieshaber and Eben Sorkin did http://www.google.com/fonts/specimen/Short+Stack a few years back as a comic book lettering font designed for the web of a few years ago, which has very wide proportions and a huge x-height, so loose spacing to match all the white space inside the glyphs... I think its even a bit too wide. Squooshing it (above) makes it reverse contrast and veering towards Comic Sans' 'awful' attributes....

What are even better ones? Why do you like them? :)
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Comments

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,325
    edited December 2014
    Mark Simonson did a decent one, as I recall. Sharktooth if you like a clean more regular version and Felt tip Roman if you want more handwritten look.
  • Blambot's look good to me.
  • Thanks, Chris, but I wouldn't call either of those comic book lettering fonts. FTR is literally a handwriting font and Sharktooth was... an experiment. Maybe you were thinking of SketchFlow Print, the architect lettering font I did for Microsoft?

    For comic book lettering fonts, I like Comicraft's and Blambot's offerings. Some letterers make their own or hire someone else to do it (which is where many of Comicraft's and Blambot's fonts come from).
  • Also, I think the only reason Comic Sans has been used for comics lettering is the name.
  • Why is Comic Sans so bad?
    It’s like the difference between an autotraced revival of ATF Garamond and Storm Jannon. Comic Sans’ strokes are a jerky mess. They look like the writer paused here and there before moving on to finish a curve.
  • Comic sans is like an overeager puppy, trying too hard to please. Since Vince Connare actually had the brief of doing text for such a puppy, he can't be blamed for fulfilling the task so well: http://www.connare.com/whycomic.htm However, it is cloying in its trying too hard to be cute, so pretty annoying when used inappropriately, which is almost always. To Connare's credit, it is also more readable than most sans, which also invites its overuse.
  • Comic Sans’ strokes are a jerky mess.
    Isn't that intentioned, to work in the early 90s b&w rendering of VGA screens?
  • Matt HeximerMatt Heximer Posts: 17
    edited December 2014
    I think the main problem with Comic Sans is that it is always out of context. It wasn't originally designed to be used in actual printed comic books, but for use within a Microsoft product. I believe the original intention was to give the letterforms the "friendly and approachable" nature of comic book lettering for use with an onscreen guide. I think Comic Sans (somewhat) achieves that.
    My problem with Comic Sans is that (at least to my eye) there isn't enough consistency between the individual glyphs. The stress appears to be all over the map (intentional or not), which really ruins the flow. I also find it much too wide. Comic book lettering should be very vertical and compact. Without built in Opentype features, Comic Sans can't emulate the fluidity of hand-done lettering.

    Traditionally Comicbook lettering is all caps (at least, in mainstream North American strips and comics books). I think that is the crux of the problem (at least to me), setting it with lower case just further moves it away from what Comic Sans is trying to be. When you set Comic Sans in all caps it better emulates "real" comic book lettering. I think Comic Sans would have been better received if they ditched the lower case and filled those slots with alternate versions of the upper case.

    Also, as Dave mentioned; "And people hate it because its so over-used".
    Maybe not so much over-used, as; "And people hate it because it is so often used inappropriately".
    Comic Sans was created to mimic a very specific niche of typography. When used out of that context, it just. does. NOT. work.

    I'll also throw in my vote for Blambot. I think their work is great and anything they produce is vastly superior to Comic Sans.
    Comicraft also does stellar work in that genre.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 837
    edited December 2014
    Yes, most people hate on Comic Sans because it is overused and misused. The reason for that is simple: among the default Windows fonts it has a monopoly on informality. But it’s not merely misused, for any contemporary purpose it is also poorly drawn and poorly spaced. As you rightly point out, it was made for a very specific purpose at a very specific low resolution, and is less than ideal for anything else — except irony.

    For the specific purpose of comics, rather than focusing efforts on improving Comic Sans (which, as Mark says, is not really a comic book typeface), the goal should be to learn from actual comic book lettering. As others mentioned, options from those who have authentic experience in comics publishing, such as Comicraft and Blambot (though they all have their drawbacks, particularly in spacing and contextual alternates), are far better fonts for comic book use. For clarity and weight range I like Scott McCloud, and for individually designed italics I like Richard Starkings. If you need lowercase (which is seldom used in conventional comics), Face Front, Hedge Backwards, Hometown Hero, Silver Age, Yada Yada Yada, and Blah Blah Blah (though the extrapolated Bolds on this last one are not so good). And for the most effective simulation of handwritten irregularity combined with clarity: FF Duper.
  • Isn't that intentioned, to work in the early 90s b&w rendering of VGA screens?
    Maybe it was, but I don’t think it needed to look so dreadful.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,325
    Comic Sans is a dead horse that has been beaten for decades--time to move on.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,325
    I knew I could depend on you, Frank ;-)
  • it's not just overuse/bad use. The font itself is really not harmonious, with squiggly lines and weird curves:
    image

    I created my own alternative instead:
    image

    It's meant to capture the comic-ish handwritten look of CS, but hopefully with much more consistent features
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,078
    Well, I guess we're having this conversation.

    I foolishly read all the #fonts and #typeface tweets every morning. About a quarter of those tweets are comments about Comic Sans. Like it or not, Comic Sans is on my mind a lot.

    I like Comic Sans. It looks like it was drawn on a computer with a mouse. In some circumstances, the illusion of real pen-strokes on paper feels put of place and comes across like fake wood grain. While some fonts resemble pen on paper, Comic Sans has the texture of a computer screen. Is had a kind of Dilbert or Foxtrot comic look to it. It looks like is was slowly drawn but still casual.

    One of my favourite uses of Comic Sans is for the website for the band, Anamanaguchi a few years back. Comic Sans encapsulates what that band is about: retro-electronic, positive, non-ironic and fun-loving.

    I think a lot of people like to bitch about something that they're tired of and then try justify it by coming up with reasons why it's bad.
  • I think a lot of people like to bitch about something that they're tired of and then try justify it by coming up with reasons why it's bad.
    I think being tired of it is part of the reason, but mostly there is a lot of parrot-talk going on. A lot of people dislike Comic Sans because everyone does. Most people couldn't say why they dislike it. They dislike it because it takes courage to like it. I'm not saying it's a good typeface, but it's not deserving of all the bad attention. It's probably not worth the attention, period. That said, I feel it's overuse and abuse that killed the typeface, not the design.
    I like Comic Sans. It looks like it was drawn on a computer with a mouse.
    For me that usually tends to be a reason to dislike a typeface, but I do think it can work for some typefaces. The mistake is probably to consider Comic Sans a comic book typeface.

    In 2009 I did a typeface (Dion Sans) in the same kind of style which was designed for a national campaign about teaching kids to save and use money responsibly and was later used for a German poster campaign on children's rights. Mind you, I drew this typeface rather than designing it, as the goal was not to make a legible digitally written sans but rather something that looks impulsive and child-like. It works well for projects relating to young children though. I certainly wouldn't use it for obituaries.

    image

    I couldn't justify selling that typeface though, and the lack of design bothered me. For that reason I started working on Dion Sans Pro, where I made the proportions more consistent, made the counters bigger, added more glyphs and features and extended the typeface with two more styles. However, I'm still not coming near to the kind of consistency present in Comic Sans. Perhaps Comic Sans is too much in between an impulsive digital writing font and a properly designed comic book typeface, but I do think the impulsive, imperfect look can work.

    Having said that, I think we've seen Comic Sans enough either way. Even when used in the best conditions you could imagine for Comic Sans, it probably wouldn't do good because the world has already decided it doesn't work, because they've seen it too often in contexts which Comic Sans was never intended for, and the typeface itself became associated with amateur design. It's quite odd that the amateurish use of a typeface ultimately leads the world to believe the design itself is amateurish, which I don't think I could agree with. It seems hopeless to show the world it does or could work, and possibly it couldn't work anymore. Perhaps the time of impulsive digital writing fonts has passed. I'm certainly not upgrading Dion Sans because I think it's going to be a hit, but rather because I think it's a fun little typeface to do next to my serious typefaces.
  • Do you guys remember the fancy open type version of Comic Sans with swashes etc? http://typophile.com/node/72016

    I have to be honest, I am really not bothered by Comic Sans anymore. Very rarly will I get annoyed at it's usage. Judge me all you want, I really think the masses have spoken and I consistently hear people saying they find it easy to read and clear. Whilst I don't use it often personally, I don't judge others who do.
  • Do you guys remember the fancy open type version of Comic Sans with swashes etc?
    I had never seen it before, but I don't think it's right.
    Whilst I don't use it often personally, I don't judge others who do.
    Why not? For me it's not about using a bad typeface because I disagree it's bad. For me the underlying issue is using typefaces without thinking. This may be forgiven from people who aren't designers, but when a graphic designer uses a typeface without proper justification, I think that's always bad. Most graphic designers I know choose typefaces based on their personal taste and not based on what the project requires. In the past I've used a typeface which I personally didn't like but which was a perfect fit for the project. Whatever works.

    Also, I don't hear this anymore but years ago the phrase "When in doubt, use Helvetica" was repeated like a mantra. It's the most terrible advise you can give a designer. It almost implies you don't need a designer. Who needs to hire designers to make educated considerations on design and typography? Not us! Helvetica by default!

    I think in recent years people have realized it doesn't work like that. In fact, while Helvetica used to be THE designer typeface, I suppose nowadays a lot of companies feel Helvetica is a thing of the past and they can present themselves much better with custom typefaces.

    In conclusion, I think there are good reasons to judge people for using Comic Sans, and it doesn't even have anything to do with the design of the typeface. It's about preventing people from designing on auto-pilot. If people thought a bit deeper about what effect certain typefaces have and what style is appropriate for what application, we wouldn't be seeing Comic Sans in obituaries, and we probably wouldn't be disliking Comic Sans to this extent in the first place.
  • […] I suppose nowadays a lot of companies feel Helvetica is a thing of the past […]

    That’s why Apple is using Helvetica Neue. I’m actually waiting in anticipation for Comic Sans Neue for quite some time now.
  • Frank, are you being sarcastic or not? I have trouble recognizing sarcasm.

    In any case, it seems to be a logical choice for Apple to stick with (Neue) Helvetica. However, Helvetica no longer seems to stand for the same things it stood for in the 80s. I'm noticing a shift away from Helvetica, which seems to correlate with a rekindled respect and appreciation for typography.

    Also, since companies have shifted to the web environment and e-books increase in popularity there is a need not only for custom typefaces but for legible typefaces. Certainly grotesque typefaces aren't getting out of fashion, but you would rather not set body text in a grotesque with such a closed aperture as Helvetica. I do still see Neue Helvetica on the web here and there and it renders horrendously on Windows. It's in fact the worst font I've seen on the web for body copy. I very much prefer to see Arial on the web.

    And Frank, a Neue Comic Sans already exists. It's called Comic Neue.
  • attarattar Posts: 209
    > Certainly grotesque typefaces aren't getting out of fashion, but you would rather not set body text in a grotesque with such a closed aperture as Helvetica.

    Heh that's funny, it makes me think of the new Sony "SST" corporate typeface.: "You might say that for readability, our model was Frutiger, and to match Sony product qualities, our model was Helvetica."
    Well the result is mostly Frutiger haha.
  • Well the result is mostly Frutiger haha.
    And a good choice, too. I feel mentioning Helvetica is either a marketing trick or for some odd reason they think it's a typeface to strife for regarding quality (which I strongly disagree with). There is no trace of Helvetica in that typeface.
  • LeMo aka Frank E Blokland 

    Not to be too much of a pedant but I do believe Comic Sans Neue has been out for a while now. I distinctly remember  Vincent Connare saying, in a thread on Typophile about the updated release that he had to pay full price for a license.
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