Comic Relief

Photo courtesy Natalia Y on

Happy New Year! I hope that your holiday was as good as mine. I learned something which may have some major repercussions for me going forward.

I am not sure how what follows originally came up for discussion. The source, however, was my twelve-year-old granddaughter. She talks quite a bit about some things and not at all about others, with the border between the two constantly shifting and changing. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep up, which is okay. It gives her the freedom to chatter away and me the impetus to keep trying to figure it out. So it is that during one day of her Christmas vacation she was at one moment talking about a manga character and the next was talking about something she called “comic sans.”  I assumed at first that she was referring to comic book character that she particularly revered. As she continued for a bit longer, however, I realized that she was referring to a type font.

We each and all have a favorite font. Actually, that’s wrong. We each and all have a font that we use by default. Mine, since Jesus was in short pants, has been the boring and predictable but nonetheless popular Times New Roman. Many prefer Arial. It’s not something we usually even think about, particularly when reading. A great number of books make a point of referencing, usually on a page at the back, the font in which the book is printed and providing a three or four sentence summary of its history. To wit:

This book was printed using the Beelzebub font designed by a group of renegade Tantric monks in the early 18th Century. It was once popular but fell out of favor due to the spread of a superstition that the Universe would end upon the setting of the one-billionth charact

I in any event never really paid much attention to the topic other than to occasionally check out the pull-down menu on whatever word processing software I am using and to marvel for a moment at all of the choices. I realize that my choice of Times New Roman is similar to walking into Baskin-Robbins, checking out the thirty-one flavors of the month, and choosing vanilla. Most editors and the like prefer Ariel or Times New Roman, however, so it’s a safe bet. Only…only…there seems to be a bit of discussion among the younger set regarding “Comic Sans MS.” or “Comic Sans” for short. It was originally developed as a typeface for comic book narration and word balloons in 1994. A short, light-hearted video about it with a sample can be found here: One doesn’t use it for formal documents such as a will, a contract, or an all-important postgraduate thesis. But. But. The discussion taking place among the young ones concerns the use of Comic Sans as a creative tool. Proponents say that there is something about it that aides the creative process, one that seems to cause words to flow almost unbidden from brain to fingers and beyond. Opponents (my younger daughter, among them) say it doesn’t do any such thing and looks like crap besides.


Photo courtesy Raphael Schaller on

I checked Google Drive to see if I had Comic Sans as a choice and sure enough, there it was, theretofore unnoticed in the menu. It looked godawful though somehow familiar. The familiarity should not have been a surprise, given that it mimics the text that was popular in comic books, which I read by the boxfuls for decades. I opened up a new document and started writing with it. Two hours later I was still writing, stopping only after being entreated to make a pizza run. I was, as they say, in the zone. I found that for the first time in my life I actually preferred writing to reading. The words simply seem to flow, just like the kiddies say with Comic Sans than with Times New Roman or anything else I have used. God forbid that I would submit anything in Comic Sans unless it was specifically called for, but it is certainly easy enough to convert into another format for a submission or final copy.

Check it out, particularly if you are having problems, as we all sometimes do, with getting things going in the grammar mine. I can’t really explain why it works for me and apparently for others, but work it does. I find that writing with purpose is often a struggle — as with many things (but not all) it’s a lot more fun to want to do it than have to do it — but the line has been blurred. I’ve been writing and writing quite a bit, each and every day, since I have made the change. If you would, please check out the typeface — I’m having a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) problem so I can’t duplicate Comic Sans here — and please tell us what you think.

Photo courtesy Ilnur Kalimullin on

I have to mention something else. I think it is terrific that young people, or at least a segment of them, even give a flying fig about a font, what helps them write, and what makes them better writers. My generation at that age really didn’t care or even think about fonts. We only thought about the print being large or small. We knew there was a difference in fonts among newspapers, books, comics, and instructions but we didn’t remark on it or give a flying fig. Younger folks do and they’re talking about it and other elements on their way to writing the best stories that they can. They are not just writing. They are reading, which is encouraging, or should be, for all of us.


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

44 thoughts on “Comic Relief

  1. Hey Joe, good post.

    I’ve played around with Comic Sans. It’s great for insinuating a certain tone, especially in more light-hearted emails. I don’t use it for my stories.

    I do have a favorite though. I use Georgia, primarily (believe it or not) because the lower-case “e” in Times New Roman almost looks like a lower-case “c” to me. The enclosed bit at the top of the lower-case “e” in TNR is too small, and it bugs me. (grin)

    The natural leading (space between characters) in Georgia is primo too. So I go nuts. Georgia is my go-to and (like you, now, with Comic Sans) I can write for hours when I’m using that font.

    And all this time I thought it was only me, bending to the will of the font that’s driving me. (grin)

    • Thank you, Harvey. One of the many things I love about the internet is that no matter how odd one might oneself to be, simply doing a search on the quirk or whatever straightens that out quickly! Thanks for sharing. For the rest of the day I’ll have Georgia on my mind…

  2. I prefer Times Roman, too.

    But I use a platform that doesn’t have it. Does have Ariel.

    I’ve tried to find a way to ask why it doesn’t have Times Roman, but the only thing I can find in my attempts to communicate with them are those infuriating forums where no one with any authority, and some without much knowledge, try to pass instructions about how to get something done.

    Alas, my writing platform apparently thinks that Times Roman is a part of some sort of arithmetic operation. “Ethiopia Times Roman results in what?”

    • Thanks for sharing, Jim. I see that there are several fonts that are similar to Times New Roman (including Times Newer Roman) that are available for free but there is apparently a problem using them if put into a non-compatible document that is sent to someone else. I’m not sure why TNR isn’t standard across the board, simply because it’s used so much and yes, required in submissions in some instances. I hope you find something.

      By the way, there is a Columbus punk band that has been around for over a decade named Times New Viking…

  3. When I started writing and was told by my publisher “You need a blog” I used Comic Sans. I thought it was eye-catching. I work in TNR now, but when I’m doing my edits I change to a sans serif font so things look different. When I’m critiquing for my partners, I change their subs to Arial. And when I put my books in print, I use Cambria. For ebooks, I upload them in TNR because the font is the choice of the reader on their end.
    When I’m reading an ebook, I play around with the offered fonts to see which one is easiest to read, but I don’t pay attention to what it’s called.

    • Thanks, Terry. Speaking for myself, I got in the practice of using just one font to the exclusion of all others. I’m going to start playing around more with other ones. And with regard to ebooks, I of course change the type size (I’m not making it smaller, for sure) but experimenting with the font is a terrific idea. Thanks again!

  4. Hang on, I’ll go try it . . . . . . . .
    Okay, I tried it. I was ready to say this Comic Sans stuff is all a bunch of hooey, but my words did flow easier. Still, for now, I’m going to say it might be a placebo effect until after I’ve alternated a few weeks Comic Sans/Arial/Comic Sans/Arial.

    Super interesting if a font has that much effect. In which case, I wonder what is actually happening in the brain.

    • Priscilla, your initial reaction was exactly the same as mine. I tried it thinking nothing would happen. Imagine my surprise. I think the placebo test is a good idea too. It’s working so far though.

      What is happening in my brain is far beyond my pay grade. Thanks for raising the question, however. It’s definitely good fodder for a neurological study.

  5. Love that the younger generation is talking fonts! I’ve used Comic Sans while writing blog posts just because I like the look of it. Never considered trying it for my WIP, but I will now. 🙂 Thanks, Joe!

    I wonder how it would work in marketing. I suppose if you’re targeting a younger crowd, it makes sense to use their preferred font so you’re speaking their language.

    • You’re welcome, Sue. Let us know how it goes.

      As far as marketing and the use of typeface goes, that’s an excellent point but the opinions regarding Comic Sans are so strong and divergent that it’s hard to say if they have all coalesced around a particular font. I’ll have to ask my granddaughter and her friends. Thanks for the idea.

  6. So funny that you mention Comic Sans. This was, by far, the font of choice for presentations in my neck of the corporate world up until 2015, when I retired.
    Perhaps someone had read the research you refer to, though I suspect it started out as an attempt to convey serious info in a homespun manner.
    I’ll have to try it in my writing. Never realized it came from comics. I too, read my share of them as a ‘yout,’ mostly Superman, Superboy, Adventure, a bit of Archie, etc.
    Thanks as always for the interesting piece…

  7. Edward, thanks for sharing that bit of information. I had no idea that Comic Sans had been used for presentations in the corporate world.

    Re: those Archies…Archie Comics used to get no respect at all. That has changed. Those older Archie comics have suddenly become valuable for a number of reasons.
    It’s not just the modern revivals or the Riverdale television series that’s reviving them, either. There are entire websites devoted to some of the subliminal messages that the writers and artists conveyed in each and every issue. If you have any left of those issues left over from your fan days, they might be worth some serious cheddar. Check it out!

  8. The internet seems to bubble over with scornful rejections of Comic Sans. Most of that rejection seems based on the fact that the internet bubbles over with scornful rejections of Comic Sans. I would guess the reason for not using it in certain situations is the same as the reason for not wearing gym shorts and tank top to a job interview. However, I suspect the general animosity is a form of snobbery.

    I tend to use Times New Roman as my default, one reason being that it’s very compact, which is handy when dealing with a page limit. Switch a one-page document from TNR to Ariel and it’s got about six more lines. Some of this is the spacing between letters (there’s a tech word for that) and some, I’ve discovered, is the line spacing itself.

    There’s a lot of talk about the aesthetics of fonts. That talk doesn’t get traction with me. Probably I’m “font-aesthetic-blind.”

    • Eric, it’s interesting that you mention the additional lines which somehow magically appear when you convert from TNR to Ariel. That is supposedly one of the benefits of Times New Roman which I mentioned earlier. One of the benefits being touted for it is that it makes your essay (or whatever) a bit longer, as far as page length is concerned. As one wag noted, however, it won’t increase your word length (or reduce it, either). Thanks for sharing.

  9. I watched the youtube video link. Loved the example of “breaking news” of the commencement of World War III as an ill-advised event to present to viewers using the comic sans font.

  10. OMG, Joe.
    I always set my font on New York Times when I begin writing because it is usually the required font for submissions to agents and editors, and I prefer to set up it up at the beginning of a project.

    Then below the paragraph in Times I rewrote the paragraph in Comic Sans MS without simply copying the previous paragraph. I just wrote from my memory what I wanted to say. What a difference. A good difference.

    A great idea for a temporary reprieve from my millionth rewrite. When I finished I’ll change the font back to NYT to send to agents and editors.

    Happy Saturday. You never fail to inspire me, Joe

    • Thank you, Lorilee, though I am merely the conduit. My granddaughter should get full credit.

      About changing the font…I have a friend who is technologically challenged and who often when cutting, pasting, or font-changing his text winds up erasing the whole shooting match. We’re talking pages. And chapters. When I was telling him about writing in Comic Sans and then converting it he glared at me (we were on the phone, but I could feel him glaring) and said, “HA! Easy for you to say!” I’ll accordingly remind everyone to back up your work before trying any of this!

      • I never erase anything or throw it away. I have a four-drawer filing cabinet with print copies of all my work.

  11. Guys, guys. Ariel is a Disney mermaid. Arial be da font. Puleeze.

    The Great Font Debate continues apace as we delve deeper into publishing independence. Since I create some of my own book covers, I’m particularly sensitve to this topic. Readers respond to cover fonts the same way they expect genre tropes. Right or wrong, it’s a lesson to be learned by anyone attempting cover design.

    That said, I’m another Georgia fan simply because it reads well and gets my brain closer to what my reader is likely to see. One fave for print books is Minion Pro, but I can’t handle it on the screen. That’s another divide–print vs. screen fonts. In settling on Times New Roman and Arial, Microsoft back in the day studied screen legibility and opted for those two, which ruled web page design for years.

    Now if you want gnarly, try Electric Dysentery or Invisible Killer. Not for prose work but evocative.

    • ‘Thanks for chiming in, Dan, and for sharing. Electric Dysentery? I thought you were kidding. I looked and it is actually kinda cool. I’ve also been diving a little more into fonts and there are apparently several of varying qualities that will simulate fountain pens. Finally, in a nod to my Roman Catholic background, I checked to see if there were any monastic fonts…yes indeed! One could spend all of their time trying these out instead of actually writing!

        • By the way, Dan, you get a tip of the fedora for pointing out the difference between “Arial” and “Ariel.” I get a 50% on my spelling score. As far as Disney’s version of that tale, I prefer the source material, dark as hell and less politically correct, so more realistic. Thanks!

  12. Happy New Year, Joe.

    Thanks for the post. I watched the YouTube video. Thanks for the link. Very interesting. I’ve always written in TNR. I’m eager to try Comic Sans for working on a rough draft. And since I’m working on a middle-grade fantasy, I’ll start watching the controversy on the internet discussions. I wonder how much the font is being used in published books outside of comics.

    Thanks, Joe

  13. Thank you, Steve! Happy New Year to you and yours. I hope that the experiment with Comic Sans is productive for you. Re: whether the Comic Sans font is used in books other than comics/ graphic novels, I really don’t know. I don’t think it is, for reasons having to do with how it looks on the paper used for books, and it’s not on my (ancient) Kindle Fire. It would be interesting to see. Anyway, thanks for stopping during your snow shoveling breaks this morning!

  14. Unless things have changed drastically in the last few years, the reader of your text must have the same font installed in their computer/phone to see it. Otherwise, your computer will substitute one of its fonts. This holds true for websites. I wanted to create a signature for my greeting on the “front page” of my website, and the only way I could do that was create an image of the signature and insert that.

    For covers, you have to remember that some fonts are copyrighted so you’d better make sure you are allowed to use it on a cover.

  15. Marilynn, what you described re: the computer substituting the font is exactly what is being reported with Times Newer Roman. It is an interesting phenomenon that will hopefully be resolved down the road. Or not. And thank you for the reminder about copyright. Many in not most of the fonts coming out are free share but not all of them are. It doesn’t take that long to check and it will save headaches (among other things) later.

  16. I use a form I created to outline stories. The form is in New Times Roman. I write out the story line in Comic Sans MS. I’ve done this for the visual contrast. It made outlining easy. I always thought the prompts like Main Character is what made it easy.
    I typically don’t outline short stories.
    After reading this essay, I started a new short story and tried Comic Sans. It is easier. I did 159 words in less than seven minutes. For me that’s lightning fast.
    I’ve got to get back to my story.

  17. I’ve heard that in print, our eyes have a more comfortable reading experience with a serif font, so newspapers would use a serif font for text and a san serif font for headlines. On screen, however, san serif is easier to read. I usually use TNR for my manuscripts, but I’ll try Comic Sans. I have a feeling it will cause my inner perfectionist editor to relax and let the words flow.

    • That may well be the reason, Deb. It makes sense that one font may be better for writing and another for reading, since it’s two different activities…

  18. Joe, I tried your experiment this morning. It was fun writing with Comic Sans (in Scrivener). Two observations:

    1. It’s easier to read on screen, because it’s bolder.

    2. It’s more fun, because it feels like printing on paper with pencil or pen.

    • I’m glad that worked out, Steve. Thanks for sharing. Interestingly enough…after using Comic Sans for the better part of a week using anything else feels like I’m dragging a 20 pound weight around! Hope you enjoy.

  19. Joe–
    I can’t wait to try this! I’ve used Comic Sans for personal stuff for eons (I happen to be one of those who says fie on those bashers!) but somehow never thought of using it for actual writing. I will now!

        • You’re welcome, Justine. Thanks for getting back to us. It’s kind of scary, isn’t it, that a font change would make such a difference…

  20. Over the past year or so I’ve gone totally old school – my favorite blue pen, different colored 3-ring binders, and loose-leaf paper.

    When our last computer died it coincided with the air conditioner in the office. We went from desktop to laptop, then when it died we went to tablet and phone. I lost several manuscripts in each transition. I did put some of them on a stick somewhere but darned if I know where it is. My phone has Word for when I need it.

    This has actually increased my output. I’m on the computer all day at work, so I didn’t go near the thing when got home. Now I grab my stack of binders, pen, sticky notes, cherry coke, peanuts for the squirrels, and go out to my garden and write.

    I have a word count (thank you Mr. Bell) that I have to hit per week (so far so good) even if I do end up doing some of it on the weekend. Some days I work on one project.(today it’s my Civik War book) some days it’s all of them. This year I’m keeping a work journal (thank you Jack Bickham) and I’ve added decent pages to all of my projects since the first of the year.

    Thank you, Joe, for making me realize I did have a creativity spurt when I didn’t think I had one.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Cynthia. Contrary to conventional wisdom (which is usually neither) not every single person in the country is wired in or online 24/7/365. There are many who sit quietly and continue to use pen and paper as their fulcrum, quietly moving the world. Enjoy!

  21. LOL! You just had to go and give my brain something else to chase. 😎 Honestly, I’ve never given the fonts much thought, but because you mentioned it, I went to see what my journal entries and such were written in.

    By default I tend to use Courier New or Arial. I’m not a big fan of Times New Roman, and I don’t even have a good reason. I quite like the fun of Comic Sans, and tend to use it when I’m typing up ideas to tape into my Scanner daybook (an idea folder), fun reminders to myself, etc.

    But now I will experiment on my next writing gig and see how it goes typing in Comic Sans as opposed to the more boring Courier New and see if it makes a difference. Hmm…..

  22. I hope that using Comic Sans on your next writing project works for you, BK, and of equal importance, I hope that you have some fun with it. Thanks!

  23. Happy New Year 2019 to you and yours, Joe. I can see where Comic Sans could be fun to use but I have my laptop set at New Roman 12 as it’s easy to write with and revise and many markets for writing request that setting as they consider their readers. I have most fonts available on my Word program. 🙂 — Suzanne

  24. Suzanne, that’s great! I always say that you gotta gotta gotta go with what works for you. Have at it and thanks for sharing.

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