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Comic Sans gets neue lease of life – but it may end in tragedy

A new version of Comic Sans promises to lend credibility to the comic line of typefaces.

Love it or hate it, the Comic Sans typeface makes amateur typographers of us all. Now a new version has appeared, promising to lend credibility to the comic line of typefaces.

Comic Neue, designed by Craig Rozynski, is like Comic Sans but has been designed with some key differences that are supposed to make it less unsightly.

We don’t normally talk about typography and often only notice typefaces when they are atypical or inhibit our ability to read. Comic Sans is different. It divides opinion among those who don’t usually identify as typeface enthusiasts. And in its wake, Comic Neue is causing a stir too.

Rozynski says on his website that the typeface “aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone including the typographically savvy”. Do we really need another comic script though? Was Comic Sans really that bad in the first place?

The unloved typeface

If you have been near a computer in the past 20 years, you have likely encountered Comic Sans, the “fun” typeface with rounded edges that appears to be written with a felt-tipped pen.

Comic Sans: bringing comedy to tragedy.
Luwig van Standard Lamp, CC BY-SA

If you are an amateur designer, it’s the go-to typeface for just about any occasion that requires a relaxed approach. If you are an experienced designer, it’s the last typeface you’d ever use, unless you want to be ridiculed without mercy.

The typeface, now approaching its 20th anniversary, was originally designed by Vincent Connare for Microsoft Bob, Microsoft’s 1995 interface for various iterations of Windows.

Microsoft Bob came with a dog that would interact with the user. In the initial version of Bob, the dog offered assistance in speech bubbles using Times New Roman. Connare decided that comic dogs probably wouldn’t “speak” that way, and went to work designing something more interesting. He used the hand-drawn characters found in popular comic books like The Dark Knight Returns and the Watchmen series as inspiration for what would later become Comic Sans.

Since then, the typeface has been used for everything from physics presentations to papal documents and its popularity is only matched by the disdain some people have for it. People feel so strongly about the typeface that there is even a website devoted to banning Comic Sans entirely. It is this ridicule that prompted Craig Rozynski to redesign the typeface into the new Comic Neue.

Friendly font

Comic Neue is a sans serif typeface designed to appear casual and friendly. There are numerous different characteristics of the typeface that convey this tone. Generally speaking, the more a typeface resembles handwritten text, the more it is perceived as casual.

Each letter, or character, in a typeface is comprised of a series of straight and curved lines called strokes. While some typefaces change the width of a stroke drastically, each stroke of Comic Neue is the same width throughout. This creates what designers call a mono-weight typeface. These mono-weight strokes mirror the strokes you would get with a pen or pencil. The end of each Comic Neue stroke also comes to a rounded point, which again mirrors handwriting.

Certain characters, such as the lowercase a and g also tell us a great deal about the tone of a typeface. These specific letters have two different variations, known as single and double story.

Single story letters have one enclosed or mostly enclosed space, called a counter. Double story letters have two counters. Single story letters, like those found in Comic Neue, are considered more casual and friendly.

Stay away, kids. Sermoa, CC

All of these casual attributes can be found in both Comic Sans and Comic Neue. What separates Comic Neue from Comic Sans, however, is the perfection found within each character. Where Comic Sans strokes are often crooked, Comic Neue strokes are exact. The vertical strokes are perfectly vertical and the counters are uniformly rounded. These small changes, combined with a thinner stroke throughout, convey a slightly more professional tone.

Your neue best friend?

Comic Sans is arguably the most misused typeface in history. It incites laughter in some people and rage in others. While the changes made to it to create Comic Neue do contribute to a more professional tone, there is no way to tell if the typeface will be more socially accepted.

The reputation of the comic typefaces may well be irreversibly tainted forever. Some might argue that is a good thing. The internet enables access to a seemingly endless selection of “comic” typefaces: Janda Manatee; Smart Kid; Action Man; Cartwheel; Rudiment; or even the rather unwieldly-named Year Supply of Fairy Cakes. But few of these have ever made it into the mainstream.

Yet other much maligned typefaces are regularly used. Papyrus, a font which many hate as much as Comic Sans, remains a mainstay for many designers.

So can legitimacy be granted to a family of fonts that, by their very nature, are designed for fun? The remains to be seen. In the meantime, Comic Neue offers us one more opportunity to decide if we really need a comic font for that all-important business document.*

*We probably don’t.

The ConversationThe authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ANTONIO OLMOS / EYEVINE
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How Ken Loach's radical vision won him a second Palm d'Or

In Loach's films, authenticity is everything, and when his quest for realism pays off, there's nothing as raw in all of cinema.

On 22 May, at the age of 79, Ken Loach became the first British director to win the top prize twice at the Cannes Film Festival. His previous Palme d’Or, in 2006, was for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatised the British occupation of Ireland and the origins of the IRA. This time, he won for I, Daniel Blake, the story of an ailing carpenter wrongly declared fit for work by the callous UK benefits system. No wonder Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, could issue only the most grudging acknowledgement, alluding vaguely to “Brit success!” in a tweet that failed to mention either Loach or the film.

The actor and Cannes jury member Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, called I, Daniel Blake “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul”. It was an incongruous delight to see Loach posing before swarms of paparazzi. He usually disdains such frivolities; he might be red but he’s hardly red carpet. “As a film-maker, you’re forever involved in things that constantly inflate their own importance,” he once complained. Artifice, hyperbole and celebrity hold no appeal. Even film-making itself is full of irritating impediments. “If Loach could make a film without a camera, he would,” said Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with him on Fatherland (1986).

Authenticity is everything. Unusually, Loach shoots in sequence, even if it requires moving back and forth at great cost between locations. In the days of celluloid, he would forfeit much of his fee to buy more film stock so that his beloved improvisations could roll on and on. When I visited the set of Carla’s Song near Loch Lomond in 1995, Loach gave the actor Robert Carlyle a good-natured ticking off for speaking to me between takes. “I’d rather he didn’t talk to anyone,” he said, “because then he’ll start thinking about things in terms of technique and who he really is, and it’ll all become conscious.”

When the quest for realism pays off, there is nothing as raw in all cinema. Think of the chilling attack on a family home by loan sharks in his 1993 drama Raining Stones, one of the films that began his most successful period, or the climax of Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC in 1966 and arguably his most groundbreaking film. As Cathy (Carol White) has her children taken off her by social workers and police, Loach films the entire traumatic episode in a wide shot with a hidden camera to preserve the reality. The movie led directly to the founding of Crisis.

Conversely, Loach at his worst can be one of the most simplistic sentimentalists out there. The characterisation of the salt-of-the-earth heroes in recent films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Route Irish, or the pantomime-villain Brits in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, shows what happens when action is overpowered by agenda.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Loach read law at Oxford but became seduced by theatre directing and acting: he was in a revue for which Dudley Moore composed the music, and understudied in the West End in One Over the Eight. He joined the BBC in 1963, where he brought extra earthiness to Z-Cars before finding his ideal outlet in The Wednesday Play slot that went out after the news. “We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news,” he said. He made ten TV films under that banner but it was with his second movie, Kes, in 1969, that he took flight, proving that the gritty and the lyrical need not be mutually exclusive.

His politics was fully formed by this point. Though he has rejected claims that he is Marxist or Trotskyist, he admits that the analysis to which he turned after his disillusionment with Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s was a Marxist one. “The idea of a class analysis was the one we identified with,” he said of himself and his collaborators the producer Tony Garnett and the writer Jim Allen. “What we realised was that social democrats and Labour politicians were simply acting on behalf of the ruling class, protecting the interests of capital.”

This stance was consolidated by a series of run-ins in the 1980s, when he saw his work banned and thwarted by political forces. The transmission of his four-part 1983 television documentary Questions of Leadership, which asked whether the trade union leadership was adequately representing its members’ interests, was delayed and blocked by Labour string-pulling. Which Side Are You On? – a documentary about the miners’ strike – was rejected because of footage showing police violence.

Since his full-time return to cinema in the early 1990s, acclaim has eclipsed controversy. Even if he had not won a Palme d’Or, his stamp is all over other directors who have won that award in the past 20 years. The Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) have never hidden their debt to him, while recent winners such as Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Cristian Mingiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) exhibit his mixture of directness, compassion and realism.

If there is anything that defines him, it is his fight, which has made it possible for him to remain one of cinema’s angriest and most effective voices. “In the long term, I guess I’m optimistic because people always fight back,” he said. “The reason to make films is just to let people express that, to share that kind of resilience because that’s what makes you smile. It’s what makes you get up in the morning.”

“I, Daniel Blake” is released later this year

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad