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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.

Photo: Getty
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Out with the old: how new species are evolving faster than ever

A future geologist will look back to the present day as a time of diversification, as well as extinction.

Human population growth, increased consumption, hunting, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and now climate change are turning the biological world on its head. The consequence is that species are becoming extinct, perhaps faster than at any time since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. This is an inconvenient truth.

But there are also convenient truths. Britain has gained about 2,000 new species over the past two millennia, because our predecessors converted forests into managed woodlands, orchards, meadows, wheat fields, roadsides, hedgerows, ponds and ditches, as well as gardens and urban sprawl, each providing new opportunities.

Then we started to transport species deliberately. We have the Romans to thank for brown hares and the Normans for rabbits. In the 20th century, ring-necked parakeets escaped from captivity and now adorn London’s parks and gardens.

Climate warming is bringing yet more new species to our shores, including little egrets and tree bumblebees, both of which have colonised Britain in recent years and then spread so far north that I can see them at home in Yorkshire. Convenient truth No 1 is that more species have arrived than have died out: most American states, most islands in the Pacific and most countries in Europe, including Britain, support more species today than they did centuries ago.

Evolution has also gone into overdrive. Just as some species are thriving on a human-dominated planet, the same is true of genes. Some genes are surviving better than others. Brown argus butterflies in my meadow have evolved a change in diet (their caterpillars now eat dove’s-foot cranesbill plants, which are common in human-disturbed landscapes), enabling them to take advantage of a warming climate and spread northwards.

Evolution is a second convenient truth. Many species are surviving better than we might have expected because they are becoming adapted to the human-altered world – although this is not such good news when diseases evolve immunity to medicines or crop pests become resistant to insecticides.

A third convenient truth is that new species are coming into existence. The hybrid Italian sparrow was born one spring day when a male Spanish sparrow (the “original” Mediterranean species) hitched up with a female house sparrow (which had spread from Asia into newly created farmland). The descendants of this happy union live on, purloining dropped grains and scraps from the farms and towns of the Italian peninsula. Some of those grains are wheat, which is also a hybrid species that originated as crosses between wild grasses in the Middle East.

This is not the only process by which new species are arising. On a much longer time scale, all of the species that we have released on thousands of islands across the world’s oceans and transported to new continents will start to become more distinct in their new homes, eventually separating into entirely new creatures. The current rate at which new species are forming may well be the highest ever. A future geologist will look back to the present day as a time of great diversification on Earth, as well as a time of extinction.

The processes of ecological and evolutionary change that brought all of Earth’s existing biological diversity into being – including ourselves – is continuing to generate new diversity in today’s human-altered world. Unless we sterilise our planet in some unimagined way, this will continue. In my book Inheritors of the Earth, I criss-cross the world to survey the growth in biological diversity (as well as to chart some of the losses) that has taken place in the human epoch and argue that this growth fundamentally alters our relationship with nature.

We need to walk a tightrope between saving “old nature” (some of which might be useful) and facilitating what will enable the biological world to adjust to its changed state. Humans are integral to Earth’s “new nature”, and we should not presume that the old was better than the new.

“Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction” by Chris D Thomas is published by Allen Lane

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder