Comic Sans: How to Forget that We Just Confirmed the Higgs Boson

So I stayed up all night in order to watch the July 4 CERN announcement. It was worth it, and in case you somehow missed the news: We haz a boson. The various detectors at the Large Hadron Collider detected a particle consistent to that of the Higgs with the needed 5 Sigma certainty. In some cases, the combined data from detectors exceeded 5 Sigma (which is 99.9999% certainty that the event being detected isn’t a fluke).

During the various powerpoint presentations, something stuck out at me. While the slides were a little blurry due to internet streaming, I could see a familiar typeface scrawled across the screen. A dread typeface. You know the one. I set up my comic for the morning, making a quick addition to play on this design gaffe. Then I fell asleep.

Alright, I’m awake now, and art rage circuits are operating at 100% efficiency. Let’s talk about comic sans MS.

I’m talking about this right here.

Speaking to the entirety of the scientific community, I ask: You’re about to announce to the entire world that you have found the missing piece in the standard model of physics, and you do it with comic sans?

Scientists. Scientists. Even if comic sans were an acceptable typeface, this is not the time for whimsy here. That slide will probably end up in the Library of Congress. Oh geez, I made myself sick just thinking that.

It wasn’t even the first time either. I’m beginning to think this is some sort of inside joke—that CERN is not content with trolling journalists alone, but anybody with eyes. Or perhaps there is some sort of misunderstanding? Is there some sort of cultural divide here, where comic sans is acceptable in Switzerland? Are we being insensitive with our narrow perspective on typeface usage? Probably not.

Nadir, my compatriot over at sci-ence.org sent a note to me this morning saying,

As graphic artists we’re putting an effort into understanding their work accurately—WHERE’S THE TURNAROUND, SCIENTISTS?

To make matters worse: Et tu Brian? Et tu Ed?


No bueno. Not okay. Just as I would NEVER draw an Erlenmeyer flask when a Thiele tube is required, nor would I EVER call it the “god particle,” so should science presenters stay away from Microsoft Word clip art and comic sans. Indeed, this sort of thing is a stab in the heart for anybody in the field of science communication. We try so hard to dust off the journal articles and put them in a form that people can understand and appreciate, and then they go and present a finding 50 years in the making in COMIC SANS. Even cartoonists don’t use comic sans anymore.

This nonsense must stop! Scientists, you need to meet us halfway. Meet us halfway, science.

And stay away from Papyrus!


Post excerpted from Sci-ence.org

Bora Zivkovic and I had a jovial facebook exchange where it was jokingly suggested that the slides might as well be fully animated with fades, swipes, sound effects, and clip art. I agreed, “If you’re gonna go comic sans, go all the way.”





Maki Naro is an artist, incurable geek, and lover of cooking, public radio, small animals, and Blade Runner. He comprises one half of the Sci-ence Webcomic's dynamic duo.

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  1. I don’t understand the Comic Sans hate. It’s a font. It looks pretty much like all the other fonts without serifs to me.

  2. It’s a font. It’s legible. WTF? Everyone’s acting like it’s that ’70s computer font or something, yeesh.

  3. If you don’t see a difference between Comic Sans and any other sans-serif typeface, then all I can say is thank FSM you’re not a professional typographer.

    What really kills me any time CS is used is that the people who set that text had a choice and actively chose to use it over any other font. Even the most basic of word processors (—iA Writer excepted—) will have a basic variety of fonts, all of which are eminently more appropriate than Comic Sans for setting body copy. So why not just go with one of those? Times New Roman too boring for you? Verdana too boxy? Courier too typewritery?

    ANY of those are still a better choice than Comic Sans! They may not have the flair or finesse of some more refined typefaces, but at the very least they eliminate (or at least diminish) the chance your reader will get hung up asking “Why the eff did they set it in COMIC SANS!?”

    So, I have to wonder what the thought process is behind choosing the dreaded CS, because it genuinely confuses me. Are they trying to “pep up” your text? Emotion and attitude are conveyed by the content itself, NOT the “lightheartedness” of the typeface. It is true that a typeface does have an effect on the overall “feel” of your content, but body copy’s primary objective is to be readable and non-obtrusive. Saying that Comic Sans achieves this goal is just flat out wrong.

    Aside from that, Comic Sans fails even at its intended purpose—mimicking the hand lettering of cartoon strips and comic books. If you really want that look (as in, you’re making a comic book and NOT publishing the most significant discovery in physics since the theory of relativity), then you should be using genuine hand lettering. At the very least, use a professional hand-lettered font specifically designed for cartoon strips and comic books (there are plenty available at reasonable prices.)

    Comic Sans is clunky, wobbly, too tall and utterly limp as a typeface BECAUSE it is trying to apply hand-lettered idiosyncrasies to the form of classic block type. Two things that have absolutely no business being combined are mashed together in a mushy pile of fail.

    Of course, this is not surprising given the font’s origins: It was designed as the default font for Microsoft’s ill-conceived “Bob,” a user interface that thought treating adults like children and talking down to them with head-patting condescension was the best way to teach them how to use computers. The font should have been killed and buried along with Bob’s carcass, but somehow it remained.

    Typography matters a lot more than people give it credit for. A good percentage of our knowledge has been gained through type that had at least a bare minimum of consideration for how it was set. The most successful typography is virtually invisible. The level of care and craft that goes into it should be imperceptible to the average reader, and that’s why I think it’s easy for people outside the type world to take it for granted.

  4. Never a word said was more true.
    Science has standards, and all we ask is that they remember that there are some in art and design too…we call it “Helvetica”. 🙂

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