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Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mailbox- Comic Sans

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[Remember, keep sending in your questions with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday.  Until/unless I have more questions than I can handle, I'll answer anything that has anything even peripherally to do with writing, art, inspiration, creativity, or anything else I blather on about here on Writing About Writing.]   

Just one today since that's all I have from all of you.  Keep sending questions, and I'll keep answering them!
Dana writes:
 Did you really turn in a college essay in Comic Sans just to piss off a teacher?

My reply:

While I have a sort of canned response to those "did-you-really..." questions, I'll answer this one. Yes, I really did this. Actually, it happened more than once, but it was always less just to piss off the instructor, and more to mess with them. I'm a heckler but not intentionally an asshole. I knew how to play the game in college (as my GPA attests to) but I was always pushing the limits in my own ways. A lot of people don't realize how "accidental" it was that I was a good student. I probably should have done much, much worse on several occasions.

I knew I had written a spectacular paper, and you may have noticed that I'm fond of poking at the authoritative pedagogy of academia, especially those who think their advanced degrees gave them the right to treat undergrads like idiots. I teach undergrads too. I know it can be like herding cats, but that's no excuse for assuming that people can't think unless you tell them exactly how to do so.

The thing is, Dana, I don't recommend doing it. I got snippy comments on papers, points off, and one very uncomfortable office meeting because of this prank. I was going to school for the education, not the degree, and the amount that I cared about grades had more to do with doing my best than the grades themselves. So I wouldn't have cared if I'd done poorly on a paper because it was in the "wrong font" as long as I knew the paper kicked ass. Three of my worst grades of my whole college career got the most unconcerned reactions from me because I hadn't understood the assignment and I'd done my best and if they were going to take off points because of unclear expectations, that was on them, not me. One of my most hand-wringing moments was an A minus that I got when I hadn't done my best and I knew it.

I wasn't really as concerned about the consequences of my actions as a "proper" student should be.

I liked putting the profs in the position of knowing that if they failed me for the font of an otherwise fandamntastical paper, they would be proving the worst things that everyone says about academia absolutely true, and they would be demonstrating that they're not actually there to "help people think critically and actualize their potential" but to follow directions like good little future workers of America. I liked the idea of them having to face those values and confront whether or not they would be egotistical autocrats who demanded contrition to their "authoritaaaaah" and not so much the compassionate mentors who encourage free thinking that they liked to think themselves.

These days, having seen the number of guest blog submissions that can't follow a simple fucking direction, I would have gone back and slapped old me.

Unfortunately, at least once, this sort of backfired. (Sort of.) I got dragged into an office meeting intended to find out why I "shouldn't be given a zero on the paper since [I] obviously didn't take it,\ [him], or the class seriously." We talked about why I had done it, and I explained some the reasons I gave above. Sometimes, when I'm feeling super bad ass, I imagine it as a speech with swelling music behind me and my words about the tyranny of the ivory tower flowing from my mouth like golden honey in a way that made a single tear slip down the young adjunct's face.

But having been in the other chair a few too many times, I know he probably was looking for any excuse not to do something that would ruin an A student's grade.

I ended up with extra credit.


  1. Is it bad that all of my exams are in Comic Sans? Really. Each time my student sits down to an exam, there's this cheerful little font taunting them. Is that mean?

    1. If by "mean," you mean AWESOME, then yes!

    2. I know many people for whom comic sans is an easier font to read than any of the accepted "academic" fonts. So possible reactions to an exam in comic sans: 1) ugh, the cheery font is taunting me 2) Eww, comic sans! 3) Cool, I can read this really easily. 4) *no reaction*

    3. From an accessibility point of view, probably better!

      I fall decidedly into the "meh" camp. I probably wouldn't notice, and if I did, it would take all of one paragraph for it to slip out of my notice again.

  2. Oh, you're "that" student. The one we can't decide whether we love or hate and who is too damned smart for their own good.

    1. I'm not that smart. I can just do jazz hands like you would not believe.

  3. the irony being that comic sans was invented for readability in tiny comic page word bubbles. it is a super legible font, not a 'funny' one. them highfalutin academics are hella ignorant, yo.

  4. Not really. It was designed to sort of LOOK like traditional comic script, but was mostly designed for a simple "fun" look. Because using a super serious typeface for a talking dog assistant in Microsoft Bob seemed weird. At least so says the creator of comic sans.

  5. I've always quite like Comic Sans, tbh. I don't get font snobbery... :/

  6. I find Comic sans for my own notes because it works for my eyesight, I definitely prefer it to Times New Roman and Arial. TNR was developed mostly for newspapers mid-20th century, Arial is derived from Megaron which was also a mid-20th newspaper font. CS was developed on and for digital media and if people got the stick out of their collective asses is actually slightly more legible. Font snobbery sucks unless you're a page layout artiste. And even among artistes there are still some generally recognised as primae donnae.

    I worked for a newspaper as a typesetter/subbie/jack of all trades and my editor was always glad that I didn't expect the paper to pay for a hundred fancy fonts just to satisfy my need for proper kerning. No font furore fussy fits for me... %)