Which is Worse: Comic Sans or Papyrus?

Thomas Elder, senior professorial lecturer, Department of Art

Thomas Elder

Inspired by comic book handwriting, Comic Sans was created by a Microsoft designer especially for the digital platform. It made its debut around 1995 along with Office Assistant—an anthropomorphized paper clip named Clippit that would pop up in the bottom righthand corner of the screen. The two shared a similar purpose: to make this brand new, expansive operating system more accessible to users. People with a newfound ability to make creative documents found that Comic Sans was fun and lightweight—definitely not as boring as Arial. 
But a font can be like a pair of bell-bottoms: you like it and you use it, then you stop using it and you’re repelled by it. It’s as if you don’t want to be associated with a former time—and that’s where we’re at with Comic Sans.
Papyrus was created in 1982 by a young designer who wanted a font that evoked biblical times in the Middle East. Think about that: it’s as if Payprus didn’t know what it wanted to be from the beginning. But through its use in 2009’s Avatar, for example, which features these blue tribal creatures, it’s taken on an uncomfortable notion of otherness. We see this further in Papyrus’s use on a series of congressional medals struck by the US Mint honoring Indigenous tribe members who served as code talkers during World War II. As a voting member of a First Nation, I find the use of the font on such “tributes” nescient and disheartening. 
Both Comic Sans and Papyrus are display fonts unsuitable for most applications; as a design instructor, I don’t recommend using either in setting typography. But Papyrus, which has taken on an Avatar-ness that it just can’t shake, is far worse than Comic Sans, which is just silly and will always be silly. 
Fonts, of which there are more than 700 in Microsoft Word alone, have both a utility and a power. When we select one, we’re tapping into background knowledge of how it’s been used in the past to make a conscious choice about how to apply it now.