The Comic Sans Typewriter

It's art!

Jesse England/YouTube

Like the tuxedo T-shirt and the Yoda backpack, some objects are too perfect not to exist.

Such is the Comic Sans typewriter.

The device, announced last week by Pittsburgh-based artist Jesse England, is very simple. It’s a typewriter that imparts to paper not the serious, monospaced letterforms of Courier, but those of the chunky, rounded, much-maligned Comic Sans.

England’s dubbed the device “the Sincerity Machine.”

“I’m not particularly enamored with this font, but I do not think it deserves the flack it gets,” he says in the announcement video.

Sincerity Machines aren’t for sale, at least not yet. In the video, England says that the typewriter is just an art project and not a viral marketing stunt.

The project is a lovely spin on the current fads in fonts. Web writers, clacking away to often produce electrons, often yearn for the material mechanism of the typewriter. The designer Khoi Vinh first asked for a Mac app that mimicked a typewriter—and the impossibility of copying, pasting, and deleting—in 2006. Recently, Tom Hanks—yes, the actor—lent his name to an app that does just that, but on the iPad.

(And, it’s worth noting, typewriters haven’t died, they’re just differently distributed. Some legal documents must still be set in Courier. The screenplay writer John August recently made a version of Courier that’s easier on the eyes, because movie studios can make assumptions about the running time of a movie based on how many Courier-set pages its script is.)

And Comic Sans is, well, Comic Sans. It’s the only font with a dramatic (if explicit) monologue. And while it indicates membership in some font couture to hate on Comic Sans, the affable typeface is used by the less pretentious every day. Comic Sans just looks friendly and honest. Hence it’s deployed by elementary-school principals, public librarians, pediatric nurses—and the so-ironic-it’s-sentimental doge meme.

But the “Sincerity Machine” name is about more than Comic Sans. It alludes to “Business Machines” in IBM’s old name—IBM, the company that used to make 75 percent of Americans’ electric typewriters.

What Comic Sans looks like when typewritten (Jesse England/YouTube)

Though I’m delighted by this object, I want to object to one element of the wide coverage of England’s monster. The font the Sincerity Machine outputs isn’t Comic Sans, or, at least, it isn’t quite. Comic Sans was first released by Microsoft in 1994 for use in PCs. It was as a font born digital, and its usage assumes all the standards of desktop typography—which is to say, that its size can be scaled up or down at will, that its baseline will always be mathematically clean, that its kerning will always be just so. To flip-flop it into analog land is to alter it in a crucial way: to make it messier, wilder, and no longer the oddly consistent imitation of handwriting.

It’s to make Comic Sans a little looser, a little weirder—a little more sincere.