And this is where we dive right in to the pressing issues, the questions that matter by god! The burning quandry at the forefront of all of our minds is, of course, where in the world did they pull a generic font family like ‘fantasy’ from for CSS?
It’s been around since CSS1, but the CSS2 spec explains far better what exactly a fantasy font is:
Fantasy fonts, as used in CSS, are primarily decorative while still containing representations of characters (as opposed to Pi or Picture fonts, which do not represent characters). Examples include:
Latin fonts: Alpha Geometrique, Critter, Cottonwood, FB Reactor, Studz
Okay, sure. Let’s face it, no one has ever implemented precisely that. Unless a particularly keen user has overridden their settings, no browser has ever rendered it properly according to the spec. Comic Sans is not a decorative typeface. So in the wide world of fonts, why was it considered a priority, or even a good idea to introduce something so vaguely impractical?
Not only is this quirky font family a design nightmare, but accessibility suffers for it. A default font size that is considered more than generous using, say, Verdana, Georgia, or even Times could be completely indistinguishable given the intricate detail that goes into a pictographic or decorative letter.
No one in their right mind uses it (a complaint from 1997 that wasn’t addressed then, and 6 years later still remains completely valid). It’s an unpredictable time bomb on any page that dares. It’s cruft in the spec, it’s been suggested that it should be dropped, but it’s not going anywhere in CSS3. Of course, we’ll have WebFonts to look forward to once that’s out (which includes some font selection capabilities that will make your head spin), but there in the middle, right amongst all the forthcoming goodness is useless old fantasy.
So who did it? Where did the idea come from, and who considered it important enough to sit in the comparitively small CSS1 spec? I had not a clue, so it was time to turn to Google. Dredging back to the early years of CSS proved quite a task, thanks no doubt due to web rot and decentralization (we’re talking 1995 and 1996 here, when things were a lot smaller).
I browsed the relevant www-style archive from its inception to the release of CSS1 as an official recommendation. No luck. I Googled newgroups and the web as far back as I could go. Nothing. I haven’t been able to find a single word anywhere on the public web toward explaining why this was a good idea at one point.
I have a hunch my answer might be found within the yellowing pages of Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web (1997) by Lie and Bos. I haven’t read it, and no one carries it anymore. If you have a copy, or have any clue whatsoever on how this came to be, please, reply in the comments. We’re all on the edge of our seats.