Title text: I have never been as self-conscious about my handwriting as when I was inking in the caption for this comic.
In typography, kerning refers to the spacing between consecutive letters in printed material or the process of adjusting said spacing. Bad kerning is thus text that has so much space between letters of one word that it appears to be two words, or so little space between letters that they run together. A common kerning issue is an "r" and an "n" together looking like an "m". (This latter case has resulted in the slang term "keming" for this type of kerning.) Extreme behavior of bad kerning can lead to humorous or inappropriate text.
Proper kerning is more difficult than it sounds. If one were to imagine each letter as existing inside a rectangle, "A" and "V", for example, happen to be negatives of one another space-wise, and as a result if an "A" was simply set alongside a "V" (or vice versa) where the rectangles do not overlap, the spacing would end up looking unusually large. Thus, "AV" and "VA" sequences have to be specially programmed to overlap slightly.
Kerning has been an issue in typography since the early era of printing presses and movable type but has taken on new challenges with digital printing. Typical non-designers using basic word processing software don't pay much attention to kerning. A good graphic designer, however, can compensate for bad kerning by individually adjusting the spacing between problem letters. People who specialize in graphic design or layout (and, thus, who are exposed to digital text on a regular basis) can become hyper-sensitive to bad kerning, seeing it in signs or other printed materials prepared by people without such sensitivity to bad kerning.
In the comic, the kerning in the sign is badly done: the spacing between C and I (in "City"), between C and E (in "Offices"), and even slightly between F and I (also in "Offices") is inconsistent. The space between the C and E is almost as wide as the space between the words. One character is clearly frustrated while the other character doesn't notice the problem at all.
The comic explains that once a person learns what good kerning is, they will get irritated by shoddy kerning in the future. And since it is very irritating to be annoyed every time this happens, Randall suggests that you teach this to someone you really hate. Unfortunately, the comic itself has also taught us to be annoyed. Thanks, Randall.
Kerning was mentioned in the title text of 590: Papyrus, a comic about the font Papyrus. The suggestion of teaching someone about kerning to annoy them sounds like it could become a new hobby for Randall.
The title text is written by Randall explaining that as he was writing this comic about kerning, he was very self-conscious of his own handwriting. The act of thinking about kerning (and likely, the act of drawing an example of such bad kerning) made him aware of it in his own writing, and in fact, he kerns the caption oddly, with, for example, the T in "them" hanging over the top of the H, but this is a common quirk of his.
The comic has a parallel with 972: November, which also suggests the idea of annoying a person by calling their attention to something which usually does not merit it.
- [There is a poorly-kerned sign on the side of a building. Two Cueball-like guys are standing in front of it. The first guy has his hands in fists up in front of him and a black cloud over his head.]
- C I T Y O F F I C E S
- First guy: Argh!
- Second guy: What?
- [Caption below the frame:]
- If you really hate someone, teach
- them to recognize bad kerning.
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