McNary Font Club embarks on “humanitarian work” to remove Comic Sans from school buses

Senior Julia DaSilva, playing Comic Sans, attacks sophomore Ian Madsen, playing Times New Roman, during a Font Club rehearsal (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

They’ve published zines, worn lampshades on their head in protest of district nutritional guidelines and debated typeface.

Now, they’re waging a campaign to remove Comic Sans from the side of local school buses.

Welcome to the McNary High School Font Club.

Started four years ago after a sarcastic comment in a McNary statistics class went awry, Font Club is at once a piece of performance art, a series of inside jokes and a social space for teens who either genuinely care about fonts or enjoy writing parody songs about them.

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Their current project is a student-written musical where each member portrays one font: the classic-if-boring Times New Roman, the zany Wingdings, and yes, the much-maligned Comic Sans.

“Do we have a new kazooist?” math teacher and advisor Paul Shuirman asked as the group practiced an introductory number where freshman Morgan McClain, representing Arial, trash-talks Ian Madsen, playing the role of Times New Roman.

The plan is to videotape the musical in segments and show the recording in Shuirman’s classroom later this year.

Entry will be free, but people will have to pay $5 to leave the room, senior Aubrey Downer explained. The money would help replace the typography on buses that says Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

“Years ago, they had rock concerts where people were pushed up against the stage. It’s going to be like that,” Shuirman said.

Paul Shuirman, a McNary High School math teacher, holds up lyrics during a rehearsal for Font Club, which he advises. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The Salem-Keizer School District is phasing out Comic Sans, and newer school buses have a serif font on them, district communications director Lillian Govus said.

Comic Sans was released by Microsoft in 1994 and is often maligned for its childish appearance and overuse, though it has its defenders.

Govus is not among them. She joked that she almost didn’t take a job with the district after seeing the buses, and looked into what it would take to swap the labels out for something else. The price tag was between $50,000 and $60,000.

“I support the font club wholeheartedly,” Govus said in a text.

Downer believes the change could help solve a persistent bus driver shortage in Salem-Keizer.

“Nobody wants to drive a bus with Comic Sans on the side,” she said.

Madsen referred to the effort as “humanitarian work to save people from the travesty of Comic Sans on their school buses.”

The group is suggesting replacing the bus font with Wingdings, an essentially unreadable font where letters are replaced with symbols.

“Oregon’s already weird, why not just go off that?” said freshman Victor Portilla Muñoz, who portrays the font Chiller in the club’s musical.

Wingdings, portrayed by freshman Aiden Wilson, is the hero of the font club musical. The plot has an anti-bullying message where other fonts tease him for not being a real font, before they help him find his place.

“Times New Roman is like, ‘I’ll teach you how to be a good font,’” Julia DaSilva, a senior who plays Comic Sans, explained.

Like nearly everything the club does, their goal is half-serious.

The club formed after a student called Shuirman out in class because his PowerPoint arbitrarily switched fonts mid-slide.

“I said, ‘If you like fonts so much you should start a font club,” Shuirman said. The student agreed. “I was like, ‘What? You weren’t supposed to say yes.’”

Downer, the club’s longest member, joined for free pasta.

Shuirman was giving his geometry class pieces of raw fettucine to make angles, and she asked for an extra piece to eat in class. (Why? “Sophomore year was wild,” she said.)

Shuirman said he’d give it to her if she came to a Font Club meeting. She’s been there ever since.

For the veteran math teacher, Font Club is a place to inject a bit of weirdness into a school setting, which can otherwise become too formal. He came to Salem-Keizer from the Los Angeles area, teaching in large public schools where he felt like he could be himself.

Font Club lets him connect with students, and its members confirmed his odd style and recurring jokes keeps them engaged in math classes.

“Generally, when kids are themselves, it works better,” Shuirman said. “I can relate to the ADD kids because I am that ADD 53-year-old.”

To raise $50,000, the Font Club will have to get 10,000 people to pay to leave their musical performance.

Shuirman acknowledged that was unlikely, though he suggested a Northwest stadium tour could be in the works.

Barring that, the group could set its sights on just a few buses, he said.

“I know 10,000 people seems like a lot, but we have an inspirational story (wingdings getting bullied and eventually regaining his self-esteem), talent, and kazoos!” he wrote in an email.

News tip? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.