The Big Idea: Ever Dundas
There are typefaces that have passed into infamy for being terrible… but in HellSans, there’s one that’s gone just beyond being terrible into being terrifying. And for author Ever Dundas, this typeface is a metaphor, not for awful kerning and character design, but something altogether more sinister and troubling.
I spent my childhood throwing up.
Halloween 1984, when I was five years old, I went guising in our neighbourhood and someone gave me nuts. Oblivious, I ate one. I would have felt a bit off at first, a strange taste in my mouth, then my lips would have swelled. Thankfully, my breathing wasn’t laboured, my throat didn’t close. I vomited, expelling the poison, and there began my journey of countless allergic reactions over the years.
I’m allergic to a very long list of foodstuffs, some discovered through tests, most discovered the hard way, but that moment when I was five years old and ate that nut, HellSans was born. It just took me almost forty years (and a lot of vomit) to translate that moment into art, the main catalyst being a colleague’s misuse of a typeface.
I went into work one morning to discover a slew of emails from a colleague all written in Comic Sans. The next day, I found another colleague doing the same. That evening I said to my husband, “It’s spreading, like a disease.” I immediately wrote a scene for what became HellSans.
In my early twenties I fell ill with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) and in my thirties I fell ill with fibromyalgia. I clung to my Comic Sans-riddled office job, desperately trying to hang on, making myself more and more ill by the day, dragging my pained and exhausted bodymind through the hours, collapsing at home, and doing it all over again.
Eventually, admitting defeat, I handed in my notice. But then what? What if you can’t work? Who are you then? What is your worth?
But maybe those are the wrong questions. Maybe I should have been asking:
What if society doesn’t work for you? What if you fall through the cracks of capitalism and find yourself in a dystopia?
The symptoms of M.E. and fibromyalgia include chronic pain as well as sensitivity to light and noise. I remember thinking about these symptoms and my numerous allergies and saying to someone, “Sometimes it feels like I’m allergic to the world.”
What if that was the case? What if you were literally allergic to society?
I ran with that, took “what if words could kill”, mashed it into visceral reactions to art and design, continued via food allergies and the pathos in being made sick by something that should be nourishing, leapt into political sloganeering via graffiti: “society is making you sick” and “capitalism is killing you”, and landed in the chasm you fall into as a disabled and chronically ill person when you can no longer earn a living.
HellSans is set in an alternative dystopian UK, where the population is controlled by its bliss reaction to the ubiquitous typeface. But there’s a minority who are allergic to it: so-called ‘deviants’. The allegory isn’t subtle; the discrimination against those who are allergic to the typeface was directly influenced by the way disabled and chronically ill people are treated in the UK under the Tories, a government who were investigated by the UN for human rights violations against disabled people.
The novel is released as we near Halloween 2022, and I think of that five-year-old, expecting safe and fun horrors, but instead skirting a little too close to death. She expelled the poison, an exorcism she repeated over the years. As a disabled adult, I expel the poison of a Conservative government and a health supremacist society that wants me dead, the poison transmuted into the ink that is now HellSans.
WARNING: may contain traces of vomit, serifs, and revolution.