R. Stevens has been publishing his web comic, Diesel Sweeties, for 14 years and drinking coffee for even longer. The daily comic follows the usual adventures of a motley crew of humans who happen to hang out with robots, a sentient toaster, and a hissing espresso machine. R. Stevens just published his second collection, Bacon Is a Vegetable, Coffee Is a Vitamin, and it promises to be “delicious, nutritious, and full of wood pulp fiber!” We sat down to chat about his work, his love of caffeine, and the three best cups of coffee he’s ever had.
Greetings! For the uninitiated, please introduce yourself. A/S/L!
Howdy! I have drawn a comic strip on the “inter-nets” called Diesel Sweeties since before Myspace was a thing. Most people don’t know my first name. I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts for almost a decade and still rely on spellcheck when typing “Massachusetts.”
So how did Diesel Sweeties start? What’s kept it going all these years?
Like most things that I actually follow through on, it started completely by accident. After getting a boring job after college, I decided to use the internet to test out ideas for comic books. I never quite moved on to a second idea. Pixels just worked for me. It must be the constraints. I started by posting DS comics in 2000 and wound up quitting my job two years later.
Luckily, an art style that was barely retro at the time is full-on retro now. Feel free to declare me a psychic.
Talk to me about coffee. How do your take yours? What’s your relationship with the mighty bean?
I generally take it black, by the pot, in lots of small servings. I go with a lighter roast, but I don’t play favorites with beans. Maybe I’ve just never met the right dark roast. I order some online and mix it up with a few local roasters.
I’m not the most exacting brewer, so I stick to a pretty good burr grinder and a Moccamaster dripper. I like variations on a theme and little surprises, which is a great excuse for not being super precise when it comes to making coffee.
Cream kind of weirds me out. So does that new thing where people add butter to coffee. I don’t like the dairy aftertaste. I’m trying coffee with thick coconut milk mixed in to see if there’s enough fat there to serve as a mini-breakfast. Fat is the second most important nutrient after caffeine.
Why do you think coffee stuff appears in your strip so much?
I’ve always treated computers, animals, and appliances as if they were people in my strip. Coffee pots are living things who we feed and then get to enjoy the fruits of their labors. I think if you’re reading this interview, you probably have a relationship with your coffee-making devices on par with what you’d have with a cat. And unlike my cats, the coffee pot actually helps me do my work.
Tell us about your new book. How is coffee a vitamin?
Coffee is a vitamin because it is necessary for good health. Do not listen to “scientists” or “nutritionists.” Caffeine, in its more healthful form, is the most nourishing, hydrating, life-giving fluid on the planet. Anyone who disagrees with me is a liar and should be cooked into a stew.
What’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had? What’s the worst?
I can’t really pick a worst cup of coffee, because I don’t want to blame the victim. Even the worst-prepared beans had potential before circumstances led them to Dunkin’ Donuts. One of the main reasons I hate flying out of Boston is the insane Dunkin’ culture of that city. It’s like seeing sports banners everywhere, but actually knowing what they’re talking about.
How about three best, in no particular order? These are all cups I had out of the house, which is the only reason Tonx isn’t on the list. These are the unplanned coffee happy accidents that always make me smile. Serendipitous coffee.
My first Jamaican Blue experience. I was working in a weird little sign shop / internet cafe where the owner let a ska band practice. It was the nineties. Nothing made sense. One night, one of the players brought in and brewed a pot of Jamaican Blue and gave me a little cup. It was still lit up like a Christmas tree the next morning. Smooth.
My fellow cartooning chum John Allison sent me a tiny packet of Indonesian coffee for my birthday about five years ago. I had tamed one of my local coffee shops at the time and the manager prepared it like espresso. It was the mellowest shot I ever had. I don’t know if using it that way was a crime, but it was memorable.
Lew Mitchell’s restaurant in Chicago. I was on a cross-country Amtrak ride to Comicon and on a layover, stopped into a place claiming to be the only 5-star breakfast in America. Their coffee is the platonic ideal of a cup of diner joe. Better than you’d get drip at most “real” coffeeshops.
Where can people see your work and buy your stuff?
I update my comics constantly and run my own store out of an old factory building that used to make bombs to kill Hitler. The book and the t-shirt of the same name can be found at baconisavegetable.com.