Interview: R. Stevens on ‘Diesel Sweeties’
When Richard Stevens III (a.k.a. "R Stevens") initially launched his webcomic, Diesel Sweeties, back in 2000, the premise seemed simple enough: four panels (three for the set-up, one for the punchline) of humans and robots interacting and commenting on life, pop culture and inter-species love.
Nearly 2000 strips and a newspaper syndication deal later, DS has evolved into an Internet phenomenon of sorts. The series is often held up as a prime example of the success an online-based comic can achieve, while the Dumbrella webcomic collective Stevens’ co-founded is host to many of the most popular series on the ‘Net. The DS creator is also finding himself frequently called upon to serve as the medium’s ambassador to the world of print comics.
Earlier this month, Stevens made waves in the comics industry yet again with the announcement that, in celebration of the series’ upcoming 2000th strip, he would release the entirety of the DS archive in free, downloadable PDF files under a Creative Commons license.
I spoke with Stevens this week about the looming 2000th strip for DS, the decision to release the PDF archives and how he ever finds time to sleep. (The answer? He doesn’t.)
COMICMIX: It’s been just over a year now since Diesel Sweeties was picked up for syndication. How is it going so far?
R STEVENS: It’s hard work, but boot camp is good for the muscle tone. I wish I could tell you it’s made me a millionaire and offer you a gold cake, but we’re getting by and learning a LOT. Can’t get taxed on that,
CMix: With DS hitting its 2000th strip, if you were going to do a clip reel of some of your favorite moments from the series, what would it include? What have been some of the highlights for you professionally?
RS: I work close to deadline almost every night, so finishing up and high-fiving my FTP server is the highlight of my day. I really enjoy having a process and something to culminate every day with, so there’s no shortage of highlights.
That said, staying up ’til 4 AM writing 58 panels of jokes for all 50 states was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working. Aside from that, I’m simply grateful to have this as a job.
CMix: Any thoughts on your most controversial strip or storyline?
RS: That would probably be wiping Clango’s brain. I wanted to synch up my web and print strips while adding a level of creepiness for people who read both.
I was amazed that my readers rolled with it and I don’t think we lost anybody. Try doing THAT with Spider-Man… Oh, wait. They did.
CMix: What about your least-favorite strip or storyline?
RS: I could find reasons to dislike ’em all if I tried. Let’s just say I wished I learned to economize my language earlier in life.
CMix: DS has featured some great cameos over time. What were some of your favorites? Did you discuss the cameos with any of the people who appeared in DS before or after it occurred?
RS: I never warn or ask for permission on cameos – the kind of person who works for a cameo is usually the kind of person who doesn’t answer email!
Some of the most fun ones were drawing Danzig in #666, working in Xeni, Richard Belzer and Woz. The most popular was probably Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney way back in 2001. I’d probably be a lot wealthier if I did that kind of strip every day.
CMix: Why do you feel DS has been so successful?
RS: Has it been? Because all I see is the need to do more work and keep plugging.
I’ve noticed that the simpler the comic, the faster it grows. I think my stripped-down artwork makes up for the sometimes baroque writing. The other biggest part is probably luck — I started at a good time and the Internet is full of people who like what I like.
CMix: What are your plans for the 2000th strip? Are you kicking off the next 2000 comics in any special way within the comic itself?
RS: I’m not 100-percent sure at this point! Part of me wants to seal off the old archive and start on a second volume. I like the idea of starting in 2000 and doing 2000 comics and calling it "Act One."
CMix: How did the decision to release the PDF collections come about? What are the logistics of doing this type of thing when you have the syndication deal to consider?
RS: It’s just web distribution. Nothing really scary or weird there! Had to explain it wasn’t a "real" book, but nothing worse than that. I’ve still got rights to publish my work online.
CMix: What has the response been like thus far?
RS: Positive! No complainers yet. It’s been a great way to reconnect with the core geek audience of people on the very edge of the technological spectrum.
CMix: Jeff Rowland mentioned that the stores you two are running are outgrowing the office space you have for them. Can you tell me a little about what you’re up to over there? How’s business?
RS: Business is OK! Jeff and I are moving into very different areas, though. We separated operations a while back but work in the same building. I’m turning more into a whack-job cartoonist blogger type and he’s moving into larger-scale distribution.
CMix: Are you working on anything else besides DS and the store? (As if that isn’t enough to keep you busy.)
RS: I can’t go a week without inventing some new project or another! Got a couple of pitches doing topic-specific work for blogs. Would really like to find an excuse to draw with a pen and write for other artists more often.
CMix: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Rich. I wish you the best of luck with the next 2000 strips!
Want more interviews with webcomic creators? Check out the ComicMix Webcomic Interview Archive, and feel free to send your suggestions for interview subjects to: rick [at] comicmix [dot] com!