[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted by Miriam Ruff on February 19, 2018, and it is the first installment in what will be a series of interviews about the different approaches people take to discover and learn new topics.]
MR: We’re talking today with Joseph L. Silver, a comic artist, illustrator, avid reader, and Norse mythology enthusiast. Welcome to the AceReader blog, it’s good to have you here.
MR: Let’s start at the beginning, with your introduction to reading itself. Did your parents read to you when you were little? Did you have a regular “storytime?”
JS: No, I wouldn’t say my parents read to me when I was little, but they always encouraged my curiosities. I read and drew with enthusiasm from a young age, and my brother’s comic collection helped a lot with that growing up.
MR: Did he read the comics to you at first, or did you pick that up later? At what age did you start reading by yourself?
JS: No, he didn’t read to me but was more than happy to let me read the stuff because he knew how curious I was. I honestly don’t remember when I started reading, I just remember always wanting to know things and having a family that welcomed that curiosity.
My dad and I did a lot of things together when I was much younger, and if I had questions or concerns he never hesitated to answer as best he could. But I can’t say that I remember a story time per se. That early in my life is a bit of a blur.
MR: That’s fair. But it’s reasonable to say you did start early, though, yes? Other than comics, what types of things did you like to read?
JS: It certainly started early. Comic strips and comic books were the things I dove into when I was very young, because they were whole worlds of fiction all their own and very easy to get absorbed in. Over the years I’ve developed a taste for sci fi, horror, fantasy, mythology, and the like.
MR: Did you go to the library regularly? If so, what was your experience like there and with books in general?
JS: Yes, I lived in the library in school and any chance I had outside of it. I discovered Asimov, MacAvoy, Milton, Poe, and so many other things I would come to love at the library. When I got together with my art buddies to discuss ideas, it was very often at the library to research as well as chat. When writing songs or exploring ideas, I would just use the library to frame my ideas and understand what I was doing. It was the paper version of the internet for me in every way, but welcoming.
MR: Which storytellers in the comic world were your favorites when you got started? What appealed to you about them, and how did your preferences change over time?
JS: Early on it was comic writers, like Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, and Jim Starlin. They mixed elements of sci fi and fantasy incredibly well, and Thomas in particular adapted the works of Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock (Conan, King Kull, Solomon Kane, Elric, Corum, etc.) effortlessly and made me curious enough to seek most of that out. Starlin stands out as the guy who perfected the cosmic epic work with Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock as well and creating a host of others. Over the years I would discover Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, J. M. DeMatteis, Jamie Delano, and a host of others that changed my perception of interweaving traditional epics and more literary influences into their works, and it certainly shaped my way of thinking about comics as a whole since.
MR: So which of these writers would you say influenced your interest in mythology the most?
JS: Well, Walt Simonson’s run on Thor had the strongest influence on my interest in Norse Myths. I was curious before, but he told such great stories that it drove me to learn more. Roy Thomas did much the same with his drawing from fantasy and adapting from their mythologies. Gaimian deserves a lot of credit for his weaving stories of many myths from different cultures into his Sandman series to be sure, but by that point I was pretty deep into my love of mythology.
MR: Ah, so it was the Thor books that gave you a direction. As you’ve said, this was all pre-Internet. How did you “build” on your knowledge? Have you continued to read about the different mythologies over the years?
JS: Kevin Crossley-Holland wrote a book on Norse Myths I discovered in my teens. I went to the library and pretty much absorbed any books on the subject I could find, which were in the kids’ section more often than not, amusingly. But eventually I just read the primary source of most of what we know about the Norse myths in the Poetic and Prose Eddas.
MR: Now with the Internet, do you find yourself reading more online, or do you still prefer the look and feel of the paper copies?
JS: Both, actually. It’s easier for me to go to the books I know for a lot of things, but the web is a valuable resource for connecting dots that are harder to do with just the books.
MR: Do you recommend comics as a good start for kids to develop their own interests?
JS: Absolutely. Comics have a great entry point for reading by drawing on the combination of imagery and words to help them connect with the characters and worlds. And like with me it can very easily lead to a lifetime of reading. [Editor’s note: See our blog post on comics and reading comprehension here.]
MR: Excellent. Last question: What would you say to someone who has an interest in a particular subject about how they should they go about learning more?
JS: There are so many resources for the curious mind today that I hardly know where to start. I think if you’re accustomed to doing most things on the web, Wikipedia is a good place to start, but ultimately it goes hand in hand with dictionaries, encyclopedias, and libraries to be able to learn as much as possible. Check your sources and check those sources whenever possible.
And never stop reading. A curious mind needs to feed the need to learn.
MR: Indeed it does. I want to thank you for sharing your time with AceReader and providing such insightful information about your journey with reading. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
JS: The pleasure has been mine to discuss my interests, and I’m happy to do it.