ART SIPPO, Writer/Podcaster
AS: I am 15 years old with 42 years experience.
I started reading comics in 1958 shortly after I learned to read. By the time I was 10 years old, I found the plots in comics too fantastic and longed for something more realistic. My Aunt Helen introduced me to Doc Savage in the Bantam reprints on a bus trip to Florida in 1965 and I was hooked. I later went to Xavier Military Institute in Manhattan for High School in the late 1960s. It was there where I developed my love for books and for the pulp genre of literature. I attended St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, NJ and graduated Magna cum Laude with a Bachelor’s of science in Chemistry in 1974. On Military scholarship, I went to Vanderbilt University Medical School and after graduation in 1978, I was an Intern at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. I spent three years as a Flight Surgeon with the 101st Airborne division before entering an Aerospace Medicine residency. I received a Masters in Public Health form Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1982 and completed training at the School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas. I got Board Certified in Aerospace Medicine in 1984. For three years, I was a medical researcher at the US Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory and eventually became the Director of the Biodynamics Research Division there. I next spent three years as an exchange officer in England at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine in Farnborough, Hampshire. I married my lovely wife Katherine in 1987 and we took off to England to start our family.
In 1990, I returned to civilian life but remained in the National Guard. I was a partner in the Occupational Care Consultants of Toledo and was Board Certified in Occupational Medicine in 1994. In the Guard I eventually commanded the 145th MASH Hospital at Camp Perry, OH. In 1995, I was appointed the Assistant State Surgeon.
For 36 years I wore the uniform of the US Army until I retired in 2000 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I currently work full time in the Emergency Room at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis Missouri.
I have had a lot of adventures along the way. I had been on assignment in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. I even was one of the physicians trained for rescue and egress for the Space Shuttle program and worked 2 launches in 1985.
All during that time I was an avid reader of adventure fiction and more serious topics in science, religion, and philosophy. I think all of these experiences developed a deep regard for the concept of the hero.
The single defining moment in recent times occurred in September of 2003 when a lumbar disc in my spine ruptured and crushed my spinal cord leading to paralysis and numbness below the waist. I had an emergency decompression done, but I still have lost function and sensation in my legs. It took me three months to learn to walk again, but at the end of that time, I went back to work in the ER. During my down time I began writing stories and they helped to keep me sane during a very frightening time.
Kathy and I have been married for 24 wonderful years. We have two girls and one boy all of college age and we are currently raising Kathy’s teenaged granddaughter.
AP: You're a pulp writer. What have you written and published that falls within the pulp field?
AS: I have published several stories in the last 7 years that would count as pulp stories.
I also wrote a short story for the collection Two Fisted Tales of LaPlata, Missouri that was entitled The Supreme Adventurer. It is a fantasy about a young Lester Dent growing up in LaPlata that shows how his experiences there may have contributed to the creation of Doc Savage.
I also have written 5 short stories about the German pulp character, Sun Koh who was the Aryan equivalent of Doc Savage. Three of these were originally published in Professor Stone Magazine # 1 and #2, and Thrilling Adventures #140. These have all been collected in a single volume Sun Koh: Heir of Atlantis, Vol. 1.
I had another short story in the Glimmerglass Writer’s Annual entitled Destiny or Choice: Shall Any Valiant Act Gainsay Extinction. It is about a child genius who confronts a great evil during a Archaeology convention in St. Louis in 1908.
My latest pulp story is The Perils of Patricia which in the Zine of Bronze #7 & #8. It is an adventure of a certain bronze-haired spa owner whose famous cousin is a well known world-wide troubleshooter.
All of my stories have homages to other action characters and some pulp crossovers. Some even have references to some of my own characters I haven’t yet written about.
AP: A project you undertook and have completed one volume on and are working
on the second for concerns a character of some controversy. Before we discuss that, share with our audience who the character Sun Koh is historically.
AS: Sun Koh; Heir of Atlantis! Sun Koh was a character created by Paul Mueller for Germany’s pulp magazines who was based on Doc Savage. He was intended to be the Nietzschean Übermensch. He was an Aryan prince from ancient Atlantis who came to the future and descended out of the sky to land in London. He had come to prepare for the coming of the next Ice Age when Atlantis would rise gain from the ocean. He would save all those who were fit to survive and use them to repopulate the lost continent. Of course, those he considered to be most fit were of Aryan/German extraction according to the theories of the Theosophists whose mythology had been taken over by the Nazis.
Sun Koh went to Germany and collected around him a colorful group of aides that included science detective Jan Mayen, buckskin wearing Alaska Jim Hoover, WWI veteran Sturmvögel, and an Afro-American Boxer James “Nimba” Holigan. Sun Kho became to Germans what Doc Savage was to Americans.
Between 1933 and 1938 there were 150 Sun Koh stories published. Sun Koh epitomized the Aryan ideal and fought all sorts of villains and super-science threats very similar to those from the Doc Savage stories.
Strangely enough, the Nazis found these stories frivolous and in some cases subversive. Nazi censors made Mueller kill off Nimba because it was unseemly for an Aryan hero to have a black associate.
Eventually they forced the series to end and Mueller had Sun Koh discover and conquer the newly risen Atlantis inside the Hollow Earth in 1938. That brought an end to the series.
The Sun Koh stories were full of adventure imagination and racial slurs. Expurgated versions were republished after WWII at least 3 times. Currently the original versions with annotations are being printed in Germany.
Sun Koh was the most successful of all the Doc Savage clones (if we exclude the comic characters like Superman and Batman). I was fascinated by the idea of such a character having so many adventures in a language that I could not read. I became frustrated and decided to write my own stories about Sun Koh preserving as much of the original adventure ideas as possible and excluding all the Nazi nonsense.
AP: Now, to the controversy. Have you had anyone complain or attack your direction with the character, that being your decision to write about a character who many identify with a Germany many would like to forget?
AS: Well, Jess Nevins who is a world-wide pulp expert was appalled that I was resurrecting the Sun Koh character whom he considered to be a poster child for Nazi ideology. My publisher for the Sun Koh series is Wayne Judge from Age of Adventure. He has had problems finding artists to do illustrations and covers for the Sun Koh stories because of the character’s roots.
I find it kind of funny to have such an edgy character. I am a very conventional person and I have no love for the Nazis and their dysfunction system of hatred. I like the noir ambience that you can get with this setting. It gives you a truly heroic character seen from a different perspective which raises ambivalence in the reader. It is the same experience you get while watching movies like The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, and Payback.
It also gives me a chance to do a dark kind of Doc Savage-like character and explore what it would have been like to be a real superman in a culture that allegedly revered such beings. As my Sun Koh has been finding out, the dreams of the German leadership were delusory and did not match up to his own standards.
AP: What are your plans for Sun Koh? Will you redeem him and if you do, what then?
AS: Sun Koh was never part of the Nazi war effort. He was long gone before the invasion of Poland. I am intending to show how a true superman would not remain deceived by Hitler and his cronies for very long. It would soon become apparent to him that the Nazi were degenerates. I envision Sun Koh being part of the conspiracy in the Wehrmacht before Neville Chamberlain signed the pact with Hitler allowing the occupation of the Sudetenland. Had Chamberlain stood up to Hitler, the planned coup would have toppled the Nazis and Word War II might have been avoided. It will have been Sun Koh’s involvement in this conspiracy that leads him to disappear from Germany in 1938. Where he went at that point is still not know at this time.
AS: Ric and I met at the 2006 LaPlata DocCon. The folks at that Con formed a bond and we have kept in touch over the years. When Ric launched The Book Cave podcasts, he had me on as a guest to talk about Sun Koh and some other topics. We worked well together and we got positive feedback from the audience and so Ric made me his permanent co-host.
The Book Cave is a show by fans for fans. We cover mostly pulp fiction but we also talk about Sci-Fi, Wold Newton, Lovecraft, comics, movies, TV-shows, and other things that adventure fiction fans really enjoy. I have been kicking around for a long time and I have had an interest in these things for almost 50 years… Let’s be honest. It has been OVER 50 years. I have taken these things very seriously and I love to talk about them.
This also gives us an opportunity to talk to the authors, producers, and creators of these entertainments and get to know them. I have always been interested in the creative process and how these stories came to be written. The fan base seems to enjoy this as well. And one thing about writers is that they LOVE to talk about themselves.
Ric and I have been privileged to meet and get to know folks like Will Murray, Ron Fortier, Andrew Salmon, Barry Reese, Paul Malmont, Derrick Ferguson, Josh Reynolds, William Preston, Jeff Deishcer, Win Eckert, Tommy Hancock, Jean Marc L’Officier, Tom and Ginger Johnson, Jim Campanella, Wayne Reinagel, Chris and Laura Carey, Paul Spitieri, Mike Croteaeu, James Sutton, and so many others who are creative forces in this field. These folks are great people and it is fascinating to talk with them. I learn so much and it gives me greater insight into the work they do.
I think the formula works because we come to the interviews with respect for the people and their work and I think our enthusiasm shows. We also remind our guests that we advocate them to give “shameless plugs” for any things they want to let the fan base know about. We also make it clear that we are a friendly show that is upbeat and pro fun. That is why we are all here.
AP: Ric often picks on your 'special ability' to know major details about your guests. Seriously, what sort of prep work do you put into getting ready to interview a guest in The Book Cave?
AS: It is amazing what you can find out from Googling someone’s name. Even before the internet, I was very good at ferreting out information. I also have a relatively good memory (not as good as it used to be, I’m afraid) and I tend to link together all sorts of disparate facts.
Ric and I always read the material we are going to discuss and we try to do some other background checking as well.
AP: Do you think podcasting in general and your podcast in specific is having any positive impact on pulp? If so, what? How can that impact be increased or improved upon?
AS: Podcasting allows us to do some things we never could before. It is now possible to do interviews with folks anywhere in the world record them, edit them, and put them on the world-wide web for anyone anywhere to listen to at their leisure. This means that pulp aficionados can hear their favorite authors talk about themselves and their work and send them feedback. Plus we can bring information about future projects to the pulp audience and help to spread the word about good books and how to get them. We have links on the podcast website that fans can follow for more information.
Back in the 1960s I was the only Doc Savage fan that I knew. Today, I know dozens of Doc fans and pulps fans and we converse regularly. And information moves quickly through the pulp community. Our podcasts are routinely mentioned at Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions web site which is a gold mine of information for pulp and adventure fiction fans.
In the future, we may add video links to the show. I am not too keen about this since I don’t look all that good in real life and I do not dress smartly for the shows.
Another possibility is to have live call-in shows where fans can call in and talk to our guests. This would be a chancy thing and would require some kind of time delay so that we could weed out the disruptive calls.
AP: Another area of interest you have that falls squarely in the pulp field is the work of Philip Jose Farmer. Would you share how you came to be a fan and devotee of Farmer and his work?
AS: I first ran across Phil Farmer in the late 1960s as I began reading science fiction. The themes of his books seemed to be very controversial and I was put off by them. Then in the old Bookmaster’s store at Times Square in 1969, I saw a paperback by Mr. Farmer with two naked men on the cover who looked suspiciously like Doc Savage and Tarzan. It was entitled A Feast Unknown and it purported to be the memoirs of Lord Grandrith and his epic battle with Doc Caliban. The book is not tame fare. There was plenty of gratuitous sex and violence, but also a fascinating story. I was hooked. I began to read more of Farmer’s work. That was also the beginning of his Pulp Period where he was writing pastiches on pulp characters and themes. This period would last for over a decade and Phil became my favorite SciFi author.
AP: On the Book Cave, you often speak of how you became a fan of pulp, initially with the Doc Savage books and such. How has pulp helped shape you as a person, if its had any impact at all?
AS: For 36 years I wore a uniform and thought of myself as a soldier. My understanding of what that meant was shaped very much by the heroes I read about in books and comics. Doc Savage was in many ways my ideal and I tried to emulate him especially in academics. He was my inspiration for going into medicine. I attended Johns Hopkins for my masters because that was where Doc Savage had gone for his medical degree. (In fact I have a story in mind about Doc as a medical student in Baltimore in the 1920s.) Above all, Doc Savage and the pulps in general were ‘good guys’ who consciously sought moral uprightness. They did not always play by the conventional rules but in the end, their actions benefited more than themselves.
AP: You're a doctor. Has your career contributed in any way to your ability as a pulp writer?
AS: You learn a lot in medicine about human nature and human limitations. You also learn a lot about science and math along the way. I have tried to make the fantastic elements in my stories at least plausible. I have also travelled the world and practiced medicine in some unusual circumstances. It all has contributed to the background in many of my stories.
AS: I have a Sun Koh novel currently under way. I eventually want to write the story of how Sun Koh is ultimately saved from Nazism and what becomes of him. I also plan to do some more Loki Companion Stories for Renny and Johnny and at least one more Pat story. And there is the story of Doc Savage at Johns Hopkins and the girl that ALMOST stole his heart. When I have enough of them, I’d like to publish them in a single volume along with some essays from my Speculations in Bronze website.
Ric and I plan to continue doing the Book Cave as long people enjoy it. We are always seeking new authors to interview and new material to pass on to the fans.
Ric and I both plan to be at the PulpArk con in the Spring of 2011 and to do shows from there.
AP: Dr. Sippo, it's been a wonderful time talking to you. Thanks for the opportunity!
AS: It has been my pleasure as well. Folks should drop by the Book Cave site and drop us a line. We love to hear from the fans. Keep reading!