Christian Cipollini is an award-winning author penning historical works on infamous gangsters and has been a featured guest on numerous television documentaries for the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Biography Channel. He is now bringing his flare for fast-talking mobsters and his take on true-crime to the field of comics and graphic novels.
Cipollini vividly remembers when true-crime first commanded his attention, “The exact moment the metaphorical light-bulb ignited over my head happened the day I randomly picked up a copy of a New York newspaper. The front-page was splashed with the image of a cocky, well-dressed guy named John Gotti. That was it. Every fiber of my being was drawn into finding out about the mob, its vast ensemble of characters, what made them tick, and how it all effects society.”
His first book was Diary of a Motor City Hit Man, about Detroit’s Chester Wheeler Campbell. For the next foray into the criminal underground, Cipollini set his focus on Lucky Luciano. The prohibition-era gangster enamored Cipollini since picking up a first edition copy of The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano by Gosch and Martin for fifty cents at a charity book sale.
“When I read The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano my belief was that the book was the hands-down coolest storytelling,” recalls Cipollini. “Problem was, I discovered many years later that the book was also very contentious. Basically a lot of historians think the bulk of the book is bogus and filled with recollections that don’t match factual proven things. That encouraged me to research Luciano and his colleagues to find out more of the ‘real’ story. I can’t deny that for me – Lucky is, hands down, the most fascinating figure of organized crime history.”
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was an Italian mobster in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and is considered by some to be the father of modern organized crime in the United States and the national crime syndicate. That’s just the tip of the Lucky iceberg though.
“I realized that a gazillion books and articles had been written on the subject, but I wanted to explore it, hopefully offer some snippets of things not already covered or perhaps address historical misconceptions that are unfortunately taken for fact,” says Cipollini. “I wrote Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend as a series of stand-alone tales. Some are known, some were not so well recognized, and a few were designed to show that every story has three sides – the law’s version, the outlaw’s version and the truth (which is usually a murky grey area). Ultimately, one could write a thousand page epic on Lucky Luciano and his pals because the beauty of organized crime history – history as a whole really – is there’s never a shortage of conjecture, mystery and clues that still pop up.”
Now Cipollini is channeling his love for mobsters and knowledge of their world into a new comic series, LUCKY. In the LUCKY, Cipollini expands upon elements that didn’t make it into this Gangland Legend book.
“Of course there are familiar themes, people and places, but the comic book project will give a visual account of specific and monumental moments plucked from Lucky’s rise to infamy,” says Cipollini. “In other words, the comic book and the book are designed to be great companions in a way. Each supports the other, yet are created for stand-alone enjoyment.”
Cipollini is very conscious of how this story is put together. “I had to make sure that this was done in such a way that captures both the spirit of the true crime story and be able to reach the high standards expected of the graphic novel realm,” he says. “I had two caveats in my mind when we green lit the ‘Lucky’ comic – keep the “true” in the crime part and Lucky will NOT be written nor drawn as some mindless thug, like I had seen in 1950’s era pulp mags and comic strips.”
Comic book creation is a collaborative effort, and Cipollini has been helped by a strong team to bring Lucky back to the paneled page. GR1ND’s Seth Ferranti, a crime-writing colleague of Cipollini’s, got the wheels turning for the true-crime comic series. Stache’s, Anthony Mathenia worked with Cipollini as project editor and colorist. Russian artist Evgeny Frantsev brought the story to life; while American letterer, Micah Myers placed the period-punchy dialogue. Cipollini also consulted with professional friends and comic fans like Tera Patrick during the development process.
“I’m a very visual person and although some comic books exist that are heavy on illustrations and photos, in my mind – there weren’t enough. I came to learn the writing behind the art, the lettering, and coloring are all amazing and equally important pieces of the magic that’s called comic books,” he said
The first chapter in the LUCKY saga, “A Scar Is Born”, is released digitally on June 8th, with a limited print-run. Other installments will follow leading up to a graphic novel release later this year from GR1ND Studio and Stache Publishing. Books will be available from the author at several speaking engagement on the “Very Bad Things” author/book tour. His presentation & book signing itinerary includes a stop at the Brooklyn Public Library on May 25, The Mob Museum in Las Vegas on September 13, and a guest appearance at the Dark History and Horror Convention in Champaign Illinois on October 22.
“In line with Seth Ferranti’s vision of all the new crime comic books he’s bringing to life, this will be uncompromising, gritty and entertaining. I see Lucky bringing a combination of noir, tongue n’ cheek, historical truth, intensity, unfiltered graphic depictions of that history – views from all sides, you could say. It’s true crime in a whole new way. Truth is stranger than fiction.”