Christian Cipollini is an American author and historian with a focus on organized crime in the United States, especially Lucky Luciano. He has written several books on the subject and has also contributed articles to various publications. His work has been well received by audiences, and he has become a respected voice in the field of organized crime history.
In recent years, Cipollini has turned his attention to the medium of comics to tell the stories of famous gangsters and their criminal enterprises. His latest project is a graphic novel about Lucky Luciano, one of the most influential figures in the history of organized crime. Titled LUCKY: A True Crime Graphic Novel, the book promises to be a unique and exciting take on the life of this infamous gangster.
To bring this project to life, Cipollini has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the production and publication of “LUCKY.” The campaign has been met with great enthusiasm from fans of both graphic novels and organized crime history. With this support, Cipollini will be well on his way to bringing his vision for “LUCKY” to life and sharing the story of Lucky Luciano with audiences around the world.
We sat down with Christian to talk about his history and the Kickstarter campaign:
GORILLA CONVICT: How did you get started as a Mob historian?
CHRISTIAN CIPOLLINI: That was a long journey with an excitingly unexpected outcome. Long story short, I knew I could write as a kid but really had no idea what to actually do with it. Growing up, I had a lot of influences that, although I didn’t explicitly recognize them at the time, eventually coalesced with my interest in writing and skill for finding the metaphorical ‘needle in the haystack’ (a talent I didn’t realize I had until many years later). Some of those influencing elements included having a narcotics cop dad who also loved historical and mob movies, and, having friends from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, some of whom at the time may have been labeled by others as from ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ Basically, all of that and a few other elements combined to form a fascination with the corners of history that are often overlooked or misunderstood, including organized crime. I think the moment I wanted to pursue crime history really came after reading a copy of the book ‘The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano’ (which much later I discovered was likely factually incorrect and possibly fabricated). After doing a few years of freelance writing gigs, mostly in the entertainment realm, I started connecting with authors and researchers in true crime and history– the early days of Facebook! Also, I began collecting original artifacts, primarily press and police photos, mugshots and so forth. Then I landed an interview with former heroin trafficker Leslie ‘Ike’ Atkinson, aka “Sgt. Smack.” From there, it wasn’t long before I was researching and writing my first book, which was about Detroit hitman Chester “Wheeler” Campbell.
GC: How many books have you written? What are the titles?
CHRISTIAN: I have three published books (Diary of a Motor City Hitman, Lucky Luciano, Murder Inc.), and the Lucky Luciano story in a graphic novel. Also, one unpublished manuscript I’ve just finished putting together is the memoirs of convicted cartel hitman Jose Martinez, aka “El Mano Negra.”
GC: Why are you so fascinated with Lucky Luciano?
CHRISTIAN: My fascination with Lucky Luciano definitely can be traced back to reading the Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. I picked up a hardcover copy at a charity book sale and was fascinated by the story. Now I know the authors were called out way back in 1975 when it was published, for basically making a lot of the material up. But the draw to Lucky’s life, for me, I think, was understanding he was part of a big ensemble cast of characters that literally reshaped not just America’s underworld world but also elements of the upperworld. In a way, they were more progressive than high society. A villain… yes, but there’s more to the story, and that’s what made me want to find the history and relevance hidden within the murky middle – history is definitely not a black-and-white, cut-and-dry thing.
GC: Are you a comic book fan?
CHRISTIAN:: I was fascinated by comics as a kid and as an adult because of he spectacular visual appeal and especially the unconventional tales and method of storytelling that could be created in that medium.
GC: What drove you to create a Lucky Luciano comic?
CHRISTIAN: The idea to tell Lucky Luciano’s story in a comic book actually originated from a conversation with Seth Ferranti. He had already dipped into the world of comics and suggested I do an adaptation of Luciano’s story. I loved the idea, but to be honest I had no internal, hands-on experience in the creative process of comic books and realized it would absolutely be a learning experience. Then I reached out to my good friend Tera Patrick, who was a longtime fan of comics and often appeared at events like Comicon. She agreed that Lucky would be a great story for a graphic novel. So, I took to researching deeper into comic writing, the various stylistic approaches, and the overall history of it. I gained a whole new respect for the entire genre and process.
GC: What goes into making a comic book?
CHRISTIAN: A lot more than goes into comic making than I, even as a longtime fan, ever knew went into it! First, the conceptualization, and in the case of Lucky, determining how to put the ‘true story’ into a condensed, yet accurate, yet entertaining, form. Writing a script that details everything from a highly visual perspective for the artist, from Al Capone’s scar to the color of his office, and, what Lucky’s suit looked like to how the interior of a 1920s opium den would look. It’s somewhat like a film or television script, but its own entity with its own unique nuances. From there, the illustrator works their magic, followed by the colorist and letters and all of it gets kept in check by the editor. The whole process is team effort.
GC: What can people expect from the Lucky Luciano graphic novel?
CHRISTIAN: I think the Lucky graphic novel harkens back to a classic era of comic books while giving readers an unfiltered contemporary freshness. It’s a stand-alone true crime story, and also a companion piece to the book I wrote about Lucky. The graphic novel is a compendium of all four single issues, plus all the extras such as backstories and anecdotes of some of the real people in the story, some rare photos from my personal collection of mob artifacts, alternate cover art, etc. It’s basically like a director’s cut version, with bonus content galore!
GC: Why should people donate to the Kickstarter?
CHRISTIAN: It’s a truly cool creation, and I’m not just saying that because I worked on it. The team put together something truly amazing with this Kickstarter, above and beyond the expected. The Kickstarter’s rewards and add-ons blew my mind, like the old-school trading card packs, for example, and I’m making a handful of custom Lucky action figures for a few backers of the project. There’s so many cool options with this particular campaign, including three different versions of the graphic novel itself, digital, softcover, hardcover, t-shirts, action figures and more. So ultimately, there’s something cool for everyone. This Kickstarter is totally OG! Literally and figuratively!
GC: When it’s all said and done, what do you want people to walk away from reading your work with?
CHRISTIAN: I believe truth is often stranger than fiction, and the history of organized crime is filled with tales of this ilk. I hope readers of any of my work are left feeling like they’ve entered a world of the unknown, the cool, freaky, sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrifying corners of history that are often misunderstood and misreported. I myself have made it a mission to, at least, try to understand and dissect the psychology and sociology of organized crime, particularly its colorful, albeit contentious characters. I hope readers are entertained and enlightened and, hey… maybe even learn something cool and new!