All the comics I loved in the ’80s — Batman, Uncanny X-Men, Dr. Strange — are now enjoying a rebirth as Hollywood explores the DC and Marvel universes of my youth for potential blockbuster films. The usual superhero fare typical to comics has been exploding on the movie landscape, but back in the comics world, mob historian Christian Cipollini is bringing stories from the true-crime genre to comics — a sort of role reversal — with his debut series, Lucky, based on the infamous mafioso and founder of the five New York crime families, Lucky Luciano.
“Lucky, as a character for comics, isn’t a straightforward bad guy or good guy, not even an antihero, really,” Cipollini explains, pointing out that most superhero characters have elements of both dark and light. That human dynamic epitomizes the first issue of the series, A Scar Is Born. With the mobster having many different sides to his personality, Cipollini thinks he fits the comic format quite comfortably. “Comics are perfect for exploring the murky parts of the world and what makes people tick,” he says. As comics have grown and reached a larger audience, true-crime aficionados haven’t had a lot of options. There’s Kingpin and other supervillains, but what about the Mafia legends that have long dominated the screen?
WRITING ABOUT MOBSTERS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS.
Bringing Lucky Luciano and the entire ensemble of mafiosi to comics is absolutely awesome and groundbreaking. A daring move. And unlike the task of researching and writing a full biographical book — a “very solo endeavor,” Cipollini notes — creating a comic book series is a team effort. For one, he had to learn to work with artists and inkers and colorists, something quite different for the Mafia historian, who was concerned about finding the right illustrator for the project. Fortunately, his editor at Stache Publications found an artist from Russia, Evgeny Frantsev. Frantsev didn’t have much experience with gangster history but completely nailed the script page samples.
Since penning his book Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend in 2014, Cipollini discovered more information, factoids and little anecdotes about the mobster. He added these to the comic, throwing in some of those little new historical tidbits to keep the story as factual as it could be. Writing about mobsters is serious business.
For Cipollini, the greatest reason to do the comic was to tell the world the real Lucky Luciano story through multiple mediums. We see Lucky’s life and his role in the larger organized crime world, from the moment he was nearly killed in 1929 to the time he was slapped with a 30-to-50-year prison sentence in 1936. “We determined early on in the process that I would focus on a specific block of time in Luciano’s life,” Cipollini says. An author could literally write epic volumes if time and resources allowed, but with only sequential art to tell the story, Cipollini homed in on Lucky’s early life. To fill in the blanks, each comic book chapter begins with a little flashback before diving into the scene at hand.
Lucky may have been “the most challenging project” he’s taken on, but Cipollini believes he’s achieved two things: He kept it simple and kept the “true” in “true crime.” And he has adapted a real, biographical-type story into a mesmerizing, brutal and gangster comic … that’s equal parts gangland history and comic rebellion.