Christian Cipollini is an Award-Winning author who has covered the spectrum from freelance journalist, writer, crime historian, consultant, lecturer, and designer, conquering everything from entertainment to human interest to gangsterism. A graduate of Seton Hill University, Christian is also a father, an animal welfare advocate, and a collector of rare organized crime-related photographs & artifacts.
Christian’s thirst for knowledge, the facts, and storytelling is inspiring, and it never stops. He was fun to interview: smart, savvy, and incredibly honest. Christian has multiple projects happening at the moment — yet they all filter back to one sector — true crime and gangsterism. He’s an incredible writer in addition to being highly creative. The smartest move he’s made as a writer has been finding a niche and sticking with it.
Currently, Cipollini has three books available, regularly contributes mob history articles to Real Crime Magazine & Writers of Wrongs, and The Mob Museum Blog, designs mob-history themed swag & infographics, serves as the spokesmodel for The American Gangsters apparel line, and is the writer/creator of the new comic book/graphic novel series “LUCKY” – based on the strange-but-true tales of gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano. His more recent endeavor, along with Andrew Dodge – curator of the murderbilia site True Crime Auctionhouse, is the acquisition of ‘life story rights’ option for convicted Cartel Hitman Jose Manuel Martinez, aka El Mano Negra.
Why did you decide to write books on True Crime? How did a niche form?
Why crime? It wasn’t what I originally envisioned, well, not exactly. As a kid, I did know by the fourth grade that I sucked at sports, sucked at math, and sucked at being social. Although, I discovered a talent for storytelling, or better said – an innate ability to write stories, apparently good enough for my teacher to directly point this out to me. Ironic, funny side note – it was in fourth grade we were given the assignment to write a short story, a page long. After we turned our papers in and they were looked over, the teacher came to my desk, and (I’m paraphrasing because I forget the exact words), he whispered something like ”this isn’t a short story.” Of course, my awkwardly shy self immediately felt paralyzed with fear of the most epic fail, but he smiled and said, ”you wrote what looks like a play, and you did an excellent job.” That moment showed me two things: 1. I could write. 2. I learned the difference between narrative writing and straight-up dialogue. Back to the ‘crime’ question, though. I had imagined myself writing fiction, long-form, and short. I didn’t see myself as a nonfiction writer until much later in life. My early writing, (and I’m referring to my childhood), was creating little stories based around animal characters. I’m not making this up – I loved drawing stick rats, yes, stick figure rats, and building entire storylines around these rat characters. True story – to this day, the handful of childhood friends (and some of my family) who were aware and remember this – still ask me about the rat stories and if I have any surviving copies of this stuff!
Now that I look back on it, there was a crime element. I wrote about mad scientist rats, political despot rats, and yes, gangster rats! I still never thought much about the crime angle, though, at least not at the forefront of my mind. However, there were plenty of influences in my everyday peripheral. My dad was a narcotics cop, and even though he didn’t often talk about the job at home, he had all the blank forms. There were evidence reports, booking cards, search warrant requests, you name it, and we loved playing with that stuff, all the neighborhood kids playing cops and robbers. Yet, we actually would take it next level and fingerprint each other, write arrest reports! So, in short, that certainly had a significant influence on my future – I didn’t know it.
Was there a moment where you felt writing fiction books would be your path versus nonfiction?
Later in life, two things occurred to change my view of where my talent truly resided. First, I found that if you ‘force’ a story or poem, it will be spotted as such faster than you can say ‘contrived and artificial.’ A bitter pill to swallow, realizing I had been trying entirely too hard, and perhaps this wasn’t my forte, at least not at the time. If you pair that with the epiphany moment, I realized that most of the books I had been reading (by my early twenties) were biographies, historical, everything from politics to economics. Within it all, I found how much the ‘darker’ side of history had a profound, yet under-reported and under-emphasized, place in culture. Soon I discovered that much of what’s been told time and time again is either skewed or grossly mistaken. Boom, the fire that was lit as a kid, had grown into a raging passion for finding the proverbial needles in history’s haystacks, especially concerning organized crime and all things vice.
Tell me a bit about the creative process of writing a comic book. How did it compare to writing a book, and where does the illustration come into play?
The comic book endeavor was a long process! When Seth Ferranti, my good friend, and colleague, asked me to write or adapt something (for the graphic novel line his company GR1ND Studios was starting), I admit I was a little hesitant. I say that because outside of reading comics as a kid and having attended a couple of conventions as a fan, I had NO IDEA what the process or protocol of creating a comic book involved. But, as much as I am my own biggest cheerleader, I’m also my own harshest critic, and perhaps I allowed the latter to put fear into me for a moment. Suffice to say that after talking to Seth and another great friend (with knowledge about the comic book world) Tera Patrick, I felt like this project would be an incredible new journey and opportunity to further tell the ‘real’ story of my favorite subject – Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Long story short, the publishing house, Stache Publishing, had me look at the work of some artists they had in mind. We ended up selecting Evgeny Frantsev. The funny thing is, Evgeny (he’s from Russia) had very little knowledge about American mobsters, yet nailed it. From a process standpoint, I would write the script – and since the story is based on real historical characters and events – I would supply Evgeny and the editor with vintage photographs from my collection for further visual reference. Ultimately, I gained even more mad respect for the whole industry and realm of comic books. The team schooled me, and wow, what a journey it was! The process differs from writing a book, in the sense that when I wrote my books, it was very solitary, for the most part, writing ultimately for the reader demographic. In contrast, the comic book writing starts that way, and then it quickly became a team effort: writer, artist, colorist, letterer all have to be on the same page, pun intended! As the writer, you’re writing the script for multiple audiences at once, i.e., the whole team needs to know certain things to bring it all together for the reader.
To date, you have published three nonfiction books plus one comic book series (comprised of four separate issues/chapters). Any hints into your research process (I know you go full force). Can you please expand?
Someone once told me that my method is ‘backward’ or in ‘reverse’ in a sense. I had not thought about it too much until it was brought to my attention a few years ago, but basically, I begin with a visual and build from there. For example, my first book (Diary of a Motor City Hitman: The Chester Wheeler Campbell Story), started from the metaphorical lightbulb that lit up in my frenzied brain when I was browsing an online auction for vintage press photos of organized crime (side note: a skill I first learned from another author pal – Arthur Nash). On my screen appears a 1975 picture of a mean-looking dude named Chester. For whatever reason, I kept looking at this photo and finally bought it (for a mere $9), and what happened next was magical, for me at least. The picture arrived, and I began looking at not just the image of the badass guy in the frame, but the press editor’s notes on the back of the photo. Words like ‘murderer’ and ‘Detroit’ lead me to start digging into old newspaper archives to find out who the hell this guy was. Jump ahead, I found more than I expected, became even more fascinated (and surprised there wasn’t already a book on the subject), reached out to my friends and colleagues in Detroit, and with their help – found a treasure trove of information. That’s when I decided to pitch the idea of a book on it. Yet, it all started with an image that I built the story from. You could say I’m very, very visual.
When you take on a massive project, like a book, do you set a deadline? As you know, additional information comes through. Is there a process where you go back and re-edit again? I know editing is an imperative aspect.
I’ve had to remind myself time and time again to STOP editing as I write. It’s a time-consuming habit I’ve had a hard time breaking. I tend to edit and rewrite before completing a single paragraph! Not very time efficient, especially after spending months or years just on the research part of the process.
Your primary focus has been True Crime History as well as the mafia, correct?
My primary focus was two-fold: Prohibition-era gangsters, particularly of New York, and, 1970s era drug lords and the entire narcotic history in America. I can never sit still, so now, of course, I dip into other areas within the greater context of American and International organized crime as well.
Great question. I have touched on this a little bit when I’ve done guest lectures to some college classes. Generally, I do a presentation on the broader sociopath vs. psychopath topic of organized criminals. When the q & a time comes, it’s almost inevitable the question is raised regarding the personalities – if they are relatable. There’s always been that fascination in pop culture with the ‘outlaw’ or villain; we like to live vicariously through the rebel. But then on a more realistic level, yes, some, certainly. I don’t know if I’m a sociopath or a narcissist. Still, I do know that in some instances – I absolutely can ‘understand’ to a degree the mindset or reasoning behind some of these character’s lives, actions, personalities. Perhaps it’s an understanding or processing of the many variables; culture, economics, and time.
In terms of your personality, do you feel that you relate to some of these criminals on a certain level?
Great question. I have touched on this a little bit when I’ve done guest lectures to some college classes. Generally, I do a presentation on the broader sociopath vs. psychopath topic of organized criminals. When the q & a time comes, it’s almost inevitable the question is raised regarding the personalities – if they are relatable. There’s always been that fascination in pop culture with the ‘outlaw’ or villain; we like to live vicariously through the rebel. But then on a more realistic level, yes, some, certainly. I don’t know if I’m a sociopath or a narcissist. Still, I do know that in some instances – I absolutely can ‘understand’ to a degree the mindset or reasoning behind some of these character’s lives, actions, personalities. Perhaps it’s an understanding or processing of the many variables; culture, economics, and time period.
Do you still give lectures on true crime at various universities?
I still give lectures, consulting and make the occasional appearances on television documentary shows. I’m always game for events, speaking engagements, conventions, tv shows — it’s all exhilarating for me.
Let’s talk about style. You happen to have a great style. What is happening with your apparel line?
Ah yes, haha, I give a lot of credit to my daughters and ex-wife for the style lessons! I learned a lot from living in a house full of women for all those years! Also, I suppose growing up as a more shy, observant type of kid that I took notice of the styles and fashionista rebels (though I was dorky and rarely bold back then). When I grew up and much later grew into owning who and what I was – boom! It was on! I crafted my image, my style, my marketing, my fashion sense.
What is upcoming within you range of projects? I am working on editing the memoirs of a convicted cartel hitman, Jose Manuel Martinez, aka El Mano Negra and hoping to release the published book by mid 2020. I promise it will be quite a read! The tail end of 2019 presented me with another ‘first’ when UK rapper Yellow Balaclava brought me on board a project. The album is called Salvatore Lucania, and essentially is themed on the life of Lucky Luciano. Yellow enlisted me to do some voiceover work, little narratives, some dialogue, and basically tell the ‘real’ story of Lucky. The record also features beat producer Alfastar beats and another good friend of mine, Lisa English, who did some voiceover acting the part of one of Lucky’s showgirl love interests. The record will be released in early 2020.
Without a doubt, Gemma Magazine will be watching Christian Cipollini and his exciting ventures. On behalf of Gemma Magazine, I would like to personally thank Christian for chatting with us. To follow Christian on social media: