The one-time 'LSD kingpin' who turned his life into a comic book

Seth Ferranti was a 22-year-old high school dropout, addict, and petty dealer when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Despite evidence to the contrary, prosecutors were terrified his work supplying marijuana and hallucinogenics to East Coast college kids would eventually spiral into a full-blown crime wave. In their eyes, Ferranti wasn’t a first-time, non-violent kid sucked into a world of addiction and petty cash, but a dangerous LSD kingpin.

To me being an American meant telling everyone “Fuck you” and kind of being a rebel in a way. But now it’s so much more passive.

For Ferranti, however, time in prison was productive. He gained his masters degree, and began writing about his experiences from behind bars, along with self-publishing autobiographical novels and tales of crime history. Released in 2014, Ferranti quickly got to work filtering his storytelling through the medium of comic books. His first graphic novel, The Supreme Team: The Birth of Crack and Hip-Hop, a retelling of the players, pimps and dope boys of Jamaica Queens, was published earlier this year, and this month saw the release of issue one of his new comic series.

Confessions of a College Kingpin, written by Ferranti and illustrated by K. Anthony Lawler, is a fully-illustrated auto-biography of the experiences that ultimately landed him in prison. Us of America sat down with Ferranti to talk about the comic’s inception, while a four-page preview of the comic can be viewed below.

Why did you decide your story was perfect for the comic book format?

I've loved comics all my life, reading Uncanny X-Men and Batman and Joker stuff since I was a teenager. I always used to think, way back in the 80s, that they could make movies out of this type of stuff, and now they do. I think my [own] story should be a movie too, and I see the comic book as a way to make an impact visually.

I'd been writing bits and pieces of my story forever for sites like Vice and Slam, and when I got out I wanted to adapt my own story for a graphic novel. Books are good, but visuals are better, and has more reach. I want people to know what happens when you get involved with drugs, and how all the drug wars went down. Besides the big screen, comics are the perfect forum for that.

What were the challenges of translating your life into speech bubbles and a largely illustrated medium?

Its more a kind of “What do you leave in, and what do you leave out?" type of situation. I’m glad I worked with Anthony Mathenia on this. He was my editor and helped me put this comic book together. Having someone else to bounce ideas off of, especially when its your own story, is imperative.

I've learned a lot about comics since I’ve been out. Writing books and articles is one thing, but learning to express myself in a concise manner in a whole different medium is another thing altogether. But with Supreme Team and now Confessions of a College Kingpin, I feel very confident in my comic script writing ability. I plan on doing a lot more crime comic type of stuff. I love the idea of telling the stories I have told visually. And I think the art perfectly captures what I was going through at that period of my life.

How did you partner with K. Anthony Lawler? He has such a strong artistic aesthetic, did you have an idea of the visuals you wanted before you found an illustrator?

I met K. Anthony Lawler through Anthony Mathenia and Stache Publications. Anthony and I were already all in on the Supreme Team comic, and he knew I wanted to do something with my own case and story and he showed me some of K. Anthony’s work and I was like, “This dude is bad ass.”

He reminded me a little or Ralph Steadman with the water color stuff, and with LSD playing a strong part in my story I thought he would be perfect for the book. He captured everything just the way I imagined it.

There's such a great sense of time and place throughout the issue -- Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Wayne's World, MTV. Was it important for you to get across that era in popular culture?

I just wanted to bring people into my world and all it encompassed. The 80s were a way different time. The more and more I look back, its amazing how different everything was before the Internet and all these technological advances. The world seems a little bit more passive now.

To me being an American meant telling everyone “Fuck you” and kind of being a rebel in a way. But now it’s so much more passive. Everything has to be politically correct and people get overly sensitive about words and labels. So in this book I wanted to capture the whole essence of how I was, and what I went through, and the era is really important in that respect.

What are your future plans for the series? How far along are you in putting together additional issues?

The graphic novel is going to be four chapters and will lead up to my incarceration. K. Anthony is drawing up issue 2 now. We will keep releasing the individual issues digitally, and then compile chapters 1-4 and publish it as a graphic novel. One thing I have learned is that independent comics can take a while, so we will just keep plugging away until its done.

And then I might do a second graphic novel about my time in prison. There’s a lot of very interesting stories I could tell...

A print edition of Confessions of a College Kingpin, along with Ferranti's other crime-comic work, can be purchased on his website, while a digital edition can be purchased at Gum Road.

Read more from Seth Ferranti in Issue One of Us of America, launching November 2016.