Seth Ferranti considers himself to be a man of many trades — a writer, director, comic creator, actor and producer, it's easily apparent that Ferranti likes to keep busy. Two decades ago, however, his life couldn't have looked any different. That's because at the age when most kids are heading off to college, Ferranti was facing a 25 year prison sentence. A once-promising honor roll student from the suburbs of Virginia, Ferranti had become a wanted drug kingpin and even faked his own death to elude authorities — all by the time he was just 22 years old.
Now a self-made writer, publisher and filmmaker, Ferranti channels his intense personal experiences into his work. With over 20 books published and 25,000 copies of his work sold, Ferranti is making a name for himself with GR1ND Studios, a company that joins the comic book world with stories of true crime. Their graphic novels and comic books all deal with true stories of mobsters and drug lords that are written by true-crime historians and urban fiction writers. Speaking at Wizard World in St. Louis this past weekend, Ferranti encourages people to think of GR1ND as "the Grand Theft Auto of comic books," and it's an apt description. With titles like "Confessions of a College Kingpin" and "Crack, Rap, & Murder," Ferranti will be the first to say that his non-fiction comics (which are illustrated by other artists) are "not for kids."
"I write to entertain but I'm trying to tell a cautionary tale," Ferranti said on the panel. "I'm trying to show people that a lot of stuff in movies are real glamorized, but there's hard realities to this type of life. I try to give people a view into a world that they might not necessarily know."
His claim makes perfect sense, as Ferranti's childhood was far from normal. By the time he was 19 years old, Ferranti (who grew up in Fairfax, Virginia) was already living the kingpin lifestyle that most of us only see dramatized in shows like "Breaking Bad." He was making up to $30,000 a month moving drugs and cash across state lines, supplying up to 15 different colleges with drugs like marijuana and LSD. After a bust by the DEA, he was looking at up to 25 years in prison for a first time offense. He tried to escape authories by faking his death at national park outside of Washington, D.C., but authorities ruled the suicide a hoax and kept looking for him, placing him on the US Marshall's most wanted list. After two years of continued trafficking in Texas, Ferranti was caught and sentenced by authorities in California, eventually serving a total of 21 years in federal prison.
While in prison, Ferranti started writing and taking journalism courses, even contributing to magazines like VICE while still behind bars. He credits his wife Diane as the reason he was able to navigate entry into the publishing industry and have such a successful transition. “She made that all possible, so I had a career from the penitentiary," Ferranti said in a recent interview.
GR1ND Studios is seeking to revolutionize a new form of comics, incorporating often untold stories of the American underground into the art form. "I've been reading comics since I was a kid, mostly superhero stuff," Ferranti told the St. Louis audience. "When I started writing books, I wrote the books I wanted to read. I was looking for these type of books and they weren't there, so I wrote them. I always wanted to read comics like this, so I decided when I got in the right position that I was going to make them."
The same could be said for Ferranti's films, with short films like "Easter Bunny Assassin" clearly coming from a man with a unique vision. "I had this vision...I'm a real big Quentin Tarantino fan but at the same time I love Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam. I love the true crime stuff but I love the farcical and kind of outlandish type of stuff. So when I was sitting in the cell block and writing, I had this vision of mashing up true crime with this outlandish subject matter and we put 'Easter Bunny Assassin' together."
The short film, which features a take-no-prisoners mob boss who just so happens to be dressed as an Easter Bunny, certainly comes from the mind of a writer and director who knows his material. Filmed and edited in St. Louis, the hometown crowd at Ferranti's Wizard World panel gave the movie an enthusiastic response. Indeed, perhaps the film is just crazy enough to be correctly labeled as a Quentin Tarantino bloodbath with the whimsy of a Wes Anderson movie. Whatever your opinion, Ferranti is using his new lease on life to tell his stories in whatever medium he sees fit. As the artist himself says: "I am a storyteller. It appears there is no stopping me." Given his incredible comeback story, it appears that he's absolutely right.
For more information of Seth's work and GR1ND Studios, visit his official website here.