Manson story "Leave Something Witchy" left a bad taste in my mouth (in the best way possible!)
Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Leave Something Witchy is an original graphic novel by Randolph Gentile. Story, art, everything by Randolph Gentile. Edited by Leslie Stewart.
Where do I begin a review of a graphic novel about the Manson Family murders? Should I dive into the Manson Family? Charlie Manson? Or the book as a piece of art? Just like the story presented in Leave Something Witchy, I'll do a bit of everything.
I'll start by saying my understanding of the Manson Family murders was basically that Charles Manson sent a bunch of his hippie lackeys out to Sharon Tate's house in the summer of 1969 to murder her and her friends. One other thing I knew, but found to be some misinformation, was that Manson meant for the gang to murder Dennis (The Beach Boys) Wilson, because of Wilson's failed attempt to make him a music star; as well as some lies about getting Charlie on a record. The story I heard was that Wilson had lived at the house Tate now lived in, but had moved and Charlie didn't know. Also, I didn't know Charles Manson was called Charlie by so many who knew him. That's neither here nor there though. Point is, I knew only SOME of the story. Charles Manson DID send his followers to murder Sharon Tate and company, and he did have a vendetta against Dennis Wilson. But there is SO much more to this story.
Gentile does an excellent job in the foreword of explaining his approach to this story. How everyone thinks, and somewhat justifiably so, that the Manson Family murders occurred because of "Helter Skelter," the belief of Charlie and his cult that there was a race war coming and only they could start/stop? it. And of course, the title of the Beatles' famous White Album song as reference to Manson's obsession with that album and the messages he believed it told him.
But Gentile wanted to explore another aspect of the Manson murders. One of his followers murdered a friend of the "family." He is now sitting in jail for it. Charlie thought if they murdered someone else with the same type of markings left at the previous murder, a la a copycat killing, it would cause the police to release their friend in jail. Crazy stuff, right? And this adds to what I didn't know: the "family" committed other murders that same year, in a continual string of unsuccessful attempts to both ignite the race war Charlie preached, or get their friend out of jail. I'll stop there lest I ruin the fascinating material Gentile weaves in between.
Gentile starts the book, again in the foreword (and I hardly ever read forewords, but this one fascinated me, so kudos to Randolph) by apologizing for his art, how it may not be up to snuff. I actually talked to him because he sent me this book personally, and told him his art was fantastic and to never apologize. I learned at a young age playing in bands, not to apologize for your art. I did so on stage once and my bandmates lambasted me. But I digress. The art in this book is so well done. Mostly black and white with stains of red, kind of like the world Charlie Manson was living in. I'll show more examples, but it reads like a cartoon action movie that shakes you to the core. The use of negative space, color splashes, closeups, and interspersing pages of just exposition sans visuals make for an impressive looking book.
As I said, I learned a lot from this book. A historically accurate, well researched graphic novel is always a treat. Gentile tells the story in the foreword, in pictures, and in brief vignettes throughout the book's length of 220 pages. I read this in one sitting. It was captivating, verbose when it needed to be, and silent when it should be. The only hang-up I had was that it was a bit confusing at times. This is in no way the author's doing; the entirety of Manson lore is confusing. Gentile did a really good job presenting his take on the reason for the murders, and I don't fault him for any confusion on my part.
To make a graphic novel about arguably the most infamous murder of the 20th century is a huge undertaking. I don't think Gentile set out to give the entirety of the story in 220 pages. Rather, to me, it reads like a gateway for readers: to explore further if you want. I will be honest; I'm intrigued, hence the really good bad taste in my mouth. Akin to My Friend Dahmer, Leave Something Witchy humanizes its protagonist and his "family" without sympathizing with them. Did Charlie Manson have a hard upbringing? Absolutely. Does that excuse what he did? Not in a million years. It's the stories of those he persuaded to join his cult that really paints a picture: young and naïve men and women who followed this man, who they literally thought was the second coming. It makes you understand cult mentality and those who follow it a bit more, but again, makes no excuses for it.
I highly recommend this book to any fan of true crime, non-superhero use of the medium, and good storytelling.
Check out Gentile's website.
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