Blind Cyclops Books’ ‘Godfly’ Is a Deranged Storybook for Horror Hounds [Review]
Comic books tend to favor tightly paced stories with striking visuals and a brief page count, so it makes sense that horror anthologies used to be all the rage in the funny pages before the Comics Code Authority brought an entire artform to its knees. However, while superheroes have since dominated the industry with their (mostly) family-friendly conflicts, there are still a handful of brave indie publishers that insist on putting out edgy media for those with a taste for the macabre.
One example of these persistent entrepreneurs is Blind Cyclops Books, a relatively new Chicago-based publishing house that specializes in dark literature. Their most recent foray into graphic novels comes in the form of Godfly, a self-proclaimed tale of true horror written by Ryan Oliver (founder of BCB) and drawn by Jeff Kuhnie.
Set in the 1940s and more than a little inspired by the speculative works of Ray Bradbury and Rod Sterling, the comic follows a pair of twins as they venture into a bizarre travelling carnival and encounter Ringmaster Bugsy’s so-called “Flea Circus and Anthropoditorium.” There, they come face to face with an exotic menagerie of insectoid curiosities that might also house one of the most dangerous beings on the planet. However, to say any more would spoil the grisly fun.
The Godfly experience actually begins long before you properly dive into the story, with Blind Cyclops sparing no expense when it comes to the book’s eye-catching cover art and glossy finish. And once inside, bibliophiles are sure to be pleased with clear inking and solid pages that feel robust enough to handle rough hands revisiting them over and over again. All in all, this indie publication feels uncharacteristically classy – though some might argue that the asking price warrants this kind of premium presentation.
That being said, it’s a shame that the original script at the end of the book isn’t accompanied by more supplementary artwork by Kuhnie. Sure, the source material is surprisingly poetic in its descriptions of the carnage we’ve just witnessed and almost works on its own as a standalone piece of literature, but I would have appreciated a more in-depth exploration of the creative process that led to some of these fascinating images.
And speaking of the visuals, Godfly boasts some gorgeous monochrome art with firm lines and creative use of lettering and negative space that’s strangely reminiscent of a nightmarish picture book. However, the adult themes and intentionally contorted faces (not to mention the “touch of red” advertised on the cover) will likely leave readers dreading the narrative’s inevitable turn for the worse, making the book a masterclass in manipulating expectations.
Anticipation is the name of the game here, with the bulk of the story serving as a long-winded prelude to a brief yet imaginatively gruesome finale. Of course, playing with reader expectations is always a risky affair, and Godfly’s decidedly literal approach to storytelling might irk those waiting a more unconventional twist. In all honesty, my first readthrough left me wanting a lot more in the closure department, though the story made enough of an impact that it wasn’t long before I was revisiting it with a more receptive mindset.
There’s an undeniable earnestness to the book’s writing and artwork, and I can imagine this charming little yarn serving as a respectable jumping off point for readers interested in experimenting with independent horror comics. It’s not exactly nightmare fuel, but there are plenty of genre thrills to be had here if you’re a fan of unpretentious retro horror.
Sure, the simple plot hits quite a few familiar beats (the “travelling carnival secretly housing a source of evil” trope was already ancient by the time Bradbury immortalized the idea in Something Wicked This Way Comes), but not every horror yarn needs to reinvent the genre wheel. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply savor a particularly gnarly mood or idea and present it to audiences without any trace of irony.
If you buy into this idea, you’re likely to have more fun with the book’s near-theatrical presentation. Hell, the experience works even better if you read the Ringmaster’s dialogue out loud as if you’re presenting someone with a particularly macabre fairy tale (though I obviously wouldn’t recommend sharing the contents of the book with children).
While Godfly might underwhelm fans of more complex horror narratives, it works spectacularly well as a deranged little storybook. It doesn’t quite surpass its obvious influences, relying heavily on age-old tropes and two-dimensional characters, but I’m still thinking about this odd little tome several days after having placed it back on the shelf. That’s why I think the experience is well worth the price of admission, as there’s more to this apocalyptic bug than initially meets the eye.
Godfly and plenty of associated oddities are available at Blind Cyclops Books’ official website, and you can also find them Instagram.