Horror Done Well – Paul Tremblay Introduces Us To Hellboy: An Assortment Of Horrors

by Hannah Means Shannon

A new prose collection wends its way into homes starting today, the first of its kind in a number of years, but the fourth to make its way into existence celebrating Hellboy and his world. In Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, 15 different writers explore new corners of the mythology and folklore surrounding the big guy, and do their best to make you feel like you might have spent a quiet moment or two in conversation with him.

Those conscripted apologists for our reluctant Beast of the Apocalypse include Jonathan Maberry, Michael Rowe, Seanan McGuire, Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, Chris Priestley, Chelsea Cain, E. Lily Yu, Chris Roberson, Kealan Patrick Burke, Richard Kadrey, Weston Ochse, Delilah Dawson, Angela Slatter, and Rio Youers, many of whom are no stranger to the world of comics or even to Hellboy’s universe.

And both Mike Mignola and Chris Priestly have contributed illustrations to the substantial book, while Christopher Golden acts as editor and his introduction sets the tone for the collection.

Here’s a full preview of that introduction:

Author and editor Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock) joins us today to talk about his inspirations for writing in the vein of horror, and how he approaches Hellboy’s world.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Settings and places, and the lore attached to them, have played such a key role in many readers’ experiences of Hellboy’s world. What do you think a sense of place brings to a horror story?

Paul Tremblay: When we used to tell neighborhood scary stories (the haunted house, the creepy woods, the abandoned building), it was all about place then; the where something terrible happened and was forever stained. But there’s certainly more than one way to write or use place in a horror story. The setting can be the main source of the atmosphere and dread as in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. A sense of place can instead act as a foil to the horror, a home-base of realism against which the oddness or horror is amplified because the place seemed so every-day by comparison, as Stephen King does in so many of his stories.

As noted, part of the genius of Hellboy is how Mignola globetrots and is able to weave in the flavor and folklore of each new setting and allowing his very human demon to react to the new world. Ultimately, I think what makes for successful horror story is a vivid place/setting that is populated by strong, empathic characters who shape and are shaped by where they are (and where they want to go), all while the plot allows for that thrillingly voyeuristic thrill of something terrible happened here, in this place, and let me tell you about it.

HMS: Do you think that folktales, fairy tales, and horror form natural intersections? Do you have some favorite folktale elements from the pages of Hellboy?

PT: Absolutely. Folks tales are the connection to our frightening past and often illuminate our frightening presents, and of course warn of the frightening future. Yes, everything is frightening all the time, isn’t it….

One of my favorite Hellboy stories is “The Third Wish“, which deftly mixes African folklore and Hans Christian Anderson’sThe Little Mermaid.” Less a folktale but inspired by lines from Edgar Allen Poe, I love “The Conqueror Worm” as well. I mean, come on, it had a huge worm as promised!

HMS: Gary Gianni, who illustrated Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea has commented on what a significant thing it seems to be to place a child in the context of Hellboy and see them interact, and Chris Golden talks about Hellboy’s “innocence” in the introduction to this book. Do you think he fits a classic hero role as a savior of kids from their darkest fears?

PT: I guess that depends on the definition of ‘classic hero.’ If we’re talking a Grimm-Fairy-Tale kind of hero, then definitely. I like that Hellboy doesn’t shy away from the dark and ugliness and he trusts a child enough to not lie and say that everything is going to be all right. I could be wrong, but I get the sense that Hellboy for most of the run would still identify as being a kid-at-heart. To me that means he’s confused and confounded by the actions of most other ‘adults’ and he’s continually searching to figure out who he is and what his purpose is.

My story in the anthology (“Her Red Right Hand”) features a child protagonist named Gemma who creates the hero she needs. That hero happens to be the red guy.

[An interior illustration by Mike Mignola in Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors]

HMS: There’s always been an interesting tension between the real-life and fantasy elements in the Hellboy Universe, hitting points of relevance that can catch you off-guard and prove really meaningful. Golden’s intro touches on Hellboy’s essential “humanity” as part of that. How important do you think it is to storytelling that Hellboy feels human emotions and expresses them?

PT: The melancholy of humanity within the character and art of Hellboy are what continues to bring me back to the stories. I think we keep going back to read because Hellboy is more human than human. He’s one of us. And Mignola’s genius shines when the story is at its craziest (in terms of the fantasy element) and yet the emotions stirred in the read never feels forced or inauthentic, or worse, sentimental.

HMS: An interesting thing about Hellboy is the way in which he resists his own narrative by pushing away from being the beast of the apocalypse as seems to be his destiny. In a way, he tries to write his own story, which is very relatable for readers, even to the bitter end. What role do you think storytelling plays in helping us process our life experiences? What kind of role does horror, in particular, play, in your opinion?

PT: Oh, jeeze, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I honestly have a hard time answering the ‘why horror’ question most of the time because I have a hard time imagining there are people who don’t like horror and/or it’s not as big a part of their lives as it in mine. That said, I think horror, when it’s done well, can really dig into some of the most difficult/interesting questions art and literature poses: What are we going to do now? How do we live through this? How does anybody live through this?

Many thanks to Paul Tremblay for taking part in this interview with Comicon.com. You can read his story “Her Red Right Hand” in Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, which arrives in shops today, August 29th, 2017.