Writing About A ‘Goddamn Superstar’ – Rio Youers On Hellboy: An Assortment Of Horrors

by Hannah Means Shannon

Early this week, a rare occurrence illuminated the world of horror fandom–the appearance of a new prose short story collection focused on Hellboy. The fourth of its kind, but the first in a number of years, like previous volumes, Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, has been edited by Hellboy Universe collaborator Christopher Golden, and embraces the world of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, the B.P.R.D., and many points in between.

There’s something very special about exploring a world you know from one medium in another format. Your senses are engaged differently and you come away having had an expanded experience of the concepts that you found alluring in the first place. Whether you know Hellboy and his world from the many, many comics, or from the films, this short story collection has plenty to offer in new avenues to explore.

Christopher Golden writes the introduction to this volume (read that intro here), while Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and Chris Priestley provide illustrations, and fifteen writers contribute to this volume from the sphere of horror prose, and even from the world of Hellboy comics.

Those contributors are: 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.

Yesterday, we welcomed author and editor Paul Tremblay to the site, and today, we have Rio Youers (The Forgotten Girl, End Times, Old Man Scratch) here to talk about his perspective on Hellboy and his own contribution to the Assortment, “The Promised Smile”.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Though there have been several collections of Hellboy prose stories before, it still feels like a rare thing in comparison to the number of comics set within the Hellboy Universe. How odd, to you, was the concept of being able to step inside the same universe—but through your medium of prose? What challenges did you face?

Rio Youers: It is a different medium, but story is universal, as is character. The great benefit of writing within the Hellboy Universe is that it’s preloaded with endearing character and almost endless possibilities. I loved every minute. The real challenge was being faithful not just to Hellboy and company, but to the history that Mike Mignola and the team at Dark Horse Comics have forged over the past twenty or so years—delivering something honest and faithful, and that the fans would respond favorably to.

HMS: Without giving too much away about your contribution to the book, I notice you’ve picked up on something that many readers find compelling about Hellboy stories, and that is their international appeal, spanning the entire globe. Is this something that you’ve previously felt a connection to in Hellboy lore? What do you think it adds to the storytelling possibilities?

RY: It’s like this: Monsters have international appeal. They always have and always will. They’re also real. They don’t all live in swamps or in caves beneath the ocean. Some of them live in houses. Big, white houses. As a storyteller—and with Hellboy in your corner— you can absolutely work with that…for entertainment purposes, or catharsis.

HMS: There’s something fascinating about the whole concept of being part of the B.P.R.D which, thankfully, has been explored a little through key characters in the comics, but it still seems like an almost limitless source of storytelling. What do you find appealing about the B.P.R.D and those who serve in its ranks?

RY: I think everybody at the B.P.R.D has a story to tell, from the upper echelons to the nameless field agents and red shirts that barely get a look-in, but who still have lives and identities and histories. Just because they’re not the stars of the show, doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth telling, right? And when you think about it like that, the B.P.R.D—the whole of the Hellboy Universe—opens up. It’s an incredibly fertile resource.

This was definitely the inspiration for my story, “The Promised Smile,” which follows rookie field agent Casper Morrow on his first assignment with the B.P.R.D, which—much to Casper’s excitement and intimidation—happens to be alongside Hellboy. I had a great time developing Casper’s character, emphasizing his strengths and weaknesses, breathing life into his clean red shirt. I worked hard to get him right. And the work paid off: Scott Allie at Dark Horse was so taken by Casper that he decided to use him in the latest comic series, B.P.R.D: The Devil You Know.

Furthermore, with Casper Morrow making the transition to the world of comics, this means that my story, “The Promised Smile” is now part of the Hellboy canon, which is a tremendous honor. Also, as an added bonus—and something I find both cool and surreal—the comic version of Casper Morrow is loosely based on me, looks-wise. Heck, I’m not complaining, but I always imagined him better looking.

HMS: If you could meet Hellboy and hang out with him for a day, what do you think you would talk to him about?

RY: I don’t know if I’d do much talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a colorful life: I’m a published novelist who’s lived in five different countries—currently residing in Vienna, Austria. I’ve played in rock bands, partied with rock stars and actors. I’ve jumped out of airplanes and scuba-dived off the Great Barrier Reef. Sure, I’ve had some fun…but compared to Hellboy I’ve lived an incredibly dull life. So yeah, I’d light a campfire and let him do all the talking. I’m a sucker for a good story. And Hellboy has a lot of them.

HMS: How do you think the Hellboy Universe has influenced or impacted the realm of horror writing or the horror genre more generally?

RY: Hellboy is a goddamn superstar. Like Frankenstein’s monster or Leatherface, everybody has heard of him, and anybody that iconic is going to expand and elevate the genre.

As a reader—and a writer—there’s so much to draw inspiration from. Personally, I love that Mike Mignola flipped the script on what a superhero should look like. I mean, he created an immense half-demon with an indestructible right hand, sawed-off horns, and a pointed tail. Hellboy is everything we should fear, everything that screams danger, and yet we embrace him—care for him. In this batshit-crazy world, Hellboy is the hero we want to believe in: someone who stands up for what is right, who gladly battles tyrants, monsters, and bullies, and whose stature is matched only by the size of his heart.

It’s a neat trick. With Hellboy, Mike Mignola has shown us that there are no limits, particularly in horror. Just go crazy, have some fun…and don’t let the bad guys win.

Many thanks to Rio Youers for taking part in this interview with Comicon.com. You can read his story “The Promised Smile” in Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, which arrived in shops this week on August 29th, 2017.