Earlier this week, we spoke with Paul Tremblay about his contribution to Dark Horse’s new short story anthology, Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by longtime Mignolaverse scribe Christopher Golden. I was lucky enough to catch up with writer Rio Youers about his tale “The Promised Smile,” which also makes its way into Assortment of Horrors. The yarn follows Casper Morrow, a green-around-the-gills Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) field agent as he and Hellboy investigate the disappearance of a billionaire’s wife–but get much more than they anticipate.
Mr. Rio spoke with us about the conceit of “The Promised Smile,” contributing to world-building in the Hellboy universe, and giving red shirts their due.FreakSugar: Where do we find Hellboy at the beginning of “The Promised Smile”?
Rio Youers: In a sampan on the South China Sea, somewhere between the Philippines and Vietnam. With him is rookie field agent Casper Morrow, and together they’re looking for the wife of a young billionaire. She—the wife—was stolen from her home by a vamakan, a kind of bounty hunter for the underworld. Hellboy and Casper are assured that this will be a routine investigation, but they get more than they bargain for. Much more.
FS: Using Casper, our protagonist, as a POV was a novel way to really impart on readers the exotic nature of Hellboy’s world. What was the character-building process for creating Casper?
RY: You know, we see these nameless red shirts in movies and TV shows all the time—the background guys (they’re usually guys) who are snuffed out so unceremoniously, and forgotten by the next frame. I wanted to flip that concept on its head. So I created Casper Morrow, a red-shirt nobody at any other time, in any other story, but in my story he has a name and a history. He has an identity. A life. “The Promised Smile” is a story told from the red shirt’s point of view, with all of his attributes, anxieties, and aspirations.
As for the process . . . Casper breathed from the get-go. Creating him wasn’t hard, and it didn’t actually seem like a process. It’s like his story was meant to be told.
As an interesting aside, Scott Allie at Dark Horse Comics liked Casper so much that he decided to use him in the latest B.P.R.D. series, The Devil You Know. Furthermore, a little bird told me that they kinda-sorta used my face for a likeness . . . which is as cool as it is bizarre. Anyway, with Casper Morrow making the transition to comics, it means that “The Promised Smile” is now part of the Hellboy canon. What an incredible honor.
FS: You do quite a bit of mythology-building and revealing in the story. What was the research like for writing “The Promised Smile”?
RY: I did a good deal of research into Asian folklore and mythology. And, of course, I researched the Hellboy Universe. Now, I knew it was deep, but I didn’t realize how deep. One of the many things I took away from my research was the knowledge that if I didn’t nail my story—and I mean completely nail it—then the Hellboy fans would haul my pale little ass over the coals. To reduce the chances of that, I created my own island, my own monstrous mythology, and threw Hellboy and Casper into the mix. I think it worked out just fine.
It would be remiss not to mention Christopher Golden and the team at Dark Horse Comics at this point, who vetted my story to make sure that all the references rang true. They did one hell of a job, too (yup, I made a few mistakes—but they caught ’em). Kudos to them for that.
FS: Without giving too much away, the story is crafted much in the same way as a cautionary tale or fable. Was that intended from the beginning or did it begin to shape that way as you got further along in writing it?
RY: That’s a great question, and it deserves a great answer. The truth, sadly, is that I don’t really know. I don’t put too much thought into that kind of thing until the story is done—and sometimes not even then. I just let it be whatever it’ll be, and let the readers make of it what they will. The writer is important only for as long as the story is being written, then the reader takes over.
FS: As you outlined “The Promised Smile,” did you find that the nature of Hellboy’s universe opens the door for versatility in storytelling?
RY: The Hellboy Universe is deep. It’s like Star Wars in that regard; for all the stories that have been told, there’s a sense that we’re just scratching the surface—that there are so many stories yet to be told, so many characters to be introduced to and evils to vanquish. The trick is to keep the stories fresh and original—to embrace the versatility. And yeah, Hellboy’s wonderful and outlandish universe offers that. Absolutely.
RY: The quick, non-spoiler answer: They serve as a hiatus from all the monsters and witches.
FS: What do you hope readers will take away from “The Promised Smile”? Does writing for the anthology give you an itch to write more Hellboy tales?
RY: First and foremost (cliché alert), I want them to have a good time, and to feel that I’ve done justice to the Hellboy Universe. To be a part of it, to have contributed to it, is an incredible honor, and I want to make the fans happy.
And yeah—hell yeah!—like I said, there are so many stories yet to be told. As a writer, I felt a special connection to Hellboy. Shit, we became pals. I certainly wouldn’t mind hanging with the big guy again.
Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, which includes Rio Youer’s short story “The Promised Smile,” is on sale now from Dark Horse Comics.
From the official description:
Fifteen of the biggest names in weird literature come together to pay tribute to Hellboy and the characters of Mike Mignola’s award-winning line of books! Assembled by Joe Golem and Baltimore co-writer Christopher Golden and featuring illustrations by Mike Mignola and Chris Priestley, the anthology boasts fifteen original stories by the best in horror, fantasy, and science fiction, including Seanan McGuire (October Daye series), Chelsea Cain (Heartsick), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger series), and more! The new writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., iZombie co-creator Chris Roberson, pitches in as well, and Chris Priestley (Tales of Terror) provides a story and an illustration!