It feels like yesterday fans were blown away by the concept of One Bad Day, a series of one-shots exploring Batman’s greatest villains. In the same vein as Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, fans get to see some of comics’ best creators take a stab at telling an extra-sized done-in-one story that leaves a mark. Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and Penguin are just a few of the titles thus far that’ve totally changed how we saw the greatest rogues in comics.
Enter Batman: One Bad Day – Clayface, the February offering written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and art from Xermánico. The issues focuses its lens on Basil Karlo, aka Clayface, as he moves from Gotham to Hollywood to break in as a star actor. The problem is, can Clayface get out of his own way long enough to be the actor he was always born to be?
That’s a question you’ll be pondering when the issue debuts on February 21. (Retailers have till Sunday, January 22 to put in their orders.) Said query is just one of the items both Lanzing and Kelly discussed during an interview earlier this week. We also unpack their relationship to Clayface as well as their unique approach to a Hollywood-centric story having lived their themselves. They also detail their approach the character as removed from recent continuity for a much more definitive take.
This interview has been edited and trimmed down. You can listen to the full chat on the AIPT Comics podcast on Sunday, February 19, including more about Lanzing and Kelly’s time living in Hollywood, their thoughts on The Killing Joke, and much more.
AIPT: Does Clayface hold a special place in your heart?
Jackson Lanzing: Wildly, yeah. Clayface has been a character we’ve been talking about wanting to write for years. Like literally, since we first got brought in on Batman stuff, we had an initial sort of conversation back on the Batman and Robin Eternal days about what we could do. What could we play around with? What would be fun? And Collin specifically has been very interested in Clayface for a long time.
Collin Kelly: I fell in love with the character like so many with Batman: The Animated Series. There’s that goddamn beautiful episode that is one of the first truly heartbreaking episodes of that series. When your first introduction to the character is the tragedy of him, yes, he is a monster. Yes, he can go through these “One Bad Days” and he’ll snap. But at his heart, like, I don’t wanna say he’s a good man, cuz he’s not. But he is a man with dreams and hopes who is driven by his passion, which he believes to be, to create art and to perform. That’s deep in his core. But he’s always going to get in his own way. There’s a deep tragedy to him because he has so much potential as a person and so often fails to get even close to living up to what that could be.
And he’s gooey, and wet, and I love the gunk.
AIPT: Were you asked to do a Clayface story for One Bad Day?
JL: Yeah, they came to us with Clayface. I was actually a little thrown.
Dave Wielgosz from DC came to us, and he said, “Hey, we’re doing these One Bad Day things. Here’s all the people who are working on it and all the characters.” And I’m like, “man, that’s all the Batman characters and all of my favorite creators. Where do we fit in on this?” And they were like, well, we want you to do Clayface.
My take on Clayface generally has been that I think he’s a really interesting character when you make him heroic. And then I also think he’s a really interesting character as a horror element. For all of the stuff that we are doing right now, none of its horror. We’re not really known for horror. We’ve even done some Hollywood-like horror stuff that’s never really worked out all that well. So we don’t really think of ourselves as horror guys. Dave asked why Clayface?
And he said, “oh, I thought it would be obvious cuz you guys live in Hollywood, and you know what that’s like. Collin and I started as feature writers. We still work in Hollywood. Hollywood’s a big part of our lives. We know how that studio system works. We know what it’s like to be on set. We know what it’s like to go through the many abuses that the Hollywood system provides young talent. Why not find a way to put Clayface into that? That really unlocked something, certainly in me, I think in both of us.
This is actually an opportunity to do something that we’ve been secretly aching to do, but have never really known how to do it. Which is to take the lived experience of a decade of Hollywood, of what it’s like to be in your twenties, and start to wonder if you’re ever gonna succeed in this industry that is constantly about shutting you down.
AIPT: Churning out people…
JL: …And forcing you into some of your worst behaviors and some of your worst aspects. Like, you don’t always act in a way that you are proud of when you operate in Hollywood. We actually had a lot of really personal stuff to talk about here. Pretty probing and a little scary, and a little self-reflective. That felt like horror, felt like our kind of horror. It was like horror that came from character and horror that came from the inability of this man to be good.
CK: For us, it’s ironic, actually. I was just thinking about this. Obviously, California’s been slammed by massive storms recently. For us, horror isn’t the person jumping out of the dark with the knife. To us, horror is the landslide slowly coming towards you when you’re trapped in your car, and you know you can’t get out. That’s horror.
In the same way, this is the story of a man who is effectively rolling toward his inevitable destiny. It’s a story that starts with Clayface moving to Los Angeles, having moved to Hollywood to finally pursue his dreams. Out from under Gotham’s shadow into the light of Los Angeles. And trying to find his way, right? Like so many people do when they come here with, with hope and a dream, and a passion.
We’re bringing him as close as he can possibly get to his apotheosis, the best possible version of himself. What an amazing place for a man who could wear any face than Los Angeles, Hollywood. Then getting to take our experiences, Jackson pointed out and then put him through that grinder. From our perspective, no one finds stories about Hollywood Interesting unless you are in Hollywood. No one really wants to hear about the tough life a screenwriter has by and large. So this was our chance to really kind of take all that pain and funnel it into something that people do give about, which is the giant Mudman.
AIPT: Clayface was humanized greatly by James Tynion IV in his Detective Comics. As a story that’s not in continuity, what is your approach here?
JL: There’s a phrase that gets used when you’re talking about being an actor or when you’re talking about being a writer, how you find your creative voice. The general advice is, if you try to be everyone, you’re gonna end up being no one.
If you don’t know who you are and what your perspective is, and all you have is other people’s ideas and other people’s perspectives, you’re going to be a cover band, you’re gonna be a cover of the thing that you are trying to do, rather than actually adding to the canon of the art you’re trying to attain. It’s something I take to heart a lot because part of Collin and I’s process is dialing in generally a theme or an idea or a style. In the early days, part of that conversation would become like, “oh, it feels like this writer.” The older we’ve gotten and the more competent we’ve gotten, the less we’ve done that. Because you find yourself then still playing the cover of the thing rather than realizing your own tone, your own objectives.
I think Basil thinks he’s already got that. I think he thinks he’s a genius, and he started off being like, “I am a person with something to offer,” without ever interrogating what it was he had to offer. He just assumed that he had it.
CK: It’s like the self-delusion, right? It’s the reason that you come out here [Hollywood]. “I’m gonna come out to the land of stars and I’m gonna express that to the world.” That’s so innocent and so pure, and then it can turn so toxic.
JL: That’s Clayface. That ultimately the core thing that makes him a villain, rather than making him a hero, the thing that makes him a monster rather than making him a human, is that he does underneath, not just underneath the mud, but underneath Basil Karlo, I don’t know that we know who he is.
AIPT: And he will never know.
JL: I think he’s desperately trying to find it without honestly interrogating the problem first. So he just ends up barreling through personalities and jobs and ideas and objectives. When you do that fast enough, people are gonna start to call you on your s--t. The horror in One Bad Day – Clayface is that whenever somebody calls him on it, he can kill them and take them.
Because he has that power, he slowly becomes the very abusive system that is constantly abusing him.
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