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Top Five Warren Zevon Characters Who Would Make for Good Comic Books

I did this awhile ago with Bob Dylan characters, but a mention of Warren Zevon by reader Marc Laferriere made me think Zevon would be a great choice for this, too!

So enjoy the top five Warren Zevon characters who would make for good comic books (check here to see an archive of all the top five lists featured so far)!

NOTE: More so than Bob Dylan, heck, more so than most songwriters period, Warren Zevon had a lot of songs that were stories that followed characters around, including some of his most famous songs/characters. The problem with this is that while a lot of these songs are awesome, they don’t exactly lend themselves to a long form narrative, which you need to have for a good comic book. So while you could certainly disagree and think Song X would work well as a comic, just rest assured that if I don’t mention a song, it’s not because I didn’t think of it, but it is because I didn’t think said character was a good pick.

SECOND NOTE: A few Zevon songs are about actual people, like Frank and Jesse James. I’m not going to count those as “Zevon characters,” because he didn’t create them.

On to the list!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Excitable Boy from “Excitable Boy”

One of Zevon’s most notable characters, I don’t think the Excitable Boy character really works on his own, but damned if he wouldn’t make a great character in a Garth Ennis comic book!

He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy
After ten long years they let him out of the home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

The Mercenaries of “Jungle Work”

The mercenaries Zevon writes about in “Jungle Work” are fairly non-descript mercenary characters, so they’d work well for any basic mercenary comic book (which are plentiful), but they’re basically blank slates as far as characterization goes:

Where the pay is good
And the risk is high
It’s understood
We’ll do or die
Sten gun in hand
Where the gun is law
From Ovamboland
To Nicaragua

The Narrator of “Renegade”

The story of “Renegade” sounds a lot like Brian Azzarello’s neat Vertigo series Loveless, so I think it would work nicely in that vein.

Some prayers never reach the sky
Some wars never end
Some dreams refuse to die
Next time I would rather break than bend

I am a renegade
I’ve been a rebel all my days
I am a renegade
I’ve been a rebel all my days

But while the character is intriguing, Zevon does not spend THAT much time developing the character, beyond the basics.

The Narrator of “Piano Fighter”

I could easily see an interesting Vertigo series following around the exploits of a gifted freelance piano player drifting through America (or even the whole world, if you liked) playing in all sorts of different places with different new characters introduced each arc.

Someone called Piano Fighter
I’m a holy roller, I’m a real lowrider
Hold me tight, honey, hold me tight
Then let me go, Piano Fighter
Let me go, Piano Fighter

Maybe I’ll go to Reno
Nobody knows my name
I’ll play Claie de Lune in a quiet saloon
Steady work for a change
Ain’t going down that long, lonsome road
Ain’t going down that long, lonsome road

I’d follow that character.

The Werewolves of “Werewolves of London”

Clearly Zevon’s most famous song, but I dunno, is there really much here to do a series about that wouldn’t require just inventing personalities for the werewolves out of whole cloth?

Still, the song is cool enough to make it perhaps worth it!

He’s the hairy, hairy gent, who ran amok in Kent.
Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair.
You better stay away from him, he’ll rip your lungs out Jim.
Huh, I’d like to meet his tailor.

Aaahoo, werewolves of London
Aaahoo, werewolves of London

The Narrator of “Carmelita”

He’s certainly intriguing on his own, but his story does not really seem to have a massive amount of room to go, does it?

Well, I pawned my Smith Corona
And I went to meet my man
He hangs out down on Alvarado Street
By the Pioneer chicken stand

Carmelita hold me tighter
I think I’m sinking down
And I’m all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town

I guess you could do a study of the town as a whole?

The cast of “Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead”

It’s a GREAT hook, but really, as great as the hook of the song is, Zevon does not really go into much detail, and while you could certainly do a good comic with the PREMISE, I dunno if the characters stand out enough on their own.

I called up my friend LeRoy on the phone
I said, Buddy, I’m afraid to be alone
‘Cause I got some weird ideas in my head
About things to do in Denver when you’re dead

I was working on a steak the other day
And I saw Waddy in the Rattlesnake Cafe
Dressed in black, tossing back a shot of rye
Finding things to do in Denver when you die

You won’t need a cab to find a priest
Maybe you should find a place to stay
Some place where they never change the sheets
And you just roll around Denver all day

Here’s the toughest omission!!

The Narrator from “Jeannie Needs a Shooter”

This song, co-written with Bruce Springsteen, works as a limited series/graphic novel really well. The only thing keeping it off the top five is the fact that the story is a BIT familiar. I mean, heck, it’s basically Body Heat, right?

She came down from Knightstown with her hands hard from the line
From the first time I laid eyes on her
I knew that she’d be mine
Her father was a lawman, he swore he’d shoot me dead
‘Cause he knew I wanted Jeannie and I’d have her like I said

Jeannie needs a shooter
Shooter like me
Jeannie needs a shooter
Shooter on her side
Jeannie needs a shooter

Still, great song.

5. THREE WAY TIE!
The narrators of “Desperados Under the Eaves,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and “The French Inhaler”

All three songs are basically about the same thing, just with “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” having a more sardonic and less serious approach to life on the West Coast than the other two (you could probably add “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands” to these three, too).

Some samples…

From “Desperadoes”…

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was staring in my empty coffee cup
I was thinking that the gypsy wasn’t lyin’
All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles
I’m gonna drink ‘em up

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

From “Pitiful Me”….

Well, I met a girl in West Hollywood
I ain’t naming names
She really worked me over good
She was just like Jesse James
She really worked me over good
She was a credit to her gender
She put me through some changes, Lord
Sort of like a Waring blender

Poor, poor pitiful me
Poor, poor pitiful me
These young girls won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me
Woe is me

From “Inhaler”…

You said you were an actress
Yes, I believe you are
I thought you’d be a star
So I drank up all the money,
Yes, I drank up all the money,
With these phonies in this Hollywood bar,
These friends of mine in this Hollywood bar

Loneliness and frustration
We both came down with an acute case
And when the lights came up at two
I caught a glimpse of you
And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase

Your pretty face
It looked so wasted
Another pretty face
Devastated

From “Even a Dog” (which is more specifically about the unsavory side of the entertainment industry)…

All the worms and the gnomes are having lunch at Le Dome
They’re all living off the fat of the land
Everbody’s trying to be a friend of mine
Even a dog can shake hands

4. The Gorilla from “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado”

If you can’t get an interesting story surrounding a gorilla who escapes from the zoo and just takes up the life of a human, then you aren’t trying hard enough!

Big gorilla at the L.A. Zoo
Snatched the glasses right off my face
Took the keys to my BMW
Left me here to take his place

I wish the ape a lot of success
I’m sorry my apartment’s a mess
Most of all I’m sorry if I made you blue
I’m betting the gorilla will, too

They say Jesus will find you wherever you go
But when He’ll come looking for you, they don’t know
In the mean time, keep your profile low
Gorilla, you’re a desperado

3. Mr. Bad Example from “Mr. Bad Example”

Any of the top three choices would be fine at #1, I think. Here, this sounds a lot like Jack of Fables, an incorrigible lout who is also charming and a lot of fun to hate.

I’m very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I’m proud to be a glutton, and I don’t have time for sloth
I’m greedy, and I’m angry, and I don’t care who I cross

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I’ll live to be a hundred, and go down in infamy

2. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner from “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”

The only way this doesn’t reach #1 is that you really most likely have to come up with a separate lead to make the story worth, as Roland is, you know, headless. So you probably would have to come up with an Ichibod Crane type character to work with him.

Roland the headless Thompson gunner
Norway’s bravest son
Time, time, time
For another peaceful war
But time stands still for Roland
‘Til he evens up the score
They can still see his headless body stalking through the night
In the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun
In the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun

Roland searched the continent for the man who’d done him in
He found him in Mombassa in a barroom drinking gin
Roland aimed his Thompson gun – he didn’t say a word
But he blew Van Owen’s body from there to Johannesburg

Roland the headless Thompson gunner…
The eternal Thompson gunner
still wandering through the night
Now it’s ten years later but he still keeps up the fight
In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley
Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun and bought it

What a cool visual.

1. The Narrator from “Lawyers, Guns and Money”

Likely Zevon’s second-most famous song, the narrator of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” is similar to Hunter S. Thompson in he just seems like a crazy fun guy to follow around on various misadventures.

I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the
Russians, too?

I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this

Okay, that’s the list!

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

33 Comments

The narrator from my rides here and his mishaps in texas…modern day jonah hex?

Ooh, that’s wonderful. Roland was the first thing to come to mind when I saw the title, and I was pleasantly surprised to see “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado” show up (that song is just begging for Kevin Maguire art). But I have to add -

“Play It All Night Long” would make for a terrific early-period Vertigo book.

I’d buy a Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner comic book in a heartbeat.

I don’t know.. I love Zevon and I love comics but this seems like a real stretch. Maybe Roland….

I agree that Zevon comics could be awesome, but if we aren’t including real people-

Things To Do In Denver is about Zevon and his collaborators/buddies. Desperados Under the Eaves, Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, and Piano Fighter are autobiographical. French Inhaler, maybe. He was a bit cagey on that one.

This is awesome. I’m a huge Zevon fan.

For a Champions campaign once I made a supervillain named Suzie Lightning. Didn’t have a whole lot to do with the song; I was just using the name.

How about “The Envoy”? That’d be an awesome comic book. Zevon once considered turning the song into a kung-fu movie starring himself.

Or the narrator of my personal favourite, “Ain’t That Pretty at All”. It wouldn’t be a superhero comic or anything, but Seth or somebody could do some pretty funny things with it.

I really enjoyed this.

Things To Do In Denver is about Zevon and his collaborators/buddies. Desperados Under the Eaves, Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, and Piano Fighter are autobiographical.

I certainly see the point, but I think songs based on one’s own life seem to me to be a pretty worthy exception. :)

How about “The Envoy”? That’d be an awesome comic book.

I sort of grouped that in with “Jungle Work,” both great premises a bit devoid of characters.

I didn’t know that about him wanting to turn it into a movie. That’s hilarious!

Fair point! He certainly had enough of a life to make a pretty interesting movie :)

I’m thinking Duke in Doonesbury already establishes the viability of a Mr Bad Example comic.

I love this topic. I mean I only know enough Zevon to appreciate this thread, not enough to contribute much more to it; you touched on all the songs I would have Brian.

Do I have my chronology mixed up, or did they title a movie after Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead? Pretty good high-profile indie film from the mid-90s IIRC.

I’m thinking Duke in Doonesbury already establishes the viability of a Mr Bad Example comic.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking of for both that and Lawyers, Guns and Money (well, Hunter S. Thompson, really, but that’s the same thing :) ).

Do I have my chronology mixed up, or did they title a movie after Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead? Pretty good high-profile indie film from the mid-90s IIRC.

Yeah, that was named after the song, although it wasn’t based on the song (the main character was also named after a Springsteen character).

I didn’t see Mutineer:

Mutineer Lyrics
Artist(Band):Warren Zevon
Review The Song (0)
Print the Lyrics

Send “Mutineer” Ringtones to Cell

By Warren Zevon
c. 1995 Zevon Music BMI

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Hoist the mainsail – here I come
Ain’t no room on board for the insincere
You’re my witness
I’m your mutineer

I was born to rock the boat
Some may sink but we will float
Grab your coat – let’s get out of here
You’re my witness
I’m your mutineer

That’s right, a man and woman on the run for a crime they DID commit. Great crime series in my mind whenever I hear that song.

As much as I would love the work of Warren Zevon to be spread among many pop culture artifacts could you guys please not harp on “Desperados Under the Eaves” I’m trying to write a Vertigo /Grant Morrison inspired play based on this song.

Also, for the indie autobiographical set, “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” would be kick ass…

How do you mean “harp on”?

And I definitely considered “Mama Couldn’t be Persuaded,” and you’re right that it would make a great biographical story – I thought it was a bit limited in the scope, but upon further thought, it should have at least gotten an honorary mention.

By “harp on,” I mean I thought I was the only guy who thought that “Desperados” would be a great premise for a genre piece, of whatever medium. I’m trying to keep this secret…

In my studies I also found that “Desperados Under the Eaves” was also made into a text-based computer game by another Zevon fan. You’re right in placing him with Dylan as one of the few rock based singer-songwriters who wrote character studies of heroes, villains, antiheroes, outlaws, tricksters, seducers, gamblers, and overall larger-than-life figures.

I’d also throw Fagen/Becker in that mix, but that might just be me…

That’s what I figured, Hunter, but I also figured I’d might as well check to make sure. :)

I want to see Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner by David Lapham and Marcos Martin.

From “Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School,” released circa 1980, was “Jeannie needs a shooter”. Which was about the time of the whole Dark Phoenix business.

Hunter, a great idea about Fagen/Becker. Imagine a four-color version of “Kid Charlemagne”, maybe done by Christopher Priest.

Apodaca, Lapham would be a great choice for adapting virtually any Zevon song. Maybe Brubaker would do an adaptation of “Play It All Night Long”.

The Factory!

“Early in the morning I feel a chill
The factory whistle blows loud and shrill
I’d kill my wife or she’d kill me
But we gotta go to work in the factory
Six days a week at the factory
Up early in the morning at the factory
I’ve been working in the factory
Johnny, I’ve been working in the factory
Kickin’ asbestos in the factory
Punchin’ out Chryslers in the factory
Breathin’ that plastic in the factory
Makin’ polyvinyl chloride in the factory”

He BELLOWS that last line, and polyvinyl chloride sounds like the most sinister substance that ever got made in a factory. Maybe it is…

Where’s “the Envoy”? He should have been in the Top 5 and not even an honorable mention? The album cover looks like a Mike Grell comic for goshsakes!

Not to mention the fact that ‘The Envoy’ has already appeared as a cold-war era superhero in the comic book influenced Wild Cards series (edited) by George R.R. Martin.

I think the thing with the Werewolf of London (also a fantasy novel by Brian Stableford) is the fact that, while he’s fully capable of mutilating a little old lady, he’s also fit to be seen walking with the queen, enjoys a nice pina colada (at Trader Vic’s no less), and knows the value of an elegant coiffure… surely the contradictions between such an elegant beast would make for a very compelling character.

Oh, and ‘Desperadoes Under The Eaves’ is semi-autobiographical.

Why do I feel compelled to do a ‘Top Five Stan Ridgway Characters Who Would Make For Good Comic Books’ now? hrm.

Or ‘Nick Cave’… hrmm… ‘Tom Waits’…?

Great list, Brian.

“Excitable Boy” is also semi-autobiographical. Zevon actually rubbed a pot roast all over his chest, as I found out when I read the excellent oral history of Zevon “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” last year. I highly recommend it to all Zevon fans.

“French Inhaler, maybe. He was a bit cagey on that one.”

It’s about Marilyn Monroe, isn’t it? Isn’t that what the Norman Mailer joke at the end is about?

If ‘Preacher’ ever gets made into something, “The Vast Indifference of Heaven” should be in it somewhere.

And the best character you left out is the undead Elvis Presley from ‘Jesus Mentioned’. (I think raising him from the dead is sufficiently fictionalized to qualify.)

Worth noting that the biography “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” by Warren’s ex Crystal Zevon is an excellent read, and highly recommended for anyone, familiar with Warren’s work or not. His real-life story is even more striking than many of those in his songs!

John Ostrander beat you to it in Grimjack #76, with Excitable Boy and Roland, who’s a telekinetic head (like in Nexus) as part of Twilley’s Battlerock band.

Or the Elvis of “Porcelain Monkey”…

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