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

by  in Comic News Comment

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!