Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Having already dropped anchor at DC Comics with those “old chums” of the digital-first “Batman ’66” serial, writer Jeff Parker has finally embarked on a traditional ongoing series in “Aquaman.” No mere landlubber, Parker spent time on and around both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, originally from North Carolina and now settled in Oregon. His New Year’s resolution involves the proper preparation of salmon, beyond what a Red Lobster might serve up.
CBR News scoured the depths with Parker to chart his lifelong fascination with the sea and its many mysteries, from the Loch Ness Monster to the tragic fate of Natalie Wood.
CBR News: I’m going to ask you this now, but I’m going to let you think about it. We’ll come back to it at the end. You have a hypothetical boat, and you can name this boat after any mysterious woman from your past, or a Tony Orlando song, or any adjective–
Jeff Parker: Why’d you have to put the Tony Orlando song in my head? Now it’s like, “Yellow Ribbon? Why would I name a boat that?”
So keep mulling that over.
From whence does your deep and abiding love of the sea originate?
I do deeply abide the sea, or love it. It’s because I grew up in North Carolina and had relatives down at the coast. I’d go down there every summer. Then when I went to college I picked East Carolina, which was really close to the beach. I could get down there at any time. I loved it. I always loved being on boats, swimming in the ocean. This is a thing that bites me living here in the Pacific Northwest. Our water here is freezing. This summer I visited relatives and brought my son with me. We went to Morehead City, the Atlantic beach. He’s a total Oregonian, used to running in our freezing ocean. I said, “Watch this. You’re gonna be able to walk right in. [Laughs] It was the end of August, and it was warm. “Ah, I’ve missed this.” The Gulf Stream is a wonderful thing. It’s not just the ocean. It’s the Gulf Stream.
Do you think you could be a good lifeguard?
I was a lifeguard.
Did you save any lives?
The closest I came — now, this was just a summer job in college. You have all these electives in school. I took Scuba diving and life-saving and stuff, which was great because my swimming was not great. I needed to learn some form. That certainly helped me out. Then I spent the next summer taking lifeguard jobs, which were at pools. Not that glamorous, and in North Carolina it’s just punishing hot. You sit out in the sun and you feel drained at the end of the day. That took all of the Hollywood-ness out of it that I may have had before then. Then one time, I was just on call to different pools around the area. There was this one community pool just crammed full of kids. You couldn’t see the water–
Wait. You’re on call as a lifeguard? So if someone starts drowning, they have to page you at home and–
No, no, no. Whoever was in charge, he’d have a roster of lifeguards he could call at the last minute and say, “You want to work here tomorrow?” That sort of thing. To fill hours up. And you always need money, so “Yeah!” I’m out at this one place out in the country. If something happens to one of these kids here, with all these bodies from miles around, how am I going to see anybody? But I did see one kid as I’m walking around, kind of bobbed down and couldn’t get a breath. He was pretty close to the side of the pool. And after all that studying about control carries and emptying people’s lungs, my big life-saving was reaching down and jerking him out of there by the shoulder. [Laughs] “Well there, I saved your life, son!”
If you’re flipping channels, could you enjoy “Baywatch” or is that going to stir up painful memories?
Well, of course, they were lifeguards at the ocean. That’s even scarier to me because it’s hard enough to keep track of just your own friends out there. Just think: You’re looking around and everyone looks like they’re drowning no matter what they’re doing. They’re all flailing about. But I think, more interesting is “Baywatch Nights.”
Nobody ever talks about that.
There’s a reason for that. At the end of the week when they got tired of saving lives, they’d go hunt werewolves and vampires.
I just want to be a fly on the wall in that room.
“You know what we need is werewolves too. Untapped demographic.”
“There’s a witches’ coven setting up on the beach!”
Is there just a season of that, or more?
That it existed at all is a lesson to us.
So, I saw that image you posted on Twitter with the woman unknowingly photographing a shark right next to her kids.
That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? I used to live near there too. If that’s real — and I have to question it because it’s on the internet — supposedly it’s from KTLA, and I was retweeting it because Corinna Bechko had tweeted it, so I’m gonna put it all off on her if it’s not real.
She wouldn’t play fast and loose with that.
That’s exactly what it looked like when I was down there, except for the shark floating through a wave. You’d see a lot of dolphins though. Schools of dolphins, all the time.
What would you do if you ran into a shark? You see the fin go by. What would you do?
Well. I’d like to think I’d know that while there’s no way I’m out-swimming it, maybe if I just sit here and act cool, it’ll go away. Shark experts say they don’t always come after you. They’re not that interested in you. The movie “Jaws” — which is one of my favorite movies — it really did create war on sharks when it came out. Everybody was terrified.
I’m glad you bring that up. What’s your favorite scene in “Jaws?”
[Long, contemplative pause] I know it’s cliche because it’s everybody’s favorite scene, but I really do like the part where they’re hanging out below deck, drinking, telling stories and comparing their wounds. It’s just a great bit. I feel like you don’t get that in big movies anymore, where they slow down and get a character moment that isn’t force-fed to you. And [Robert Shaw voice] Robert Shaw’s all “Eyes roll back kinda like a doll’s eyes!” I love the backstory of it, that one of the writers connected to the movie called in the whole thing about the Indianapolis. Tells the story of all those guys out there floating. Then Robert Shaw, himself, comes in and crafts it. He knew it was good, but he shaped it into something that only fit his character as the old salt.
They had everybody working on that speech, and he was the last to get his hands on it. Got that cadence just right. He was a playwright.
Yeah, and he wrote drunken poetry and stuff. He knew what he was doing. It’s just such a great bit, with real heart to it. Up to that point you don’t identify with Quint. After that, you care about him. It’s a pivotal reveal and it shuts Richard Dreyfuss up for a while.
[Laughs] It’s also great because the scene starts in comedy and transitions, organically, to this extremely haunting monologue.
Exactly. And that’s kind of the essence of doing something engaging in fiction. You’re always trying to subvert expectation. Not M. Knight subvert with, “Aha! A twist!” But you find there’s more to something in the way it plays out. Like you said, it’s a funny bit, they’re making jokes, Dreyfuss gets a good one in with the broken heart, does his big snorty laugh that identifies him as a dork in case you weren’t clear. They’re bonding and Roy Scheider feels kind of left out.
This is a point of contention for me and some friends. When he lifts up his shirt and he’s got that scar–
–that’s an appendectomy scar, right?
They’re saying it’s a gunshot wound from when he was a cop. I’m saying the whole joke is that it’s an appendectomy scar and he’s embarrassed to even bring it into the thing.
That’s why he won’t talk about it.
Right! Like, this is pretty lame compared to their shark bites.
You’re right and they’re wrong. They could have put a gun wound anywhere. Not there.
“There was this time when I took a bullet for Popeye Doyle right in my perfectly decent appendix. Just great.” I think their argument is that he’s being humble about it.
That’s what it’d be if “Jaws” were made today.
They’d bring the mob stuff in too. I never read the novel, but you hear about some of the things left out, like the mob angle and Dreyfuss having and affair with Scheider’s wife. The characters, I mean. Which you can kind of see seeds of in the dinner scene.
Yeah, they tried to kind of touch on it, but there’s really no time in the way they set it up.
So I have here, and I don’t know if this is at all applicable, but “Favorite Richard Dreyfuss movies that aren’t ‘Jaws.'” It doesn’t seem like you’re all that fond of the guy.
[Laughs] He’s okay. No problem with him. I’d have to think about that.
I like the one where he plays Dick Cheney in “The American President.”
I saw a clip of that and he is a little creepy. I can tell you my other favorite Robert Shaw movie is “From Russia with Love.” He, to me, is still the most menacing foe Bond had to go up against. They look like they’re really getting down when they start fighting in that train. They’re getting slammed around. Apparently, from some book I had, Sean Connery was pretty mad about it. Not loudly in front of Robert Shaw because he didn’t want to get his ass handed to him again. [Sean Connery voice] “S’posed to be blah, blah, blah!”
In terms of James Bond villains, I’m a Yaphet Kotto guy.
Oh yeah, he’s great.
Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?
I want to believe. That’s funny that you say that because just yesterday I was trying to clean out my basement, consolidating things–
You found a chupacabra?
I found a book on the Loch Ness Monster. I was a kid in the ’70s on a steady diet of Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and UFOs. What sold it was Leonard Nimoy hosting “In Search Of.” Any time that was on, “All right, Leonard Nimoy is going to direct me to some Bigfoots. I have got to see this.” That’s all we talked about at school, or that’s all I remember. I guess there were other things.
Is that why you moved to the Pacific Northwest? To track down Bigfoot?
Yeah, I figured my chances of seeing a Bigfoot and a UFO should be a lot better. Not the Loch Ness Monster though.
But you want to believe.
I want to, but I’m pretty sure there’s no giant serpent or, what dinosaur is it supposed to be?
Yeah, a plesiosaur or something like that. Before someone calls in to correct me, I know–
Dinosaur is not the right term for the water dwellers. Can we just call them dinosaurs? Just for the public?
And the whole business with the triceratops recently.
Yeah, what’s it that a proto-ceratops is just a baby triceratops?
Or the other way around. But I think they’re renaming the other thing a triceratops because everyone knows that name and there would be riots.
They should have learned their lesson with the brontosaurus.
Let’s get back to less choppy waters. Have you ever owned a fish?
Oh, yeah. I’ve had tons of aquariums. I just set one up for the neighbor kid because I was getting rid of one of mine that had gotten gross because only I was looking after it anymore. So my fish live next-door now.
What kind of fish?
Just some barbs and neon tetras, nothing super exotic or expensive. I think the rarest fish I ever owned was a little puffer fish. It looks kind of like a little wind-up toy you just have swimming around in your aquarium. Cute as hell. They can’t puff up too much. They come sort of pre-puffed.
Do you name them, or do you just live with them?
When you’re doing an aquarium, you’re more in a playing god role. To me, that’s what it always seemed like. You’re creating an environment. Placing plants that will work and getting the water balance just right. It’s a different situation than having a puppy.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when they’re starting out with fish adoption?
The biggest mistake everybody makes is that after a couple of days setting it up, you get a bacterial bloom. Everyone thinks something’s gone wrong, and they go rushing back to the shop. If the people there are uninformed or devious, trying to make more money, they try and sell you something to drop into the tank to clear things up. Really, it’s going to clear up anyway. That’s just the natural process with the food in there, the fishes’ poo, everything starting the bacterial cycle. The filter will take care of it.
How long can you hold your breath underwater?
We had to do that for scuba training, and I want to say I could beat a minute. How long was it? Could I do it for two minutes? I don’t want to say now because I don’t remember, really. I don’t want anybody to hold me to it.
Do you imagine someone’s going to put you in a James Bond situation where you’re called upon to do it for longer than you’re totally capable? That’s fine. We can leave that open-ended.
I do remember it’s something you can get better at and work your way up with.
I don’t know if it was the TV series or the feature film, but Hulk Hogan in “Thunder in Paradise” had to go through a sea cave. It was either eight minutes or twenty minutes. It was one of those. Probably eight minutes, because twenty doesn’t seem like–
We have to remember that Hulk Hogan’s lungs are not like our own.
Let me take you back to November, 1981. Santa Catalina, off the coast of California. Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken go out to sea and only two of them come back. What happened?
[Long, ruminative sigh] That’s an ugly one and they did reopen that investigation not too long ago. Suddenly the skipper of that boat remembered hearing some stuff. Really? Why did you just now remember that?
Stopped getting those checks every month, maybe.
Why can’t Christopher Walken ever chime in on this?
You see Wagner in the talking heads on all those Hollywood retrospectives and you think, “I don’t know, something’s fishy with this guy.”
Then you think, he was Number Two to Doctor Evil. I do suspect — why would I know anything about their motivations? But I do suspect–
You know the criminal mind. You know the sea.
[Laughs] And I’ve been to Catalina before. It seems like a perfect place for murder. Whenever you do read all the stuff, it does sound like Wagner was probably trying to scare her, and Walken was back in his cabin.
Playing solitaire or something.
Supposedly she gets out in one of the dinghies, and went off by herself. It was probably an accident exacerbated by Wagner being a jerk. Then the real jerky move is playing stupid about it later like nothing was going on. I don’t think he tried to kill her. I like your theory that he stopped paying off the captain and that’s why he’s talking now.
What’s the scariest moment in “Jaws?”
Is it when the dog dies?
I hold out hope for the dog. We didn’t see a body.
Yeah, that dog’s just down at the next beach.
[Steven Potter’s Man with Dog voice] “Pippet!”
It has to be the scene they shot in the editor’s pool after the fact, where Dreyfuss sees the corpse of Ben Gardner in his boat.
I was way back in my seat for that one. I probably still would jump even though I know it’s coming. That’s the scariest moment. That and when the woman goes up and they all realize it was her son who died. That’s scary, because you know she’s gonna slap somebody.
You’ve had ample time to consider it, so what are you calling this boat.
This idea boat?
Something that speaks to redemption, sure.
How about Venus?
For more on Jeff Parker stay tuned to CBR News or follow him on twitter at @jeffparker.