C. Martin Croker: The Man Behind 'Space Ghost' Villain Zorak

Designer, voice actor, and producer C. Martin Croker knew quite a bit about the '60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon Space Ghost. The show debuted when Croker was 4 years old, and it was one of the first shows he made a point of watching as a kid. Fast forward about three decades, and Croker got to do what few get a chance to—play his favorite character from his favorite childhood television show. He voiced Zorak for nine years for Cartoon Network's animated talk-show parody Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which premiered in 1994. Croker, who is a guest at the Knoxville Comic and Anime Convention, also did voice work for The Brak Show and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

How did you get involved with Space Ghost Coast to Coast?

I was working at Crawford Communications—in their Designfx department—and that was a company that did a lot of commercial work and a lot of work for broadcast TV. And while I was there, Cartoon Network came into being. This was like October 1992. So by summer 1993, we were already doing commercials for them, and a project came through that was what would become Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The producers that took the first e-mails on the job didn't really know who or what Space Ghost was. They actually thought he was a new character Cartoon Network came up with for this show. I heard them saying "blah blah blah Space Ghost blah blah blah Space Ghost" on the other side of a wall, and I was like, "Why are you guys talking about Space Ghost over here?"

It turned out Designfx had been asked to bid on a Space Ghost talk show project. Since Space Ghost was one of my earliest TV memories, I used what I knew about the original show to jump in on the pitch. So I got involved that way. I came up with a bunch of concepts for the pitch, a lot of which actually became part of the Coast to Coast show, like setting the show in space and using stock Space Ghost villains Zorak and Moltar as imprisoned and unwilling production participants.

How did you end up doing the voice of Zorak?

Well, I sure didn't have any designs on doing the character voices. I figured it would be Gary Owens [the original voice of Space Ghost] and Don Messick's [the original voice of Zorak] show. Then I found out CN was like, "See, those guys are going to want a lot of money, and they're all West Coast, and we're going to want people here locally, who we can work with directly." So in a meeting, when the subject of Zorak's voice came up I said, "Actually, I can do that voice." And they said, "Go ahead. Do it." I responded with a line from an old episode and they were like, "Okay, you're Zorak." There was no elimination process. It was just like, bang, you're it—moving on.

I always liked the Zorak character. I just wanted to see him on screen again because that was my favorite character when I was a kid. When they started airing reruns on NBC on Saturday morning in 1978, Space Ghost became popular in the nerd sect of my high school. I even recorded a Zorak answering machine message when I was a junior in high school, never dreaming it would one day become legit.

How did you end up doing the voice of Moltar as well?

They asked, can you do like a Ted Cassidy-type voice? I asked, what character is that for? They said, Moltar. (I was) literally a last-minute replacement for Moltar.

Just how many voices did you end up doing on Space Ghost Coast to Coast?

A lot of the voices were just done by our core staff, so I think by the end of the second season, I had already done like 14 voices for them. And some of them would be really incidental like, "Hey, yeah, this is Stan the cable guy. I got that signal for you on feed 14."

What was the creative process like for putting Space Ghost together?

We started to do the celebrity interviews, and from early on, the concept would be: We'll just ask the celebrities a bunch of bizarre questions and get their interesting reactions to the bizarre questions. And we'll change the questions. So it became a sort of non-sequitur interview. Comedy gold. The '97 season was the first season where in January, they said, "We're going to treat this like a real TV show this year—that means 26 episodes." And we were like, deliverable by when? And they said, end of the year. And as it came down, we had two weeks to do each Space Ghost episode. I had a week to do animation.

How did it feel to work on more adult-oriented animated shows?

We weren't making cartoons for kids. We were making cartoons for us. That's kind of what Space Ghost Coast to Coast became. It became humor that we thought was funny instead of aiming for an intended 6-to-11 demographic. There was an episode of the 1998 season that had a little bit of content in it that was found objectionable by broadcast standards and practices. And this was just around the time they started doing the TV ratings. When we first started the show, those didn't exist. But they started slapping a G on our show after a year or two until one day we had an episode that actually got a PG rating.

And when [that episode] aired amid some small amount of controversy, it said PG. At that point, we were just like, hey, yeah, well, we did something that was a little more adult, and it did air. And we didn't get thrown off. And I think, at that point, they [the writers] started to push the envelope a little bit more with each outing.

If you were to pick a favorite Space Ghost episode, what would it be?

I will always default to the musical — "Boat Show." Long live Steve Allen!