Long ago, when the internet could only be accessed through a free AOL starter disc and keeping your family off the landline, I had the pleasure of picking my first instant messenger handle: Zorak64. The name combined my two favorite things: cartoons and video games. But it was more than that. Zorak was the first character I used as an avatar in general. It’s not like we had a lot in common, him being a giant mantis bent on chaos and destruction and I… well, video games felt like enough for me. Still, he made me laugh like no one else could, and he expanded what I expected from cartoons, from inventiveness to depth of humor. Zorak remains to this day one of my all time favorite characters, his voice, and his very presence on TV brought to life by the now late C. Martin Croker.
2016 has been a devastatingly heart breaking year in regards to celebrity deaths. People who were larger than life, have left a massive void. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Darwyn Cooke, Chyna, Muhammad Ali, Miss Cleo, Fyvush Finkel, Gene Wilder, and too many more to count. Even the ones that didn’t directly shape my mind were layered in the background like music. Their very names feel even further away as I write this. I have not openly said much about these deaths in the past. It never felt like my place or I had strong enough words to say. They lived. They touched us. They’re dead. It sucks.
And yet, here I am, dedicating an entire blog post to someone whose face I never actually saw until he passed.
The thing is, the passing of C. Martin Croker hits me harder than all of them, and I have to wonder if it was because he was never a man to me. Just a mantis. But he was also the man behind the scenes, and the voice of two other Adult Swim favorites of mine…
And he was a trailblazer. Adult Swim’s very existence can be traced back to him. He planted the seeds of adult cartoons today. But to me he was more and I fail to articulate what I mean by that. A person can act, misrepresent, lie, which is why a legend is so powerful. But because Zorak was never a man to me, never really C. Martin Croker at all, he was and remains a powerful avatar of after school and late night laughter. He was a pillar that held up my inner temple of imagination, and without him an irreparable crack in the structure has appeared. Though the building stands as strong as it did before, I see how that pillar made possible a host of others that came after it, all holding up the assembly that is Josh Breidbart, the oldest of which is just a bitter-sweet memory.
I’ll never grow tired of his voice. The attitude. The confidence, even in the face of exploding. After Croker’s passing, I found myself watching hours of Zorak’s best moments. From his cynical mischievousness on Space Ghost to the more kid friendly oddness of Cartoon Planet. I still remember the screams as Zorak was blown to bits for the 100th time by Space Ghost. I just can’t shake it.
He’s impacted my life in a thousand ways, memory upon memory. I still remember in college, jumping in a car for an improptu road trip with close friends to watch the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie in theaters. And his death moves me so much because…
I guess because I hadn’t thought of Zorak in a long time, and I only got to remember him once he was gone.
And that seems cruel.
My sympathies to anyone as affected by C. Martin Croker’s death as me, but I must admit to my own selfishness. I never knew the man, though it seems I missed out. But I guess I never wanted the real person anyway. I wanted the mantis.
Because now I miss him.