Speakeast with - C. Martin Croker weirds out the Plaza

Bizarro Sat Morn series showcases his rare film collection

C. Martin Croker has worked as a producer, animator, director, character designer and voice actor for some of Cartoon Network's biggest shows, including "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." In his spare time, Croker's a cartoon-collecting fiend: Since the mid-'70s, he's been tracking down rare Super 8 and 16 mm animated films. Croker regularly presents the weirdest and most obscure shorts from his collection in the Bizarro Sat Morn film series at the Plaza Theatre. The next installments take place Tues., March 16 and Sat., March 20.

Are you a lifelong cartoon fan? Have you been watching them nonstop since childhood?

Pretty much nonstop, though oddly enough the original 1966 "Space Ghost" was the first show I made a point of watching as a kid. I was about 14 when I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to be an animator. That's literally how it happened, too — I woke up to Chuck Jones on "GMA" and it got my interest.

When did you start collecting old cartoons?

In sixth grade I got a Super 8 projector and camera for Christmas. In addition to making my own films, I started collecting the little black-and-white no-sound 4- and 8-minute digest films of old movies and cartoons – the kind they sold at Kmart, Richway, GEX or the like. My projector had a slow and a fast speed so I learned not only a lot about how special effects worked, but how cartoons were made as well. A lot of those old films I nearly wore out!

How do you find these films?

When I started collecting 16 mm films in the mid-1970s, there was no home video market yet so films were much more part of mainstream fandom. Every year at the Atlanta Comics and Fantasy Fare Convention Dragon*Con's predecessor, there would always be a couple of tables set up with a dealer who had a projector selling 16 mm movie trailers, cartoons and the odd B-feature. I bought my very first movie trailers at one of those shows. Not long after – since I was starting to focus on animation as a career – I started buying old classic cartoons through the mail. In particular, those by Max Fleischer, Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. I love Popeye and Betty Boop!

A lot of these cartoons I found in magazines like the Big Reel, which catered to the needs and wants of film collectors. Though like a lot of other hobby-specific magazines, Toy Shop included, it went by the wayside when eBay auctions came along. I've picked up nearly all of my films though eBay since then.

How big is your collection? Do you just keep a massive bank vault filled with film?

I probably should, but most of them are in these giant Tupperware containers in the projection room downstairs.

As with any hobby, I go through phases of interest and/or mania, I guess. I've always loved drive-ins and for a few years I even had a working drive-in theater in my back yard. When they closed the North 85 Drive-In in the summer of 1998, we salvaged a lot of the signage and refurbished some speaker poles and drafted them back into service. We had a ton of movie parties with popcorn and hot dogs during that time period. All the Starlight Drive-Invaders were regular attendees. Plus every Halloween we'd have a double feature with an intermission reel and cartoons. The Bizarro shows really grew out of these experiences.

But since we've been out of that groove for a while now, I've actually been downsizing my collection the last couple of years. Finding out just exactly what I had helped to jumpstart the Bizarro Show programming, which was originally planned to just be three episodes – we're winding up doing eight! These shows are literally tape-splice compilations of the rare, kick-ass and obscure stuff, the weird commercials and PSAs. I have gotten rid of a lot of old TV shows, some great cartoons and a few features, too. But I'm keeping my Technicolor prints of "Bobby Jo and the Outlaw" and "Pinocchio in Outer Space," though – so don't even ask!

Can you explain a little more about how the Bizarro programming came together?

I had been talking to the Atlanta ASIFA chapter about doing a show called "13 Faces of Hitler" featuring 13 vintage WWII shorts all with different designs of Adolph animated.  When I decided on including only 12 cartoons, the show became "To Hell with Hitler," and actually has an encore showing at the Plaza this spring. While it was extremely well-received, the Bizarro programming plans didn't really solidify until I ran into Jonny Rej again later in 2008 at the 688 Club reunion at Masquerade. I reiterated how I wanted to put together these blocks of weird programming with all these oblique old films and commercials and he said he'd put it on the calendar for '09.

Do you have a favorite in your collection?

A few. Some are great episodes of TV shows that are just nowhere now. A good deal of the stuff I don't know of any other place to see it — not even on YouTube! Several "banned" or wartime cartoons in my collection I never saw until I saw them on 16 mm film. Some of those films will be part of the last Bizarro show coming up in May: "The Un-PC Show."

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