Sick, Twisted and Totally Innovative
Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation became the breeding ground of the D.I.Y. animation movement, and it all started in Riverside.
Saturday-morning cartoons, these weren’t.
Before YouTube, folks bored with the overload of saccharine television programming would slip into art houses and college auditoriums after dark to watch short animated films that were too edgy, avant garde or politically incorrect for the mainstream airwaves. (Deer-squashing and clown pimps, anyone?)
Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation became the vibrant breeding ground of the D.I.Y. animation movement, helping launch the careers of industry heavyweights such as Nick Park and Peter Lord (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Chicken Run”), John Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.”), Pete Docter (“Up,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “WALL-E”), Craig McCracken (“Powerpuff Girls”) and Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butt-Head”). In his book “Outlaw Animation,” cartoon historian Jerry Beck writes, “Spike and Mike came from nowhere with nothing, and created a market where none existed.”
Now the films are making their way back to the city where it all began. Riverside native Craig “Spike” Decker, who co-founded the festival with the late Mike Gribble, has gifted UC Riverside with original reels of more than 800 different titles spanning the event’s 37-year history. The collection ranges from the poignant, Oscar-winning “Bunny” by Chris Wedge to Eric Fogel’s “Mutilator,” a satirical story about a post-apocalyptic superhero.
Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies, says he “freaked out” when he heard about Decker’s gesture. A longtime animation fan, he attended the festival in 1990 as a freshman at UC San Diego. “To see something pushing the boundaries was awesome,” says Burrill, who facilitated the donation with Toni Lawrence, director of development for the School of Public Policy. “Animators are people who tend to see the world differently. They point out what’s wrong in our society and culture and make fun of it, making fun of ourselves. This sort of self-policing is a very healthy thing for a society to do.”
The animation mayhem started inside a Victorian house on Magnolia Avenue, where Decker and Gribble lived while attending Riverside City College in the 1970s. “It was a total ‘Animal House’ atmosphere with all types of characters and antics,” Decker says of the commune. It was called the Mellow Manor, which would eventually become the namesake of Spike & Mike’s production company, Mellow Manor Productions.
When Decker’s ‘50s-style greaser band broke up, the duo began hosting midnight screenings of rock & roll movies, which opened with animated clips such as Max Fleischer’s “Betty Boop,” “Popeye” and “Superman,” all shown on 16 mm film. People loved the cartoons and asked to see more, so the two young men decided to put together an entire show made of animated shorts.
Borrowing $1,000 from a friend, Decker and Gribble held the first Spike and Mike screening in 1977 at Landis Auditorium at Riverside City College. “We were sweating,” Decker says. “We didn’t know if anyone would show up. There was a stigma. People would say, ‘Oh, cartoons? Like Bugs Bunny?’ We were like, ‘No, these are epic pieces of work.’”
Festival Posters Through the Years
In its 30-plus years of existence, artists Tony Millionaire, Everett Peck Emek, Glenn Barr and Moebius have all designed posters for Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation, illustrating just how cutting-edge the festival content is.
Despite his anxiety, the event sold out and soon spiraled into college towns across the nation. They teamed up with notable animators—Will Vinton (The California Raisins), Marv Newland (“Bambi Meets Godzilla”), Paul Driessen (“The Yellow Submarine”), Bill Plympton (“Your Face”), Danny Antonucci (“Ed, Edd n Eddy”)—and delved into the world of computer animation when it was just a wild new experiment. Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation branched into two categories—the classic show, which featured more artistic, intellectual films, and the lewder, cruder, 18-and-over “sick and twisted” show, in which audience members were sometimes handed barf bags. Over the years, the independent festival has toured everywhere from the Cannes Film Festival to Sundance to Comic-Con. “We did it first and we did right,” Decker says of the underground movement he and Gribble created. “We wanted to show that animation isn’t just for children—it’s unlimited.”
According to Burrill, the Spike and Mike collection at UCR can be used as an academic resource for those who want to study the early works of legendary animators. A goal, he says, is to transfer the film to digital video and have it archived for generations to come.
For Decker, the gift is a way to celebrate the festival’s Riverside history. “We’re going back to our roots,” he says.
Five Films Launched at Spike & Mike’s
The Festival of Animation was the starting point for many of today’s big-name animators. Here are five notable ones.
1. “Bambi Meets Godzilla” (originally created in 1969)
By Marv Newland
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tale of a monster crushing a poor, innocent fawn helped set off the Spike and Mike explosion. The classic, black-and-white student film is early example of remix culture, creating something original with preexisting, often well-known works. “Marv’s irreverent use of animation was a turning point,” Decker says. “It was something that wasn’t just for the kiddies and wasn’t Warner Bros. or Disney.”
2. “The Adventures of André and Wally B.” (1984)
Animation by John Lasseter (chief executive officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios)
Computer animation was in an experimental phase when this film from the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project (which later spun off Pixar Animation Studios) premiered. Telling the story of an android named André being awakened by a pesky bee named Wally B., it was the first piece to use motion blur and manipulatable shapes in CG animation, making the characters look more natural.
3. “A Story” (1987)
By Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “A Bug’s Life”)
Before becoming a Pixar legend, a talented CalArts student named Andrew Stanton made a short film that broke all the rules. “A Story” is an anti-fairytale about a loner kid named Melvin who meets a dinosaur and a killer clown. “[Spike and Mike] did all the production, the ink-and-paint,” Decker says. “The film helped get Andrew a job at Pixar.”
4. “Frog Baseball” (1992)
By Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butt-Head,” “King of the Hill,” Office Space”)
It was this 10-minute cartoon that introduced the world to Beavis and Butt-Head, two moronic metalheads from Texas who became the voice of a generation for their inane-yet-honest commentary on what’s cool and what sucks. In the show’s pilot episode, the boys come across a frog and decide to play frog baseball. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
5. “Spirit of Christmas” (1995)
By Matt Stone and Trey Parker (“South Park,” “The Book of Mormon”)
For the “South Park” pilot, Matt Stone and Trey Parker used thousands of construction paper cut-outs and glue, filming each action frame by frame. The result was “The Spirit of Christmas” starring foul-mouthed 8-year-olds Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Kenny McCormick and Eric Cartman. The Colorado youngsters build a snowman, which comes to life and kills Kenny. “Audiences loved it,” Decker says.
Bill Plympton, Spike and Mike, “Bambi Meets Godzilla,” festival posters and John Lasseter photo courtesy of Spike Decker.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker photo by ensceptico; is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Andrew Stanton photo by nicolas genin and Mike Judge photo by Gage Skidmore are licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.