Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation

    Boasting crudely titled animated shorts such as “Hut Sluts,” “How to Cope With Death,” “Petting in the Park,” “The Big Abandoned Refrigerator Adventure” and the frankly stated “My First Boner,” Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation leaves little to the imagination.

    The festival, widely regarded for its irreverent and macabre sense of humor, has generated fandom even among the international community, appearing at the long-established, high brow art-film epicenter, Cannes Film Festival, and soon hoping to broaden its tenure to Japan. And while the Sick and Twisted festival, in its all-star status, has stretched from venues ranging from crowded soccer fields in Annecy, France to the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals, it has always felt most at home in California.

    Yet the festival’s affection for the Golden State is at best a peculiar one — probably best evidenced in the lo-fi short, “Hut Sluts,” a local favorite that depicts the off-kilter beach culture of La Jolla. The short follows the meandering narrative of two vapid, flaxen-haired women who eventually fall into sexual depravity in the vein of “Last Tango in Paris.”

    Based out of Riverside, Calif., Craig “Spike” Decker, and Mike Gribble (deceased, 1994), two self-described “ex-hippies,” first conceived the idea for a short-animation festival devoted solely to the fringes of independent, sub-culture animation in the late 1970s. During Spike’s stint as a bass vocalist for a local Riverside ’50s style rock band, the two screened kitschy clips of dated 1940s “Superman” and “Betty Boop” cartoons, “Star Trek” bloopers, and animated cult favorites, such as Marv Newland’s “Bambi Meets Godzilla.” Demand for the duo’s eclectic film selections soon outstripped the popularity of the band itself. Spike and Mike took the hint and founded Mellow Manners Production in 1977, named after a Riverside art commune, and began producing animated shorts.

    The first offshoot of Mellow Manners Production was Spike and Mike’s Classic Festival of Animation, which claims such famous alumni as Tim Burton (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”), Nick Park (“The Wallace and Gromit Serial”), Bill Plympton (“I Married a Strange Person!”), and even the figureheads of the now ubiquitous Pixar Productions, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton.

    Counterpoised with this collection of sentimental and often adorably cute shorts is the Sick and Twisted Festival, begun in 1990. With meager beginnings at Riverside City College and a mission of “overcoming the stigma of Disney and Bugs Bunny,” the festival has since snowballed into a nationwide cult favorite. And fittingly for this alternative festival, the list of featured artists reads like a roll call of animators that couldn’t be any further from Walt Disney: Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead”), Matt Stone and Trey Parker (“South Park”), and Eric Fogel (“Celebrity Deathmatch”).

    Currently, along with other Sick and Twisted West Coast festivals in cities such as Santa Barbara, Calif., and Portland, Ore., Spike and Mike’s Festival has encamped at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in La Jolla. With a rich history at the La Jolla MCASD, once known for its raucous midnight shows, this year’s lineup includes shorts which Spike calls “the best quality in years,” ranging from basic hand-drawn cartoons to the polished-glimmer of CGI.

    Several highlights from this year’s run are Breehn Burns and Jason Johnson’s highly regarded 3-D gem (free 3-D glasses with every ticket) “Here Comes Dr. Tran,” and their perverse earlier work, “Beyond Grandpa.” Other entries include Lane Nakamura’s CGI-crafted “Snowman”; “Old Folks Love” and “Petting in the Park” by the incomparable cartoon sadist Bill Plympton; “No Neck Joe” by Power Puff Girl progenitor Craig McCracken; and Mondo Media’s “Happy Tree Friends,” figuring Pokemon-like creatures as not-so-Pikachu-friendly.

    It’s been a long, hard road since their bed sheet screened origins in seedy rock ’n’ roll lairs. But with a freshly published retrospect on the festival’s colorful history, “Outlaw Animation: Cutting Edge Cartoons from the Spike and Mike Festival,” a relaunched Web site (http://www.spikeandmike.com), two brand new DVDs featuring the “best toons” of the most recent film festivals, and perhaps the break that could launch the festival into the mainstream — talks with Viacom for pending airtime on the Spike TV network (no pun intended) — it looks like their hard work has finally paid off.

    Decker isn’t surprised in the least. Recalling their paltry beginnings in Riverside, he admits that he, his friends and his girlfriend have “been in the trenches, paid a lot of dues.” And if anything, this obstinately lecherous, uncompromisingly idiosyncratic, and fiercely “do-it-yourself” festival is something of a last hurrah against a world which Decker regards as “PC and mass media run.” Instead, “[The festival is] all about art and humor and taking animation out of the context of all things Disney.”

    Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in La Jolla, located at 700 Prospect Street. The festival is running Fridays and Saturdays, April 9 to 24, with shows at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. You must be 18 or older with appropriate ID. For more information visit http://www.spikeandmike.com or call (858) 454-0267.

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