SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM REVIEW! Animation Outlaws is the insane story of how Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble, popularly known as “Spike & Mike,” began a series of animation festivals in the 1970’s. They simultaneously brought animation to the masses, while creating from whole cloth the audience and market for it. Spike and Mike brought the weird fun, but more than that, they brought a rare marketing genius to bear, and a product to people who didn’t even know they needed it.
The shows were wild affairs with the crowd whipped into a frenzy before the first reel and their mascot dog Scottie tear-assing around the stage, destroying everything thrown in his path. Once established, the animation festivals roared around the country for years and became an underground fetish property sensation.
These shows gave an early start to such luminaries as the creators of Beavis and Butthead, Wallace and Gromit, Happy Tree Friends, to name just a few. It turns out there was no real outlet for these burgeoning animators and no venue for fans. Spike and Mike brought together these two groups, and sparks flew. Arguably, there would be none of the quality computer animation popular now from Pixar or other animation houses if the artists hadn’t had their start at the Spike and Mike festivals. Lavish praise and gratitude from the likes of Nick Park, Peter Docter, Seth Green, and Joanna Priestly bears this out. Fanboy “Weird Al” Yankovic weighs in on the importance of the Spike and Mike shows.
Director and devotee, Kat Alioshin, takes us back to the early days of Mellow Manor productions, in which these two hippies from a house (the aforementioned Mellow Manor) shared with several other like-minded individuals were desperate to make a living without getting jobs.
“…the insane story of how Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble, popularly known as “Spike & Mike,” began a series of animation festivals…”
Initially, the Mellow Manor crew did band promotion and hosted special screenings of horror films. In the fateful summer of 1977, they got a gig distributing flyers for the Fantastic Animation Festival, and the enthusiastic response inspired them to launch their own festival. Eventually morphing the shows into a showcase for more extreme animated films with adult themes, they spun off The Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation in 1990.
Sadly Mike Gribble died of pancreatic cancer in 1994. For some time after his death, Spike continued to produce touring festivals of animated short film collections hosted in theaters to adoring, raucous crowds.
Animation Outlaws is an artfully crafted love letter to underground animation, from the lurid and grotesque to the stunningly beautiful. The clips in this documentary are a treat. Film collections from the festivals are still available for purchase, to be enjoyed by anyone with that rebel freedom of spirit and the will to be weird.
Alioshin’s brief visit to the manic world of Spike and Mike serves as your gateway drug to this bizarre, wonderful animated world, or if you are already a fan, a lovely reminiscence of those heady, simpler times.
Animation Outlaws screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.