Jerry Beck’s Outlaw Animation Reviewed
This art book is both an authorized history of the Spike & Mike Festivals of Animation, to celebrate their 25th anniversary, and a superficial but decent overview of those animated films that are personal creations by individual cinematic artists, rather than corporate products mass-produced for maximum commercial potential.
Outlaw Animation has all the virtues, and some of the flaws, of the best authorized biographies. It tells the complete story of the famous (or notorious) Spike & Mike animation festivals, and it seems to do so objectively. Spike & Mike have always flaunted a raunchy, collegiate, in-your-face approach, and it is boasted of in the book in all its garish, flatulent detail. Mid-’70s college housemates Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble started out by promoting Southern California rock-and-roll bands. Within a couple of years, they evolved to presenting midnight screenings of films of the bands’ performances, then added funky old cartoons as curtain-raisers, then realized that the cartoons were more popular than the concerts and dropped everything except the animation.
S&M (what a double entendre!) saw that their spaced-out midnight viewers loved a wild party atmosphere as much as what was on the screen, so throwing a large plush bunny into the audience to be torn apart was done more than once. “The Bad Tie Contest was a standard event,” Beck writes on page 22 of the book. “And once, wearing a fencing mask while swinging from the ceiling, Mike invited people to throw money at him. Every night was a free-for-all.” The book is studded with photos: their grungy college commune in the mid-’70s, Spike in a cowboy costume promoting the Festival, Spike & Mike with animator Will Vinton posing with toy(?) machine guns, Spike with Festival alum John Lasseter at the 1995 Academy Awards where Lasseter got a Special Achievement Oscar forToy Story, and much more. Mike died of a heart attack during chemotherapy treatment for cancer in 1994, and Spike has carried on in both their names.
Spike & Mike’s first festival in 1977 was a composite of individual student films like Marv Newland’s Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), foreign art films like Hungarian Marcell Jankovics’ Sisyphus (1974) and old American theatrical cartoons unseen for decades, which the two knew would blow modern college students’ minds like the Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop cartoon Snow White (1933). This was fine until the supply of existing “outrageous” animation was used up. Spike & Mike began to haunt art colleges with animation departments to scout out promising student films. This enabled them to become friends with many talented students who would go on to become leading professional animators a decade or two later. In many cases S&M liked what they saw so much that they bankrolled the young filmmakers’ projects. Many of those now-famous animators recount their own stories in Outlaw Animation.
For those who want to know everything about the Spike & Mike Festivals, this book presents an art-quality color gallery of every poster (with artist’s credit) for both the regular Festivals from 1977 and the Sick & Twisted Festivals from 1993. There is also a complete filmography of every title shown at any S&M Festival from 1977 through 2002.