Jerry Beck’s Outlaw Animation Reviewed
The history of the festivals gets the first 20 pages. “The Roots of Outlaw Animation” is a brief history of non-juvenile animation in America. It surveys animation pioneer Winsor McCay’s 1910s films for vaudeville audiences, the naughty Betty Boop and Wolf & Red Tex Avery cartoons of the ‘30s & ‘40s, UPA’s artistically creative limited animation in the ‘50s, non-Hollywood art films of the ‘60s, like the Oscar-winning The Critic (1963), and the adult violence and eroticism exemplified by Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat (1972) and Coonskin (1975).
“Gallery of Independent Animators” is “a sampling of some of the field’s more important figures, all of whom have been represented in the Spike & Mike Festivals.” Each creator gets one or two pages with a capsule biography and an art-quality frame illustration from one or more of his/her most famous films. The roster includes Frédéric Back, Bruno Bozzetto, Sally Cruikshank, Michael Dudok de Wit, Paul Driessen and nine others including the National Film Board of Canada and Yugoslavia’s Zagreb Studio.
“The Top Ten Spike & Mike Festival Cartoons of All Time” are two-page profiles of the top audience favorites which fans demand to see over and over, many of which have gone on to launch TV series: Bambi Meets Godzilla, Mike Judge’s 1992 Peace, Love and Understanding, which introduced Beavis and Butt-Head; Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s 1995 The Spirit of Christmas, which introduced the South Park cast and similar classics.
|These classic characters made their debut at Spike & Mike. South Park © Comedy Central. Courage the Cowardly Dog © Cartoon Network.|
“Even More Independent Films” presents one sample panel from each of another three dozen festival favorites, including several Academy Award winners or nominees such as Chris Wedge’s 1998 Bunny.
“Outlaw Animators Speak” finishes the book with three- to eight-page interviews with Bill Plympton, Mike Judge, Craig McCracken, John Lasseter, Marv Newland, Don Hertzfeldt, Peter Lord, Danny Antonucci and Andrew Stanton.
The Spike & Mike Festivals have become such a long-running, omnipresent tradition that today’s animation buff can be forgiven for feeling that they are the be-all and end-all of “outlaw animation.” The book does mention a couple of others in passing, although only as they relate to Spike & Mike. (E.g., the duo were doubtlessly partly inspired by a 1976 one-shot Fantastic Animation Festival in Laguna Beach, for which they handed out flyers.)
Since Outlaw Animation does not profess to be a complete history of non-commercial animation, it is unfair to criticize it for omissions such as Oskar Fischinger’s abstract-art animation of the 1930s or Yoji Kuri’s minimalist gross-out international animation festival favorites of the 1960s. Outlaw Animation is excellent as an all-you-want-to-know catalog and history of the Spike & Mike Festivals of Animation, and it is as good a survey of independent animation short films as anything else in print today.
Outlaw Animation: Cutting-Edge Cartoons from the Spike & Mike Festivals, by Jerry Beck. Foreword by Todd McFarlane. NYC, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., June 2003, 160 pages; ISBN: 0-8109-9151-9 (trade paperback; $23.95).
Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s. He wrote the liner notes for Rhino Entertainment’s The Best of Anime music CD (1998), and was a contributor to The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, 2nd Edition, ed. by Maurice Horn (1999) and Animation in Asia and the Pacific, ed. by John A. Lent (2001).