Long before Adult Swim, MTV's Liquid Television and even most of the cartoons that penetrated your sugar riddled brain on Saturday mornings, Spike & Mike were traveling the globe introducing audiences to the joy and magic of animation.
"We were with Pixar before Steve Jobs was with Pixar," Spike said from his office in California. "We were doing shows with Tim Burton. The list goes on and on. I can honestly say we were there first with our fingers on the pulse before anyone in the world with Sick and Twisted as well creating a new genre of twisted animation and showing that it can be edgy and part of popular culture."
Craig "Spike" Decker and Mike Gribble, the founders and hosts of the roving Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation and Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, had such a passion for short animated films that they brought them to audiences all over the world. Spike continues to tour internationally with his newest batches of animated movies as one-half of the group after Gribble passed away in 1994 from pancreatic cancer.
Social media may have made it easier for talented (and not so talented) filmmakers to share their visions, but that has not stopped Spike from collecting, distributing and screening films in an old fashioned movie theater like the Texas Theatre where he'll make his triumphant return to Dallas with three shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"We've all looked at creating something with Spike & Mike that's pop culture and cool and we did it best and we did first," Spike said. "All these people can come along and say that they're doing this or that, but I'll have that discussion with anyone anytime in the world. Our finger was on the pulse long before so many others."
The creation of the Spike & Mike team goes back to the late '70s. The two met during their raucous party days and found they had a natural interest in animation at a time when most of the public just saw it as a way to keep the kiddies entertained while they slept in on Saturday mornings.
"People would equate it only with Bugs Bunny and Saturday morning cartoons and The Smurfs," Spike said. "We told them no, there's also motion pictures and Academy Award winning films that people would spend three-and-a-half years of their life working on and it became a masterpiece unto itself."
Their festivals offered budding filmmakers like Tim Burton, John Lasseter and Mike Judge one of the few venues where they could share their creations with an audience of movie and animation buffs. At first, they just screened the movies that were designed to shock the audiences with raw humor that they didn't think cartoons could deliver with early classics like Bill Plympton's Nose Hair or Marv Newland's Bambi vs. Godzilla.
"When we first started doing it, it was sheer shock value," Spike said. "Then the films evolved, and we produced about 45 titles of our own to have enough to continue to do a feature because there was nowhere in the world to get it. So we produced and funded so many films just to have content."
Some of those early shows included work by people who are now working at places like Pixar Animation Studios, Spike said.
"The thing I'm most proud of is being there early on with John Lasseter who's now [the chief creative officer] at Disney and an Oscar winner," he said. "Pixar's Andrew Stanton [the director of Finding Nemo] credits us in a book with helping him get his job at Pixar because John saw his film with a crowd at a Spike & Mike show. Would that have happened if nobody else stepped forward?"
The screenings themselves became more than just movie festivals. They grew into grand celebrations that happened to be centered around movies as a way of bringing in people who might not otherwise go to an animation film fest.
"There's a communal aspect of it," he said. "We go and do shows at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco or the Castro Theater and just start throwing out giant balloons or hand out barf bags with our midnight shows and interact with the audience. Making an event out of it is lost when you're watching a 4-inch digital screen in your hand. ... Life's bigger than a 4-inch screen."
The challenge now is finding a way to make the Spike & Mike brand fit in the digital age in which movie theaters are almost thought of as relics as anyone with a cell phone can download movies and watch them whenever they want. Spike said he's still looking for a way to work his films into such a model but some films that he's screening on his current tour demand to be seen on a big screen.
"[Fantaisie in Bubblewrap] is sheer brilliance," he said referring to a short film by Arthur Metcalf that mixes live action and and animation to tell its story. "It creates characters with eyes and faces and they're talking with each other and how they survived and didn't get popped. He's created these great stories entirely out of bubble wrap. It's a very clever film."
Animator vs. Animation, a movie by Alan Becker, is another favorite on Spike's upcoming screening list.
"I like the interaction with these characters. It comes to life on a computer and relates so well to video games and the digital world. It's really fast paced and engages the mind of an audience. It's a clever film and just creates sort of a video game out of it. I can't even describe it."
Naturally, Spike has amassed a large collection of these and other films from the 35-plus years he has been collecting and screening them. Just recently, he held a show at the University of California, Riverside where he donated the vast majority of them to the school's archives.
"It would have been nice having Mike there," Spike said. "His mother was there and his brother was there and when you look back at all the history and memories, I know that I've done the best I can. Still, I'm ready for the next round. That's for damn sure."