Spike and Mike: A rite of passage
Spike and Mike started showing underground animated films more than 30 years ago. The guys have accumulated an extensive library of short films, some of which are clearly not intended for kids. They present both a Festival of Animation and a more risqué Sick and Twisted show each year. The celebrations of animation tour the country, showing at independent arthouse theaters and museums. This year’s Festival of Animation features shorts such as Jonas Georgakakis’ “Saga of Biorn” and Javier Mrad’s “Techopolis,” a tribute to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Spike recently phoned in from San Diego to talk about the current Festival of Animation and go over a few of his highlights with us.
You started presenting animation festivals some 30 years ago. Do you remember the very first festival you hosted?
Pretty much. Somewhat. It was at Riverside City College in Riverside, California. It was 16mm projection. It was very strange because we hadn’t done a full-on 100 percent animation festival with all shorts. We were fighting a really bad stigma. People thought it was like cartoons like Bugs Bunny. But we sold it out. We promoted the hell out of it.
What drew you to animation in the first place?
I was in a band. My voice led me into entertainment-based contexts. I did bass vocals in a band called Sterno and the Flames in Riverside. I did promotions for the band. I enjoyed doing promotions for the band and entertaining people. We started promoting rock ’n’ roll films like Jimi Plays Berkeley. We did all night horror-thons. Stuff like that. We would show Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. We would always show Betty Boop and Popeye and Superman. It just evolved from that.
When was the first Sick and Twisted?
That started around 1990. We had a bunch of films that we thought were really funny that we couldn’t program into the original show. We had some sold out shows at UC-Berkeley and the crowd was very upbeat. I said, “Do you want to see some stuff we don’t normally show?” They said, “Hell yeah.” And they went nuts. We did it again the next night. We had a concept but we just needed the name and the content. There weren’t enough short films in the world at the time to put together a 90-minute show, so we started producing shorts on our own. We did the whole gamut. We produced so many shorts from the very beginning. I look back and it’s amazing. Not to brag, but it truly is. But we’re just now donating tons of prints and negatives to UC Riverside because they have a photography museum there and they want to archive everything there. They’re going to do a big press release on that soon. Everything we have now is digital so all the prints and films are going to UCR.
Do you still take a Sick and Twisted show on tour?
We do. I was just looking at the line-up for this show. There are some great films.
How has the availability of short animated videos affected what you do?
The digital has changed things so much, not just for us but for everybody. How do you monetize it and what do you do? We had some years where we’d go to these theaters and they wouldn’t put in digital production. Everybody was sitting in limbo. Projectors were cost prohibitive. Some theaters still don’t have digital projectors. The good thing is that when you don’t play an area, you have collected some great wines over that time so it increases the quality of the show is impeccable.
Can you talk about some of your favorites?
For an audience interaction, it’s “Animation vs. Animator;” that really engages the audience. “At the Opera” is a short clever film. “Dumb Ways to Die” has great music. “Key Lime Pie” is my favorite here. I love the narration and the art style and the flow of it. It’s a beautiful film. “Love and Theft out of Germany” is quite an achievement for the graphics. There’s some good stuff. “Pound Dogs” is simpler . . . it’s a clever little film. I like the “Penguin on the Left” just because I like when animals win the day. “Ghost of Stephen Foster” is an older piece, but it’s so timeless. It’s a great musical piece. It’s a cool film that flows and is nicely animated. “For Socks Sake” is clever too. “Log Jam” — I love those things with the animals and the hunter and the guy’s cleaning his pipe. There’s a whole series of those films. They’re cute, clever films.
What’s the story with the slugs?
“Slug Invasion.” I love it. It’s pretty clever. I believe that’s out of Denmark. We have quite a few countries represented: Germany, France, Denmark, Canada . . . that’s just off the top of my head.
Do you seek them out or do they seek you out or is it a little bit of both?
It’s a little of both. When we first started, it was extremely hard to put a show together. Now, we look for them and they find us lately more and more. We do Comic-Con every year and we’ve been talking to the Stan Lee folks about doing something with them with their Comikaze show in L.A.
How much longer do you anticipate doing this?
Right now, it’s a strange time, especially with the digital world. Maybe there is more opportunity. We have a huge library of content. We talk to a lot of people and we’re trying to find a marriage that will work for us and maybe someone will help us develop that world more.
It seems like people still want to see films in theaters.
We were watching Lawrence of Arabia night with a guy who owns a book store and he was saying he saw it on the huge screen when it first came out. It’s impressive on a small television. It’s epic so to see it on a giant screen with a sound system. It becomes an event. That’s like our shows. We have shown the Sick and Twisted with beach balls and barf bags. We’ve had guest animators from John Lasseter to Weird Al. We’ll have art on display. We try to make it an event so it becomes a collective cultural experience. Maybe in some weird way that has more relevance now than it did. You go to coffee shops and people are isolated on their device. It’s more and more isolated with those people and their electronics. I talked to so many people who met their wives at our shows or this or that. People bring their kids to see the original show. Sick and Twisted is a rite of passage.
They’re so much fun with an audience.
It’s like a concert. You can watch Coachella on TV or Burning Man on the Internet, but it ain’t the same.