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PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Meet Craig 'Spike' Decker of Spike & Mike's (and of La Jolla) Festival of Animation

“People in Your Neighborhood" shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! If you know someone you'd like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to editor@lajollalight.com or call us at (858) 875-5950.All day long, Craig “Spike” Decker’s backyard is filled with screams. That sounds about right for the taller half of Spike & Mike, the duo whose Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation screened short films of such vulgarity and revulsion, many of their titles cannot be published here.

The backyard screams are not of the blood-curdling or disgusted variety, however, but from kids practicing football 200 yards away at La Jolla High School. For such a countercultural icon, Decker lives a spectacularly mainstream existence.

Launched by Decker with partner Mike Gribble in 1990, Sick and Twisted was a significant event in pop culture for introducing Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead”) and Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) — among many others — to their first audiences. The 18-and-over film festival was spun off from their original show, launched in 1977 and featuring early films by Oscar-winning animators Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) and Pete Docter (“Inside Out”).Decker continues to present Sick and Twisted, now annually at Comic-Con by himself, 25 years after Gribble’s death from pancreatic cancer.

When you think about it, Decker — who gives his age as “those you know don’t speak and those who speak don’t know” — is pretty much the last person anyone should expect to find in La Jolla. The Light joined him in his backyard of screams to find out why he’s made it his home since 1986.

So do you like La Jolla because you enjoy being the most twisted person in it?

“When I was younger, I did. I remember a quote from Timothy Leary: ‘Never lose the ability to blow their minds.’ But it’s true. In places like San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, there’s more counterculture and I don’t really fit in here, and that makes it difficult sometimes. I don’t surf, I don’t play golf. I don’t have kids at La Jolla High.

Maybe it’s the anxiety of being uprooted. You go somewhere and you don’t know people and you’re just thrown in there — because I did that throughout my childhood, went from city to city. So if I go to some new place without any hookups, real friends or network, it’s pretty frightening, to be honest.

But there’s a side of me that has always loved nature and the ocean and that part of it. Yesterday, I walked 6 miles. La Jolla is also still village-y and cottage-y, so you run into people you know, you’re not lost. And there’s a lot of people up at Trilogy that I like. They do a lot of cool events there where I socialize with people and talk politics. This last weekend, they had a Hippie Full Moon Party. I also like hanging out with the guys at D.G. Wills Books and talking film. I’ve learned a lot there, from authors and speakers. I’ve actually got sort of a free education from a lot of the speakers. I’ve seen so many people speak there and I’ve picked up a lot.”

Why did you initially move to La Jolla from Riverside?

“Mike and I wanted to play San Diego because we drew a lot from the student population, and San Diego has so many universities and colleges. And we found Sherwood Hall at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. So we started playing there, a lot, and we were doing so well, we were renting houses in La Jolla. We were spending all this money on rent. We went from one weekend to sometimes three or four months out of the year. So we decided to buy something here. I bought a house on Ravina Street and Mike bought one near Pacific Beach.”

What was the best thing about the Sherwood for you?

“It had 500 seats, beautiful acoustics, a large screen and 35mm projection capability. Also, it was very prestigious and it fit well to bring in a lot of guests — from John Lasseter to Tim Burton to Nick Park. But, most importantly, they would rent to us. I still can’t believe they let us do midnight shows there!”

How do you think Ellen Browning Scripps (who resided on the property before it was a museum) would have reacted to one of those shows?

“Yeah, uh, I think she would have been heading for her car really quickly.” (laughs)

How did you get into curating and presenting films?

“There was a garage band rehearsing across the street from where I used to live in Riverside. They were a ‘50s band, Sterno and the Flames, and they did this whole theatrical production and I became one of the stage guys doing bass vocals onstage and I promoted them. Sometimes, we showed 16mm Max Fleischer films — “Superman,” “Betty Boop” and “Popeye” — behind the band while they played, almost like the light shows in the ‘60s at the Fillmore. I loved it.Once the band broke up, I started promoting midnight rock n’ roll films and I’d open with the same shorts. So I kept adding more and more animation and then I added Mike, who I met when he showed up to rent the attic in the Animal House I rented behind Riverside City College when we both went to school there. He was really very crazy at the time. He was nuts. I was out there, but Mike was just unhinged.”

Spike & Mike founders Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble pose in 1978 inside the Riverside house they shared together.
Spike & Mike founders Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble pose in 1978 inside the Riverside house they shared together. COREY LEVITAN

What do you miss most about Mike?

“He was so extroverted. He was such a character. He was a very funny, spontaneous guy who did not care what people thought of him. At all. It was a gift. It was really hard when he died, because I missed him and because I had to start taking all his roles over. I had been doing more of the organizing and getting the films together. And now I had to do the networking and the introductions. Mike had a much better ability to network with people. He used to work in bookstores. He was extremely well-read and he could relate to people real well.”

Did Mike tell you that he wanted you to carry on without him?

“I mean, we’d talk about it. We were friends with Weird Al and I remember one night, we were doing a show in Riverside and he wanted to be there and Mike just couldn’t make it, so he said to just do it with Al. It was just kind of the start from there. There’s no way I wouldn’t keep going or keep calling it Spike & Mike.”

Hasn’t YouTube seriously disrupted market for film-presenting? Anyone can stream almost any film they want now, anywhere they want to.

“It’s a lot harder for us because of what you just said. It’s taken a lot away from us. But we made it into a special event instead of just another movie. You’d come there and it was an event and people would bring dates and remember it. I see people all the time who still have every flyer and every shirt. It’s almost like a Grateful Dead concert. So the event-ness of it is even a little bit more unique now. I guess the parallel would be watching a concert on your iPad all day versus, ‘Wow, this is an experience you can’t have on the intenet.’”

So many animators became rich and famous after you introduced their work to your sold-out theater audiences. Does it irk you that doing it for them wasn’t a path to doing it for yourselves?

“We didn’t have a blockbuster opportunity or deal from the industry come to us, and that haunts me a lot. We produced the first two ‘Beavis and Buttheads’ — had the production done on them, got them on 35mm. Also with ‘South Park,’ we converted ‘Frosty’ and ‘Spirit of Christmas’ into 35mm and showed them for the first time theatrically. So we produced some of the films, then we got them out there and we promoted them. We got audiences down there to see them when there was no internet.

I’ve gotten better about choosing not to be upset about it, but some days, it gets to me because I’ll see a story on someone and they won’t include us in the story. That’s the one thing that would be really great, if we could get the doors opened for us the way we’ve opened the doors for so many other people. I’m hoping this documentary about us will help.”

Tell us about the documentary.

“It’s called ‘Animation Outlaws.’ It’ll be finished in a couple of months and then we will try to find a distributor. Kat Alioshin is making it. She’s our former employee from La Jolla. Her mother had a bed & breakfast here. She worked the box office and the shows for us, and through that, she met all these influential company owners and animators and started taking film at UCSD. Subsequently, she got a job with Jack Skellington and Henry Selick and worked on the production of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’

Kat has the rare combination of being really cool and super fun, but also super responsible. And that’s why she does so well. So she came into some money a couple years back and she approached us.”

What’s the most sick and twisted thing about La Jolla?

“I’d have to think pretty hard on that to find one. Hmm… Nope, there really isn’t one.”

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