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“Permission to be weird’: La Jolla native’s film on Spike and Mike festival to be screened at Comic-Con

A poster for "Animation Outlaws" features the duo known as Spike and Mike.
(Courtesy of Kat Alioshin)

Despite its oddities and eccentricities, Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation has shown short films in every style of animation, given rise to some household names in entertainment and was even mentioned at the Academy Awards.

Now, La Jolla native Kat Alioshin has produced and directed a documentary about the duo known as Spike and Mike and how their festival has evolved. The film, titled “Animation Outlaws,” is available on Amazon Prime and will be shown at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con festival on Thursday, July 21.

The Festival of Animation was founded by La Jolla resident Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble (who died in 1994) and was held for many years in the Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla before it was renovated.

Decker and Gribble founded Mellow Manor Productions in Riverside in the 1970s as a way to promote rock bands and screenings of horror films and movie classics. In 1977, after spending the summer handing out fliers for the Fantastic Animation Festival, they decided to present packages of animated films themselves, and Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation was born.

Alioshin was introduced to Spike and Mike in the mid-1980s when their festival was in its early years. “I was a DJ at UC San Diego and Spike and Mike came on to promote the festival,” said Alioshin, who was considering a career in animation.

“I became their ticket seller and distributed fliers,” Alioshin said. “I got to watch the whole program for free, which is two hours of short animated features with an intermission during which they would perform little skits, ask what the audience thought and gave directors a chance to sign posters. It gave me this whole new outlook of how fun animation can be and how all these shorts of all different styles existed.”

In the United States in the festival’s early days, animation was considered something for children. But Alioshin said Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation helped change that, especially with the introduction of Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation in 1990.

“It gave people permission to be weird,” she said, and opened the door for entertainers like Seth Green to launch Cartoon Network’s “Robot Chicken.”

The 2022 Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation will be presented Saturday, May 28, at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside. Doors open at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit bit.ly/3lBVxE7.

Alioshin credits Spike and Mike for her 30-plus-year career in animation and decided to switch gears and make a documentary.

“I knew many people had approached Spike about doing a documentary about Spike and Mike, but they weren’t the right people; they didn’t know enough about them,” she said. “In 2017, I was driving around and realized … I was in film, I knew them and had been in touch with so many people that came out of [the festival] and would be the perfect person to make this film.”

Director Kat Alioshin shows poster art for her film "Animation Outlaws."
(Courtesy of Kat Alioshin)

Much like the festival itself, the documentary features different kinds of animation: Seuss-inspired, anime, pencil sketch, claymation, computer-generated and more. There also are interviews with those in the field — including “Finding Nemo” director Andrew Stanton, who said the festival was “crucial to my career” — and footage of past festivals.

Others whose early films were screened through Spike and Mike include Mike Judge of “Beavis and Butthead,” Brad Bird of “The Incredibles,” Nick Park of “Wallace & Gromit,” performer Weird Al Yankovic and director Tim Burton.

“Spike and Mike encouraged, paid for and exposed these small films to a big audience,” Alioshin said. “They encouraged these young animation producers to get their films seen. There wasn’t the internet, so people had to go to this festival to see these short films.”

Park’s short film “Creature Comforts” was shown at Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation and went on to win a 1990 Academy Award. “He hadn’t had theatrical releases here and this was a way to get thousands of people to see the film,” Alioshin said. Park thanked Spike and Mike during his Oscar acceptance speech.

Alioshin’s documentary draws its name from Decker’s book “Outlaw Animation.” Though it was finished in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic limited potential screenings. Alioshin said she is “thrilled” that the film will be screened at San Diego Comic-Con — “for the audience it was intended for.”

She added that she is looking forward to audience participation.

“Spike and Mike would do a show at Comic-Con called ‘The Gauntlet,’” she said. “They would show a short film and if the audience reacted poorly to the film, [they] would stop the film, take it out of the lineup and never show it again. If they acted encouragingly, [they] would keep it. There is this great sense of audience participation.”

Spike approves.

“I really personally appreciate the fact that Kat reciprocated the way she felt Spike and Mike helped her,” Decker said. “It’s a wonderful documentary. And I hope people will watch it.” ◆