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4/4/2 Q+A: Spike speaks

Lance Vargas (LV) recently had the opportunity to speak with Craig Decker (Spike) who, with his late partner Mike Gribble, established the Spike and Mike animation festival's.

LV: Tell me a little bit about the history of the festival and your own involvement in it.
Spike: When I was in elementary school in Riverside, (my friends and I) started doing little carnivals in my friend Gerald Katz' backyard. We'd go out and promote them. It was the first thing I did in an entertainment-based entrepreneurial-type of thing. In a garage across the street some years later, there was a band forming called Sterno and the Flames. They played '50s type rock 'n' roll music and I ended up joining the band and promoting that. So then it evolved to doing midnight rock shows and rock 'n' roll films at midnight. Then we did repertory cinema like "King of Hearts," "Slaughterhouse 5," pieces like that. Then we started showing shorts from the '30s like Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman-the Max Fleischer pieces. Then it sort of evolved into a concept of putting together a whole package of animated shorts and created a sort of a festival out of it. Out of that we premiered some student films from the now-great animated directors like John Lasseter, the director of "Toy Story," Pete Doctor and Andrew Stanton the guys involved in writing and directing Monster's Inc. We showed Rugrats and the first Wallace and Grommet pieces and Bill Plympton's films-a whole wealth of animation.

LV: Animation has a widespread appeal from small children to rambunctious adults, what do you think is the appeal of cartoons as an artform?
Spike: It's like a fantasy. It's an escape. There is something in the brain or the mind that attaches to animation. When this attachment is applied to adult themes (as in Spike's "Sick and Twisted" animation festival), it puts a whole new dimension on it. It makes it funny and interesting to people. It's the ultimate escape that you see in all artforms and great pieces of animation like "Fantasia" as well.

LV: Why was San Diego chosen as the Spike and Mike base of operations.
Spike: We started in Riverside but later on moved to La Jolla because it's beautiful, obviously. There is a lot of youth in San Diego, a lot of campuses, a lot of youth culture with the surfing and all that. We just ended up in La Jolla. Then the Museum (of Contemporary art) was a natural choice. There is a really nice theater there and we could project a 35 millimeter film. So, all the right ingredients were there.

LV: You mentioned Betty Boop earlier. I know you guys included a Boop cartoon in your last festival. How often do you guys include those old Fleischer cartoons in your shows?
Spike: We haven't done it in quite a while. I did it last year just as sort of a test to see if the younger generation would identify with Betty Boop because I think it's an image that is ongoing. It's timeless. I see products out there with the image of betty Boop and it's just very cool. I think also it's some of the best animation I have ever seen. Some of the crowds liked it some of them didn't. It skewed more towards females than males. But that's okay.

LV: This was the first year that the Academy Awards gave an Oscar in the category of full-length animated feature. What are your thoughts on this development?
Spike: I think it's great. It's long overdue. We're good friends with the people at Pixar and John Lasseter in particular. He has revolutionized a lot of things in animation. He is, in my opinion, the premier director of animation in the world today. (The Oscar) is great for animation in general and as an art form. I'm glad it's being recognized because the effort that goes into it is just as much if not more than a feature film. Its good to see animation get that kind of respect in general.

LV: I also saw that "For the Birds" (a Spike and Mike favorite from last year) won this year's Oscar for short animated film. I never saw it when it wasn't somehow attached to the Spike and Mike festival. How much do you feel you contributed to providing the with the proper exposure it needed to win the award?
Spike: To certain voters who were familiar with our festival, yes. But "For the Birds" was fortunate because Pixar put it on ahead of "Monster's Inc." So, they got a lot of exposure out of that. But as for other animated shorts, Mike and I have become synonymous with animation in that context. People who are also just launching their careers are getting their initial exposure from us. What you said is a good point though. That's why the Oscar to the feature film's in animation is good. Any exposure is good. We need more exposure.

LV: Last but not least, what do you see as the future of the festival? Where is it going?
Spike: We're getting more and more well-known, on the borderline of being famous. I'd like to get some more business opportunities to try and expand to other areas and make more money if we could. I'd like to get into more ancillary areas that we don't tap into like cable or pay-per-view or video games. Also, there is a lot of future in animation in DVDs. It lends itself well to that. We would also like to try and get the show in more cities and other countries.