Five Animating Legends Who Got Their Start From Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation

Anyone who's a fan of Adult Swim owes something of a debt of gratitude to Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation. Ditto for anyone who's enjoyed South Park, Beavis and Butthead, and any of Pixar's gorgeous feature films.

In 1977, Craig 'Spike' Decker and the late Mike Gribble brought cool, funny, and exotic-looking cartoons and animation to the masses via their nationwide tour of college campuses, indie theaters, and other cinematic establishments.

More than a decade later, the duo debuted their Sick and Twisted variant of the festival, which focused on far more wicked, offensive, and bizarre cartoons. Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Fest (kicking off a two-week run at the FilmBar later tonight) was the domain of such hilariously perverse shorts as Nanna & Lil' Puss Puss, Horndog, and Lloyd's Lunchbox.

Here's a look at five of the best and brightest talents that Spike and Mike helped get their careers off the ground.

Mike Judge

Known For: Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill
Short Film: Frog Baseball

In the early '90s, Spike and Mike helped fund the shorts of Judge, who was working out of his garage in Austin, Texas. The result was this landmark short starring Beavis and Butt-head doing what they did best: Watching TV, busting out the air guitar, and getting into madcap mischief. It eventually caught the attention of MTV and led to four years of animated mayhem, and even an actual movie in 1996. (Heck, they're even bringing bck the dirty duo later this year). The success of Beavis and Butt-head eventually paved the way for shows like South Park, Family Guy, and pretty much most of Adult Swim's lineup.

Don Herztfeldt
Known For:
Billy's Balloon, Rejected, Lily and Jim
Short Film: Ah, L'Amour
Whoda stick figure animation would look so good? Back in 1996, Spike and Mike included this short from a twentysomething film student and animator from Southern California. It had a lo-fi look, an acoustic guitar soundtrack, and a simple message: love sucks. Herztfeldt would go on to create some incredibly hilarious cartoons, including the outrageously funny Genre, the infinitely quotable and Oscar-nominated Rejected, and the fantastic Lily and Jim. While multi-million dollar corporations have ripped off his style, Herztfeldt himself has never sold out. Bravo.

Craig McCracken
Known For:
The Powerpuff Girls, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
Short Film: No Neck Joe

Long before he gave the world Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles, Craig McCracken created another cutesy and disproportionate hero in No Neck Joe, which he dreamt up during his freshman year at CalArts. As his name implies, the protagonist lacks a neck and is relentlessly taunted by a pair of bullies who laugh at his misfortune. A staple of the Sick and Twisted Festival for years, audiences would often shout along with the announcer at the start of each short, screaming out the phrase "NOOOOO NECKKK JOOOOE!"

Nick Park
Known For:
Wallace and Gromit
Short Film: Creature Comforts

Renowned claymation animator (or claymator, if you will) Nick Park debuted his Oscar-winning short Creature Comforts for American audiences through Spike and Mike's festival. Utilizing "man on the street" interviews with residents from his native England, Park created a dazzling and funny look at the lives of zoo animals.

John Lasseter
Known For:
Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Cars
Short Film: Tin Toy
One of the founders of Pixar, John Lasseter has helped revolutionize animation over the past two decades, starting with his student films like Lady and the Lamp and such early works as this award-winning CGI throwback, all of which were screened by Spike and Mike. He wasn't the only Pixar regular who was thrusted to glory by the festival, as the early efforts of both Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Pete Docter (Monsters Inc.) were viewed by the public.

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation will screen at Film Bar, 815 North Second Street, from Thursday, March 24, until Wednesday, April 6. Click here for screening times and details.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.