One can't help but be a little suspicious of any enterprise which wears its taboo-breaking proclivities so squarely on its sleeve. The discerning consumer can be forgiven for asking of Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: Is it really sick? Is it genuinely twisted? These questions are not easily answered.
Not easily because this sixth annual compendium of coarse and crude cartoonery has quite a range. Some of the stuff here is less sick and twisted than cutely mean-spirited, as in the series of brief blackouts featuring No Neck Joe. A bright-eyed little boy who looks like a rancid spud, No Neck is shown in a series of situations which illustrate the pros and cons of being neckless -- e.g. giraffes may laugh at you but vampires will be foiled.
Also not quite sick nor twisted is Brian Bress' Karate Dick Boys which depicts the martial art as an explicitly phallic form of battle. True, a bunch of guys waving their hard-ons around may seem a little in-your-face -- as it were -- but the simplicity of Bress' black-on-white line drawings and the jolly pluck of his gnomelike combatants makes the whole thing seem more whimsical than gross.
Another bit which falls somewhat short of the hideous transgressions promised by the Festival's title are the early "South Park" entries, two Christmas-themed pieces where the lovable, hydrocephalic tykes are party to a fight between, first, Jesus and a killer snowman, and then Jesus and a homicidal Santa. Cynical, maybe, but not sick.
More to the sanguinary point is Cevin Soling's Boris the Dog, which relishes the mind-bending contemplation of a human body reduced to bloody lumps of flesh and protruding bone, the sight of which sends one character into a psychedelic rapture, where the line between solipsism and psychosis is mediated. Honest.
Also scoring high on the icky-poo scale are: Beyond Grandpa, with its traditionally beloved character in a series of gross vignettes; How To Get Pronged, featuring self-mutilation as aphrodisiac; and Animalistic Times, which is the claymation equivalent of a really, really bad hangover. Oddly, what should be the most scurrilous entry of the festival, a merciless spoof of the Special Olympics, falls flat. It's as though the creators were so buzzed by their boldness that they forgot to make the thing funny.
But that's a quibble. There's plenty of disgusting stuff here to counter the onslaught of holiday schmaltz, and just enough cleverness to make it all more or less palatable.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.