Of Calendars and Kings: Avalanche Publishing and the Fractal Universe Calendar

An out of date villain?

And he’s not even joking.

[Cover seen at Comic Coverage.]

i can’t believe this is still an issue.

–Michael Faber, comment on wedreamincolor

If if [sic] means anything to anybody, the contract between the Publisher and Editor will not be changed.
–Panny Brawley, FUC Editor, comment on Ken Childress’ blog, 3-16-08

I feel your pain, Michael. I, too, would enjoy writing on more exciting and expansive subjects than…calendars. But, come the New Year, as anyone can see, the Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) will be engaging in business as usual. As long as this enterprise continues to hold its annual contest in the manner it currently does, then Orbit Trap will just have to continue pointing out FUC’s lack of professionalism and apparent preferential treatment.

And, really, am I the one talking about it? The one paragraph mention of FUC I made in my last post resulted in:
1) a short story length defense from 2009 FUC editor Keith Mackay.
2) a novel length repetitive screed from anti-OT blogger and Avalanche Publishing apparent spokesperson Ken Childress.
3) multiple comments from the individuals above and other FUC-loving parties.

There’s really no point in re-addressing recycled objections in detail. The fact that these folks have an agenda and a stake in preserving the status quo should be obvious to any reasonable person. Besides, a review of OT’s archive will illustrate that Tim and I have already returned every volley. No need to beat a dead (sea)horse.

Instead, here’s a nutshell capsule of how to redo the FUC and run it professionally. Try these iterations, and we’ll be happy to move on to other issues.

Stop All the Secrecy

Any contest worth its salt will be completely transparent in its operation. The FUC is shut tight. The editor (Brawley) and the publisher (Avalanche Publishing) have yet to answer a single question to any of the multiple inquiries Orbit Trap has made. Why should any of the following information remain under wraps? Who are the final judges? Don’t the contestants even have a right to know who is passing judgment on them? How many additional images can editors submit to the final cut? What are the names of all past editors? What percentage of works selected for all past calendars was art by either a current or past editor? How many selections from past calendars were directly solicited by Avalanche Publishing and were not chosen from the competition — and what are the names of those solicited? What safeguards are in place to prevent conflicts of interests — like editors screening in their friends, or current/former students, or even themselves? Why are signatures allowed on submitted images rather than using blind judging protocols? And why are you hiding from such questions?

Pay Your Editors Properly

You know. With money. Not by including their own work. This is bad form from the start. No one is arguing the editors don’t work hard or shouldn’t be paid. So fork over the cash, Avalanche Publishing — but keep your initial round judges out of the competition they are screening. Such a process raises inherent risks of conflict of interest. No one should have a free pass if you are running a legitimate contest — least of all someone doing the judging. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest also needs to learn this same lesson.

Pick a Format and Stick to It

Are you running a contest or not? You seem to be. You ask for open submissions, screen out applicants, create a pool of finalists, and pick the winning selections from among the finalists using a panel. That sounds like a contest. Oh. But wait. You also reserve the right to ask for submissions directly from artists. That sounds more like an invitational process of direct solicitation. If I was a contestant, I’d be annoyed that all artists are not created equal here. Apparently, there’s an elite, royal class than can bypass the competition by being given a key to the back door. Why are you doing this? Is it to make the FUC contest/invitational appear to be completely juried (and thus more prestigious) when it actually isn’t? This is a trick the BMFAC picked up and led to its exhibition becoming half comprised of its own judges. Knock it off. Please. Pick one or the other. Either run a professional contest using standard protocols. Or solicit all submissions directly from fractal artists.

The Numbers Add Up to Preferential Treatment

Stop insulting our intelligence. By OT’s calculations, just over 40% of the images appearing in the Fractal Universe Calendar from 2004-2008 were the work of just four people — all former or current editors. That’s quite a coincidence for an unbiased selection process. Something’s wrong. Fix it. Stop letting the editors in. Or stop soliciting from the same people (like Linda Allison) year after year. Or, preferably, both.

And that’s it. No more having your cake and eating it, too. Do these simple, conventional things, and I will stop worrying and gladly move on to other kinder, gentler topics. And, most importantly, Michael’s belief system will be fully restored.


Hey, kids. Did you know that Orbit Trap posts are now available in high-definition on Blu-Ray? Order* yours today and see what you’ve been missing. Deleted scenes. Making of Orbit Trap documentaries. Fuzzy webcam bootlegs of Tim and me planning a fractal apocalypse while laughing maniacally. Blooper reel (gems like “Welcome back to Obituary Trip and — oh shi — can we take that again?). All this and so much more with OT HD. In fact, here’s an exclusive sneak peek at the deleted scenes from today’s post that had to be cut due to time constraints. Roll it:

The Crush That Crushes

Wedreamincolor contributor and phone book image advocate, Dzeni, made the following remarks on both Childress’ and Mackay’s blog:

As for OT, they are like a bad train smash. Can’t look at it, can’t look away either. They have flamed me often enough that I suspect Terry has a crush on me and has not yet worked through it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it :)

Happily married. Sorry. Not that my first requirement for a soul mate wouldn’t be obsessive-compulsive vote-spamming.

Break Out the OT Black Ops

Somebody finally makes some cogent comments over at Childress’ blog like

Maybe it is your obvious hatred for that blog [Orbit Trap] that causes you to argue more emotionally than logically.

and former heckler WelshWench immediately senses a rat and says in her best Secret Agent voice:

I smell a sock puppet.

Yes, of course. It couldn’t possibly be that a person would thoughtfully disagree with someone of Childress’ rhetorical skills. It has to be a conspiracy theory. For the sake of deflating the espionage, I suggest Childress simply check his stats. I’m sure he knows when either of us at OT drop in. And, besides, why would I bother to bury a comment there when I can put it in a post here (like I’m doing now) and reach twenty times the audience?

I Smell a Guest Post in Our Future

Here’s Childress warming up to my style found in a passage I penned last post:

I guess it must take a professional writer to come up with such a nauseating sentence of the magnitude of that last one. My young daughters can write better than that.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing I, too, would prefer their writing to his.

Remedial Math for Idiots

Here’s Mackay schooling me:

Speaking of idiots, the equation 400+200=600 is too complicated for Terry Wright.


I have two images in the 2009 calendar. One is on the cover. The publisher pays an extra $200 for cover images, so that is $200 for one image plus $200 for the other one plus $200 for one of those images to be on the cover. That’s 200+200+200=600, or (200+200)+200=600, or 400+200=600. I’m not sure that Wright has the brain power to comprehend this complex math so if he has access to a first grader he might ask him for help.

Maybe Childress’ daughters could tutor me? And, actually, the equation I’d like you, as the 2009 editor, to solve and then explain is why 40% of the FUC images from 2004-2008 were culled from just four past or present editors. Get back to me when you’ve worked out a satisfactory answer to that particular problem.

Speaking of the Either/Or Fallacy

Hi. Keith Mackay’s phone here. Keith can’t answer because he has zero bars on this blog. That means he never got the call to think twice about making this statement:

The publisher always has the final say. A conflict of interest cannot and does not happen. By agreement between the editor and publisher, the publisher is required to include one image from the editor in the final cut. That’s how the editor is paid. The editors do not decide which of their own images are to be included in the final cut. Terry Wright is full of crap on this one and anyone who buys into his conflict of interest/self jury theory is an idiot.

Being an idiot, let me spell it out slowly for Keith. Paying. An. Editor. In. This. Manner. Creates. A. Conflict. Of. Interest. Screeners or editors here are indeed judges. They are judging the first round and determining what the final judges (whoever they are) will see and choose. A judge’s work should not be mixed with contestants’ entries that he or she has judged. And, in the case of FUC, judges have a state of affairs where multiple images of theirs (like Mackay in 2009) can somehow be included. The judges are obviously still in the pool even after their compensation has been factored. How does such a double bonus occur unless additional, uncompensated work by the judges is included among the finalists?

Want to avoid such conflicts of interest? Pay your judges but keep them out of the winner’s circle.

Run That Sucker Like a Business

Childress, again, apparently acting, again, as spokesperson for Avalanche Publishing:

But, if you are striving to make a living, then you have to appeal to your market. That may be altering what you really want to do. But, that is what any business that wants to succeed must do.

The context here is considering one’s audience, but the subtext cuts both ways. Childress has argued before that Avalanche Publishing (or any business) has the right to do whatever they want to succeed. And if what they do looks and smells wrong, then we’ve argued OT and others have every right to ask questions and expect answers. Childress forgets OT has an audience, too. And it’s more interested in fair fractal contests than numbers of calendars shipped.

It seems the publishers have also not considered OT’s audience. Here’s a little run-it-like-a-business brainstorming for Avalanche Publishing. Google yourself. Go ahead. Try it. We did. Here’s what we saw. Let’s make a list and check it twice (as of this post):
1. Avalanche Publishing home page.
2. Amazon site featuring Avalanche Publishing products.
3. MSN Shopping site for Avalanche Publishing.
4. Orbit Trap.

Your heuristic results may vary. Or maybe OT will jump up a slot or two once Christmas passes. Here’s the point, Avalanche Publishing. Orbit Trap gets multiple hits daily from Google searches of your company. And what’s one of the first things those potential artists and customers read as they formulate opinions about your company and all of your products? The answer is: Orbit Trap’s accounts of your ongoing handling of the Fractal Universe Calendar. And it looks like OT’s writers will have to compose more blog posts and letters and forum comments and the like again in 2009. I don’t need an MBA to see how this situation looks on a balance sheet when you run the potential consequences through your bottom line.

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