Prostitution Provocateur

With Lust to Dust, an artist finds a fresh way to explore a controversial topic— all he needed was a venue

Michael Ogilvie is making a habit out of exploring grown-up themes through comics. In 2009, the 35-year-old writer and illustrator self-published Drunk, a comic anthology that meditated on barroom and drinking culture, and the book drew plenty of attention locally and nationally.

His latest effort, Lust to Dust, follows the same blueprint as Drunk, this time focusing on prostitution in Nevada. It has an impressive collection of artists, ranging from locals (Sean Russell, Chris Bauder and Vegas Seven contributors Pj Perez and Jarret Keene) to legends (R. Crumb and Peter Bagge) to 17th-century artist and social critic William Hogarth. It is also a mixed bag of historical and metaphorical perspectives on the industry within the Silver State.

The book itself is substantial both physically and culturally: The pink hardcover encapsulates the contributions of 34 artists and writers. The cover art by Texas-based illustrator “Miggy” Aguilar sums up the topic in succinct (and hallucinogenic) fashion. In Lust’s universe, johns are revealed to be lewd beasts who aren’t the only things “prickly” out here in the desert. And courtesans are diminutive-yet-irresistible objects of desire.

Each piece in the collection elucidates the theme of life and death, both real and imagined, in Nevada’s brothels. Seen in a kaleidoscope of drawing styles, the oft-ignored subject matter gains a sort of visibility. If it can be seen and reinterpreted through so many eyes, then the marginalized characters must exist and, by consequence, must matter. For example, the work of artist Victor Moya (written by Keene) in “Celeste Shade, The Paranormal Prostitute” is quite recognizable as being in the mainstream vein of Marvel or DC Comics, while Popeye the Sailor makes repeated appearances as the muse for more than one artist, including Ogilvie. The publisher’s collaboration with Nani Laura and artist Noelle Garcia, “Drink and Always Be,” is a tale of doomed love between two sad souls that stays with the reader.

Although its tone ranges from humorous and bawdy to heartbreaking and macabre, Ogilvie has imbued the collection with an overarching sense of loss and desperation that comes from his own personal experience. Not long after Drunk was published, Ogilvie lost his job as a cultural leader at the Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, and then his house. He stayed in motels while trying to find work, eventually resorting to sleeping in his truck. “It’s those kind of circumstances that push people into those decisions where it may not be something that they want to do, but they don’t have a whole lot of options,” he says.

The experience ended up being the beginning of an impetus for Lust to Dust. “I started thinking about what my options were as a male,” Ogilvie says. “I sort of saw them as to either become a soldier or possibly a criminal.” As a joke, he even contemplated prostitution, which led him to consider what his options might be if his gender were switched. As a longtime Nevadan who grew up with an awareness of the state’s unique vice laws, Ogilvie had an optimal subject for his next project.

“My goal for any project is to just break even,” he says, “and just to do something that isn’t daft.”

He eventually found employment for a year at an arts center in Wisconsin, moved back to Nevada, was homeless for a while and then worked in snow removal—spending every free moment on the book for almost a year. Ogilvie was able to draw upon many of his contributors from Drunk, and had everything in place by the end of 2011.

Once the book was ready, Ogilvie procured bids for a limited-edition printing. “We were all set to have the books printed in China, but then the Chinese government deemed it as pornography,” he recalls. I tried to explain that it wasn’t pornography, but there were already some translation issues. They basically said it was forbidden.” Undeterred, Ogilvie secured a competing bid from Singapore for printing in Hong Kong, which, Ogilvie says is “awash in pornography.”

When the book was ready for release, Ogilvie planned an exhibit of the book’s art accompanied by a book-signing event. CSN Fine Art Museum photo exhibit manager (and Lust contributor) Christopher Tsouras obliged with an engagement through November.

The exhibit’s promotion caught the attention of a CSN economics instructor, who objected to the provocative Lust to Dust cover image (a cactus doubles as a phallus, for one thing). The complaint traveled quickly up the chain to the regents. The exhibit was allowed to continue, but a new legal question was exposed: Would Tsouras and local artist Russell (also a CSN instructor) be breaking state guidelines by deriving monetary gain from sales that occurred during the on-campus signing? In answer, both the book and book-signing were ruled out.

“For me, [the book] was the whole heart of the thing,” Ogilvie says. And after only two weeks of being on display, Ogilvie pulled down the exhibit. He had found a new space that would give him everything he wanted.

Here’s where things get a little PT Barnum. Ogilvie sent out a Nov. 9 e-mail to his artists marketing the idea that censorship of Lust to Dust didn’t end with China, claiming it had been banned at CSN. “Mark your calendars and tell your friends to come see the show that was banned in Vegas and buy the book that was banned in China!”

Friend, Lust contributor and Photo Bang Bang owner Marcos Rivera volunteered his space. The exhibit, including all 34 artists’ original works and the cover that launched a CSN instructor’s wrath, runs through December. A reception and signing featuring all of the artists took place on Nov. 30, and another event, open to the public, is scheduled for the Dec. 7 First Friday.

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