Sam Ombiri on Noel Freibert’s Old Ground!
Sam Ombiri here: What’s so special about comics? If someone asked me that, I’d point directly to Old Ground by Noel Freibert. Among my vague, imaginary mental list of favorite comics right now, Old Ground is up there; seriously. Everything seems to be in place in the book, and for me it couldn’t be more perfect. This is a comic that can’t be described in a way that would do it justice, as lazy as I might sound in saying that. Some scenes cause me to laugh a certain kind of laughter. It’s kind of a nervous laughter, but not necessarily out of being too frightened or weirded out to respond “properly”.
It feels like Noel draws the way he does so he can simultaneously restrict himself, and through that free himself to go to certain places with his comics that wouldn’t be accessible to him (or anyone else for that matter) otherwise.
This might be what accounts of my nervous laughter – some of the gags presented perhaps lack of a point of reference. The comic is a real shock to the system because the drawings and the story are virtuosic. The comic is simultaneously cute, frightening, menacing, intensely dramatic, intensely goofy, and so on and so on. Somehow Noel made all these shifts register really well, and every moment resonates with the moment before, surprisingly harmoniously for such a chaotic book. He lingers in moments so that the events can properly register. He isn’t in any rush to show us his cooler-looking drawings. I say this because a lot of times comics fall flat for me in their refusal to be comics. The drawings might be labored over, but the sequence of events or images have no pulse whatsoever, so to speak. Not so with Old Ground, not by a long shot.
When the comic is focused on the two people buried in the grave, it goes on and on because it needs to, and then as the comic progresses Noel uses this established rhythm of the two people in the grave, and plays with it. He doesn’t just play with it – he confronts it. This comic doesn’t feel like Noel did it at a distance, with vague suggestions that aren’t a part of him. At least that was the feeling I was getting from reading the book. Noel is committed to displaying this vague feeling he has and pursuing it to the end (or no end). That’s what makes it such a compelling read – and the results are evident there in the book.
In the story, one of the corpses in the grave claims to be 5, and the other claims to be 8 (but I suppose if they’ve been able to talk for as many years as they’ve been buried, maybe they’re even older). As one of the corpses – called Silver Spoon – put it, the worms maybe have eaten Cliffie’s (the other corpse) memory. The way Silver Spoon says it seems to be alluding to this only happening to Cliffie. The age seems to be more connected with the age when they died than the length of time they’ve been thinking. Although at the end of the story even this is questionable.
What would they be thinking about? How frogs were believed to be able to consume evil spirits, and how this means they can eat anything? They talk about how they’re dead and what that means to them. Silver Spoon suggests that Cliffie’s parents deserved to die in the fire in which they perished (for no reason whatsoever!)
Meanwhile, we’re also entertained by two wacky people whose goal is to demolish the graveyard. One is called Renaldo and is a very likeable character. I felt bad with how he was kind of forced into this situation by his boss, who is such a hilarious character. The story at a certain point turns into Silver Spoon trying to convince Cliffie that Renaldo and his boss aren’t his parents.
The interaction between the corpses reminded me of Jim Bored’s adventures in Powr Mastrs 3. The way the characters’ imaginations take shape, which is symbolically realized through each of the books’ creators’ efforts (Noel for Old Ground and CF for Powr Mastrs), are of the same nature. The pacing of it is based off of boredom, so it’s a good excuse for imagination to suddenly take vivid shapes.
I mean, there’s also a good amount of differences, like how it’s a dialogue in Old Ground, as opposed to a monologue in Powr Mastrs, or how instead of someone who is still alive but forgetting, it’s two dead people remembering (albeit not with much luck). I guess Jim Bored is also about remembering, but I think what Noel was saying with the comic partly is: dead people are not only forgotten by others – they’re also forgotten by themselves. So their goal of remembering is quite different from what Jim Bored’s goal was (which seemed to be self preservation and survival).
If you haven’t read Old Ground it’s probably in your best interest to do so. The ending of the story is an especially good one, with so many great moments leading up to it. The characters are excellent, and the sequences have done more than just simply blow me away; they’ve really astounded me. The lines Noel draws really bend to his mysterious whims. The drawings suggest they’re based off of simplicity, but it’s a trick. When I begin reading the comic I’m lured in and at the same time Noel is bent on driving me through this story, which has these sudden bursts of hyperkinetic movements.
When motion is conveyed it’s a real marvel to read. – Sam Ombiri
Read more about Old Ground (Koyama Press, 2017) HERE, and get a copy of the comic HERE.
Collected from the thousands of pages of material that Frank has left scattered all over the digital landscape, these 4 PDF collections contain Frank’s best writing on comics and comics making from the past decade. Theory and process, reviews and discoveries, journeys both physical and spiritual.
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Joanie and Jordie – 2-14-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio