Inside 'Old Ground' by Noel Freibert
Freibert's warped graveyard tale pulls together poetic storytelling, Lovecraftian horror and a tug of war between chaos and quiet.
Old Ground begins peacefully and wordlessly as a black-and-white trek through a quiet, overgrown graveyard. Cracked and toppled gravestones enveloped by twisting thorny, flowering vines dot the landscape.. A stray dog sleeps under the shade of a gnarled tree. The quiet does not last. A wayward spirit in the shape of a frog does as he pleases, erupting out of the quiet into a senseless and delusional ruckus. 'Otto', as he's been named by one of the mysterious voices of dead children underneath the ground, generates scythes out of the void, shifts shape at will and torments the residents and visitors of Old Maple Grove.
Freibert's characters and settings take new shape and life panel to panel throughout the book. Some changes in shape and expression are vivid and intentional and others represent the chaotic motion and explosive movements of the characters moment by moment. Few characters explore such constant variation in characters but this flexibility allows Freibert's four key characters in the book to take on many different roles.
Visually, the art style of the book is truly enveloping. Chaotic segments register as stressful and some scenes and characters are so warped that they take close examination to fully understand. The sequences involving the two construction workers destroying gravestones with hammers seems simple in concept, but drawn with certain perspectives that make the hammers take a life of their own. Grimacing expressions rearrange the features of the face, the shape of the head and the body of the characters. Multi-panel sequences which feature the frog and dog quickly descend into complete mayhem with the characters blending together, coming apart, remaining separate while operating as a single unit.
Multiple narratives intersect throughout the tale. Humor, horror and melancholy drama all are represented throughout the book. Two child-like characters who inhabit side by side unmarked graves communicate in depth about who they are, why there are there and how they could possibly escape their death - their thoughts represented side by side with their words. The segments involving the construction workers are equally horror and humor as their banter is amusing although borderline psychotic.
Freibert accomplishes so much with his characters in this story, each time ones that are absent for a segment you are excited for their story to continue and see where the story takes them. The interactions between them are unpredictable at all stages. While 'beautiful' may be a strange word to describe Freibert's art style, his characters are exciting and his talent at giving them life through abstract forms of expression is an incredibly unique talent. Old Ground is a true journey from page to page.