A Graphic Documentary of Tropical Storm Irene


Today marks the fifth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene striking the state of Vermont. Like most people around here, I remember August 28, 2011 beginning as a beautiful, clear Vermont morning and turning uglier as the day progressed. Although large swaths of the state experienced little more than a solid – if not overly threatening – tropical storm, many other parts of Vermont were devastated by resultant flooding. Most of Chittenden county, where I live, got through it with minimal impact, but in other parts of the state, in towns such as Rochester, Wilmington, Mendon and others, the storm did extensive and horrific damage.

Map of Burlilngton's Interval

Map of Burlington’s Intervale from Iona Fox’s “Irene.”

In Chittenden county one site that did suffer intensely was Burlington’s Intervale, a 900 acre 1  flood plain 2 bounded in part by the Winooski river in the city of Burlington, VT. The Intervale has been used in a variety of ways going all the way back to the native Abenaki, and currently it houses many small organic farms, homeless encampments, the non-profit Intervale Center, and probably its most famous occupant, Gardener’s Supply. Down in the Intervale (as we say around here) rain from the storm caused the Winooski to rise rapidly above its banks, flooding the farms, destroying crops, and damaging buildings and equipment.

In the weeks following the storm the staff at my day job began to organize a response, so at the time I was thinking a lot about documenting experiences of the storm and the recovery, as well as paying attention to other activities directed toward the same end. Somewhere in there I came across Iona Fox’s little comic, Irene.


From Iona Fox’s “Irene.”

Although I had already been thinking casually about comics and ethnography – and more broadly, the use of comics as a documentary medium, Iona’s work was one of two important things to serve as a real catalyst for refining my thought and getting my ass in gear. 3

Iona is an artist/farmer and graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. Iona completed Irene prior to attending CCS, and in regard to it and her other comics work up to that point, Iona says:

I did lots of short comics beforehand but they were mostly written in terrible academic jibberish – just another 20-something saying “take me seriously, world!” Irene was the first comic I just wrote for my friends, and, surprise! the first comic that was actually fun to make.4

At the time of the storm Iona was working with her partner at Pitchfork Farm, and Irene presents the experience of the storm from the perspectives of the Intervale farmers themselves – Iona included.

I was really excited to see a local cartoonist documenting local experience, and I immediately fell in love with Iona’s drawing style, storytelling, and her treatment of the events. I’ll dedicate a future post to exploring Irene in detail – with Iona’s input.

And so, with the anniversary of the storm on my mind, let me point you all toward Iona Fox’s Irene.

From Iona Fox's "Irene."

From Iona Fox’s “Irene.”

  1. “Birding at Burlington’s Intervale and the Ethan Allen Homestead.” http://www.greenmountainaudubon.org/index.php/birding-hotspots/burlington-intervale. Last viewed on 2016-08-25.
  2. Gaetani, Maree. “Our Backyard: The Intervale Gardener’s Supply founders transform a misused piece of land.” http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/intervale/5446.html?SC=XNET9475. Last viewed on 2016-08-25.
  3. For the interested, the other was the El viaje mas caro / Most Costly Journey project I became involved with a few years later. You can see Iona’s contribution to El viaje here.
  4. Fox, Iona. 2016. Personal correspondence with author. 2016-08-28

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