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A Cartoonist Documents Irene Down on the Farm

State of the Arts



Burlington generally was spared the destructiveness of Tropical Storm Irene last year, save some wet basements and downed trees. But for farmers in the city’s Intervale, it was a very different experience. The low-lying plain along the Winooski River flooded, quickly and dramatically. The roiling water rendered crops inedible at the peak of harvest season, destroyed some structures and traumatized the humans and animals who endured the storm. For many growers, the financial loss was devastating; some thought long and hard about whether to return this year, to move their enterprises elsewhere or to give up farming altogether.

Burlington farmer (at the Intervale Community Farm) and cartoonist Iona Woolmington, 27, has captured the events of August 28, 2011, in what she calls a “mini-comic” titled simply “Irene.” The 11-by-4.5-inch booklet is the first of what will be a three-part series, perhaps eventually published together as a graphic novella. Woolmington’s first installment is about the day the storm, and the flood, arrived in the Intervale. It depicts the heavy rain on the window, then workers surging to their farms to rescue equipment, crops and animals — a pig-rescue operation provides some levity in the story — and the cartoonist’s despondence after the day is done. At the end, Woolmington’s boyfriend, Pitchfork Farm owner Rob Rock, shows up at her apartment to say, “It’s over, Iona — season’s done.”

Woolmington, who’s from North Bennington, Vt., says she’ll spend the winter drawing and inking the rest of the story. While publication of the first “chapter” is credited to the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction — where she took a workshop this summer — the cartoonist says she’s applying for a grant from the Vermont Arts Council in hopes of paying for the rest of the project. It’s expensive, she says, to produce a color comic book and make enough copies to sell. So far, Woolmington notes, she is presenting the comic as it evolves on her Facebook page. A website is in the works.

Creating a comic book, or graphic novella, is time consuming, too, Woolmington says. But, after the growing season, time is something she’ll have plenty of; her wintertime job is caretaking an isolated cabin in the White Mountains for the Appalachian Mountain Club. There’s only enough solar-powered electricity, she says, to turn on the lights. Forget running a computer program — she draws by hand.

Future plans for her cartooning? Woolmington says she might consider getting a master’s at CCS. But mostly she would “like to keep on in the same vein.” That is, making comics, applying for grants and “figuring out how to do this.”

“Irene” by Iona Woolmington. For more info, visit facebook.com/ionafoxcomics.