February 25, 2020

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Swede emotion

Personal, political intermingle in touching new graphic novel

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/1/2018 (759 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you thought 1970s Sweden was all ABBA, Volvos and softcore pornography, this exquisite graphic novel will ask you to think again.

Drawn from multiple perspectives, Red Winter tells the story of an illicit affair between a middle-aged married woman, Siv, and a younger man, Ulrik, against the backdrop of a northern Swedish winter.

The intimate depiction of both characters’ struggles with desire and duty is also a political narrative.

Siv is a social democrat who works for the youth wing of the Swedish labour movement, while Ulrik is an activist with the hardline SKP (Sveriges Kommunistiska Parti), a Maoist political party that demands absolute personal and political fidelity.

Ulrik has arrived from southern Sweden to help radicalize the steelworkers union, to which Siv’s husband, Börje, belongs.

For non-Swedish readers, the various political positions are clear enough in the graphic novel itself, but it still helps to have some context.

Furmark’s graphic novel is set in the late 1970s, when the 44-year reign of the social democratic party had ended, and 1976-1982 saw the rise and fall of a series of liberal-leftist coalition governments.

Parties on the far left organized actively during this period in the larger centres, and also in the small towns of the north, where Red Winter is set.

But this is just as much a love story and a family narrative, as Furmark starts with Siv and Ulrik, but then gives us chapters from the points of view of Siv’s daughter Marita, her husband Börje, her son Peter and the SKP political enforcer, Ralf.

Furmark’s delicate insights into each character’s feelings and states of mind show how the affair ripples throughout the couple’s community, making it difficult to decide who is in the right.

This is the first graphic novel by Anneli Furmark to be translated into English.

Born in 1962, Furmark grew up in Luleå, Sweden, but now lives and works in Umeå, where she moved in 1991 to study fine arts.

An award-winning painter, illustrator and cartoonist, she has published eight graphic novels in Swedish, four of which have been translated into French.

Furmark is part of the vibrant Swedish literary comics scene in which female cartoonists and feminist comics are at the fore.

A truly original and dazzling example of the power of graphic storytelling, Red Winter holds the many tensions between the personal and the political in delicate balance.

Likewise, the drawings achieve a graceful poise between foreground and background.

Furmark combines flowing black lines with watercolour, cross-hatching and shading to reproduce the exterior darkness and interior warmth of a Nordic winter.

Her attention to details such as textile patterns and household objects gives the panels depth and realism, and reminds us that the passionate affair will inevitably come back to earth.

But it is the Nordic landscape that provides the most breathtaking visuals in Red Winter.

Scenes of birch tree forests, cars driving through snow and lit up apartment blocks are both cinematic and contemplative.

Red Winter is one of the first graphic novels to join the recent Scandi invasion happening in TV and film.

It could be a companion piece to Lukas Moodyson’s satire of 1970s socialism in the film Together, while its visuals echo the poignant outdoor scenes in the vampire film Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

As with both of these films, Red Winter is ultimately about loneliness and connection on an individual and collective scale.

One of the first big graphic novels of the year, Red Winter will surely be on many readers’ best of 2018 lists in December.

Candida Rifkind teaches comics, graphic novels and Canadian literature and culture in the department of English at the University of Winnipeg.


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