Last month, Drawn and Quarterly published the new English translation of Swedish cartoonist Anneli Furmark's comic Red Winters. Though the book is set in 1970s Sweden, it feels newly relevant for a politically charged America in 2018.
Red Winter is the story of an affair, but it's also a political story. In the dark of winter, a wife and mother named Siv finds comfort in the arms of a young unmarried man named Ulrik. Siv is a member of the Socialist Democrats, which were at the time Sweden's longtime ruling political party. Ulrik is a communist who is part of a group that actively seeks to undo capitalism.
Their political differences don't matter to Siv and Ulrik, but they do matter to everyone else. As the community discusses Siv's infidelity, the relationship becomes a partisan football, used to question the couple's commitment to their respective causes. The communists suspect Ulrik of selling out; neighbors wonder if Siv is about to turn radical.
Of course, every affair is political. Siv and Ulrik's decisions don't only affect them. Red Winter brilliantly displays the impact of the affair on everyone in the community by continuously changing perspectives: one chapter focuses on Siv's daughter while another centers on Ulrik's nosy roommate. Siv's husband starts to realize something is wrong. Everyone is, ultimately, a partisan.
Anyone who's lived through Seattle's endlessly glum winters will find something to recognize in Furmark's gorgeous illustrations. A cold and dark winter - snowier than here, obviously - permeates every page, and Furmark's orange-and-blue color palette perfectly portrays the whipsaw winter alternation between cozy warmth and brutal frigidity. You can feel the cold of this book in your bones.
The characters, too, are instantly recognizable in just a handful of lines. Even as they strip off layers when they head indoors and swaddle themselves in protective winter clothing when they leave the house, you always know exactly who you're looking at. Furmark's biography describes her as "One of the most important comics artists in Sweden," and Red Winter is the first full-length work to be translated into English. Let's hope it's not the last.