In Annelli Furmark’s Red Winter, love is something that doesn’t merely exist in a vacuum shared by two people, but subtly adjusts the course of everyone even on the outskirts of the emotion. The pair in love are unlikely for many reasons, but most scandalously because Siv is married with children. The book starts with Siv’s perspective, but shifts from person to person and allows us to see just how much a behind-closed-doors affair can affect the world beyond those doors.
While many comic books involving tense political climates announce it clearly, or feature the political climate as the meaning for the book, Red Winter’s 1970’s Sweden, following the fall of the social-democratic party, isn’t so much important on its own, but in the way that it affects our protagonist, secondary to the romantic emotional tether of the book. Books like Art Spiegelman’s infamous Maus or Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less grapple with the way politics affect our lives in a very head-on way––the central tension of these books is parsing through a problematic history, and using politics as a lens on love, and other emotions. Furmark has strayed from that route, and uses love as a means to view politics, commenting on almost exclusively the ways that a political affiliation problematizes a relationship between two people. When the Swedish political climate affects our protagonists, it is because they have different associations––Siv’s a social democrat, and Ulrik’s a communist. It means the two can’t be together, but it’s not exactly the only thing that makes it essential for the two to repel rather than attract each other when in public.
Siv’s daughter Marita is in the know about the affair––at least as in the know as a child can be without being told. In Marita’s first chapter, she is home alone, a product of her mother being out with Ulrik, and finds her mother’s diary which documents her emotional escapades with her lover. Her brother, Peter, is given signs––her mother’s midday disappearance, for instance, but doesn’t seem to care. He’d much rather be home just with his younger sister so that he can blast his music, anyway. Peter is given some of the tools to suspect something’s up, but remains in the dark. His chosen blindness is comforting to see on the page when that is what a kid’s understanding of parental infidelity most often resembles in the real world.
Marita is isolated in her intrigue for her mother’s affair and Furmark skillfully represents this in her drawings. When Marita first appears, she is enveloped by trees, and almost completely camouflaged, perhaps a representation of how sneaky and subtle she is in her observation of her mother. Furmark’s sparse color palette is used to demonstrate the characters positioning throughout the book. Siv and Ulrik blend into the background at the beginning of the graphic novel, as blue and gray as the nighttime landscape they are a part of, yet as other people’s knowledge of the affair becomes more of a concern, Siv appears with a bright pink sweater, and Ulrik without a red sweater when all of his fellow communists are wearing red.
While Siv’s main affair-induced concern is her children, Ulrik is worried what his communist cohort will think, if given the chance to find out. Regardless of who the relationship’s outsiders are–-the children, or the fellow communists––the perception of the relationship from the outside is far different than the view from the inside. In such a starkly political time, a political group becomes family, and betraying that family by associating with another is just as dramatic as it is for Siv to be betraying her children and husband.
Only a few pages in, Red Winter leads its reader to the conclusion that no love affair is impenetrable, and the following pages only strengthen that belief. Whether it be ruined by a snooped upon diary, or a nosy roommate, Anneli Furmark strongly posits that no love can last in secret for very long, especially not in a time when those of differing political affiliations are closely observed.