Love and politics. What else is there? In the late 1970s in Sweden not a lot if Anneli Furmark’s fine new graphic novel Red Winter is to be believed.
It tells the story of an affair between a married mother of three, Siv, and Ulrik, a young Communist. It’s a story that looks at how desire battles with duty, how the heart and the head, the public and the private, can find themselves opposed.
Born in 1962, Anneli Furmark is one of Sweden’s leading graphic novelists and Red Winter is a fine example of her talents, with its subtle, humorous exploration of emotional and political conflict played out in her scratchy, characterful art. The colouring’s great too.
Here, Furmark talks about Sweden then and now and her love of Tove Jansson.
Anneli, where are you and what’s the weather like?
I am in Umeå in northern Sweden, my hometown since 1991. After some warm and strange winters, we've had a real one this year, with lots of snowand cold degrees. There are huge piles of snow outside my window at this moment.
Tell me a little about Red Winter. What was the original inspiration?
I grew up in Luleå, an industrial town in north Sweden (some 300 kilometres north of where I live now.) The surroundings, the characters and the political groups are all inspired from that time and place.
Are you filtering your own childhood here?
Yes, in some ways. The story is fiction, but of course I have used a lot from my own youth. I was never a part of Marxist groups but had older friends that were. I was living in a house, like the ones Siv's looking at when she takes her lonely walks. But the cold, the relationships, the people, are all a part of my childhood and youth, but made into new stories.
Obviously in the UK we think it resembled an Abba video, but what was Sweden really like in the 1970s?
I remember it as quite dark. Of course, the summers are the total opposite, light all the time, but in the wintertime the lamps were fewer and weaker! And in my hometown, the social democrat party, together with the unions, dominated the political scene. There was a social polarisation between the right and left-wing followers, almost impossible to overlook. I read somewhere that this was a time when the income gap was at its lowest, and that it's been increasing ever since. And, the winters were colder.
Is it a very different country now?
Very different. Some examples: People have more money, some of them at least. The differences between the rich and the poor are bigger. The political scene is more diverse. There are more private companies in the welfare system. There are more people from all over the world here now. In many ways the atmosphere is much more open. And of course, climate change.
You are dealing with deep emotional waters here. What is it about the comic form that allows you to dive in?
I love to draw, and I love comics because comics allows you to be serous and easy-going in the same moment. It is possible to deal with very severe emotions and heavy stuff, but the art form itself could give the work an unpretentious and light feeling. It's like it is impossible to be too serious, there will always be some kind of laugh. I think it's in the art form. It suits me.
What is your own history with comics? What did you read as a kid and what do you read now?
My first, and ever-lasting comics love affair is Tove Jansson. I love almost all of her art work, but the Moomin-comics have been my first and biggest inspiration since I first read them as a small child. I also used to read French-Belgian comics like Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke, and later a lot of 'romantic comics' whose artists are unknown for me until this day. (which is a shame, they were really inspiring.) Now I read a lot of contemporary comics like Rutu Modan, Lynda Barry, David B. I love Posy Simmonds’s work, and Joff Winterhart’s. And there are some very good Swedish comic artists too, like Liv Strömqvist and Åsa Grennvall.
What do you need the world to know?
Hmm. Times will change. Bad leaders will fall. Try to be kind.