That's What Friends Are For
Shannon Maughan -- 9/18/00
MTV's The Real World cast member Judd Winick pays tribute to a friendship that changed his life
Judd Winick is not a household name. But nearly every day people on the street recognize his face; they know him as a cast member of MTV's documentary show The Real World 3: San Francisco, which first aired in 1994 (and has been oft repeated). It was during the taping of the show that Winick met and befriended his gay, HIV-positive cast mate, AIDS activist and educator Pedro Zamora, who died of the disease later that same year. Their friendship is the inspiration behind Winick's moving graphic novel/biography, Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned, out this month from Henry Holt.
"After the show ended and after Pedro passed away [in 1994], I was continuing Pedro's [AIDS awareness] speaking tour on his behalf," Winick said. "It stretched into a year and a half. And it got so, so hard to keep reliving certain moments that I just had to put it all aside for a while." In the interim, Winick turned his attentions to his blossoming career as a professional cartoonist. "I got a comic strip syndicated, which is what I had always hoped would happen," he said. "But a year and a half into it, I found it incredibly unfulfilling. People would ask me if I would do something about AIDS or Pedro and I always said no. The idea felt very simplistic and banal at the time." But by 1997, Winick began to feel a need to tell Pedro's story and he chose to do it in the style that felt most comfortable: cartooning.
Admittedly working on a "bit of a learning curve," Winick submitted the manuscript to his agent, Jill Kneerim. "I basically told her, 'Find a publisher.' She fell in love with it and helped me punch it up." According to Winick, the book initially "met with some strange responses. Every-body loved it, but nobody wanted to publish it. They didn't want to touch a graphic novel. Jill kept plugging along and at one point I thought of self-publishing it. But after 30 publishers rejected it, we found Marc Aronson."
Winick had high praise for Aronson's approach. "Marc was very hands-off but provided lots of guidance. He helped me work on the pacing, finding a moment here, a moment there, building a true beginning, middle and end. We eventually tightened it and got the 230-page draft down to 180 pages." The result is both a heartfelt account of Winick's friendship with Zamora and also a source of frank and accurate AIDS awareness information. The addresses of various AIDS organizations are listed in the back of Pedro and Me.
Reaching an Audience
Now that the book is finally moving into the hands of readers, Winick hopes they will take away some powerful messages from it. "There are so many clichÃ©s out there about AIDS," he said. "I hope that people will see what a remarkable person Pedro was. I want them to realize that there are so many people out there like him and that this d sn't have to happen--it d sn't take that much [to prevent the spread of AIDS]."
Winick's expertise as an AIDS educator and public speaker will play a big role in his promotion of Pedro and Me. He'll be speaking at a number of bookstores and high schools across the country throughout the fall, including A Different Light bookstores in both San Francisco and New York City and the Horizons Youth Center in Chicago. On November 17, 500 inner-city school students will be among those listening to Winick at the Miami Book Fair, an event with special significance as Miami was Zamora's hometown. Winick hopes to get some coverage on MTV as well. "Mary-Ellis Burnim and Jon Murray [producers of The Real World] have been completely supportive," said Winick. "I know they still feel that putting Pedro on the show was the best thing they've ever done; they introduced him to the world."
Early response to the book has been "overwhelmingly positive," said Holt publicity manager Beth Feldman. She noted that Pedro and Me was serialized in the August 29 issue of The Advocate and will be offered by QPB, Teen People and Insight Out Book Clubs. Radio and TV interviews and Internet chats are also part of the publicity mix, and barnesandnoble.com e-mailed an essay by Winick to its teen subscribers earlier this month. In addition, vignettes that didn't make it into the book, along with other information on Winick's life and his creative projects, can be found at www.pedroandme.com.
In and around this fall's promotional engagements, Winick will continue his cartooning, a field in which he continues to make great strides. He recently began writing DC Comics' popular Green Lanterncomic books and has begun a second (as-yet-unsold) graphic novel. "It's semiautobiographical," he said with a laugh. "The protagonist is the most successful cartoonist in the world." As Pedro and Me and other projects surely indicate a bright future, Winick's past continues to generate attention, too; The Real World has been sold into syndication and San Francisco-cast episodes will begin airing on USA and other cable stations on October 2.
Volume 246 Issue 38 09/18/2000