Cover Story: Superfriends

Graphic novel draws upon the real world of friendship and survival

Sep 7, 2000 at 2:06 pm

"This is the true story of seven strangers ... " For nine seasons, those words have echoed through the heads of many a MTV fanatic as they watched the heartfelt hystrionics of The Real World. But one question oft remained year after year: How much of The Real World is "real"? For cartoonist and former castmate Judd Winick, who shared a house with AIDS-stricken Pedro Zamora in San Francisco on season three, there was never any question.

As he writes in his graphic novel, Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned, "But I believe anyone who has watched The Real World, San Francisco, would agree that our experience was very genuine. Very honest ... and yes, very real." In one page, Winick acknowledges his critics, and reveals what his time on Lombard Street meant to him.

Of course, there is no mention of potential criticism that Winick has crafted a comic book. A long-time cartoonist and currently scripting for DC's Green Lantern comic book series, Winick embraces his strengths as a dedication to his friend.

And it's that friendship that Winick quickly taps into by not engaging in extended prose.

His illustrations, for those who watched The Real World, are like snapshots. For those not familiar with the tale, Winick's puts a face on his and Pedro's story.

But Pedro and Me goes above the simplistic artistry that Winick employs. He has a deft hand at storytelling. Using flashbacks, he begins his story in a cab ride on his way to see his sick friend, segueing into both his and Pedro's vastly different upbringings.

Pedro, a Cuban refugee forced to leave siblings behind for a better life in America, found more tragedy in Florida. At 13, his mother died of skin cancer. At 17, Pedro tested positive for HIV.

Meanwhile, Winick thought he had it rough, growing up with supportive parents on Long Island and being forced to attend school. He found solace in his art, and was proud of his liberal mindedness. But late in 1993, Winick suffered a crisis in conscious as he was faced with the prospect of living with someone who was HIV-positive.

By revealing his initial thoughts, ("Jesus H. Christ. I'm going to be living with someone who has AIDS.") Winick shows more about himself than was revealed on The Real World. There was also much more to Pedro than was ever depicted, such as his bouts with night sweats.

Despite such a rare venue for a non-fiction work, Winick is careful to be as realistic as possible. He shares statistics without becoming preachy. He fills his story with laughter and tears. He never assumes that his audience knows the story.

Even though Winick uses his season on The Real World as a catapult to tell his story, he never comes across as someone trying to capitalize on his celebritydom. He simply wants to remember his friend, and in turn wants others to remember Pedro as well. Winick found Pedro's friendship a gift, and with Pedro and Me he gives that gift to others. ©