“Free rent!” says Judd Winick when asked the main reason why in 1994 he decided to compete against 30,000 eager postadolescents for a coveted place in the seven-member cast of MTV's San Francisco edition of Real World, the reality-based soap opera that lumps people together in a house for six months and films almost all their moves. While luxuriating in the ritzy digs, Winick struggled to become a syndicated cartoonist and often whined about his lame love life, but he did enjoy other perks, mainly a few life-altering friendships. He met his future fiancée, then-medical-student-now-doctor Pam Ling. He also befriended HIV-positive Miamian Pedro Zamora.
Diagnosed at age seventeen, Zamora assumed the role of educator, crusading about safe sex. At age twenty-two, shortly after his Real World experience, Zamora lay dying, but Winick filled in for his friend, hitting the lecture circuit to help continue the work he began. Once his buddy passed away, Winick devoted himself not just to enlightening teens but to keeping Zamora's memory alive.
Winick is still on his mission. He gives speeches and recently documented his relationship with his roommates and Zamora in the comic-book novel Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned, a project that took him more than two years. “It's been six years [since Real World], and very little has changed as far as our education of young people,” says Winick, countering the queries of those who wonder why he just doesn't move on with his life.
Despite what some think, Winick has had a life since his days of being filmed in the Bay Area. He wrote and drew the comic strip Frumpy the Clown, and the comic book The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius. He provided illustrations galore for the Idiot's Guide series of books. Currently he's working on DC Comics' Green Lantern. Not a bad living for a guy who only wanted to be a famous cartoonist. And to those who imply he's making money from the memory of his dead friend, a piqued Winick has a snippy reply: “Six years later? I'm not exactly cashing in. If I had wanted to cash in, I would have done it years ago! I want his [Pedro's] story back out there. I think it has resonance. People can learn from him.”