Back in the early '90s, MTV still occasionally showed music videos, but even then, it was hit or miss. The network hadn't yet been taken over by reality programming, but the seeds were there in one compelling show: The Real World. It was a novel idea to throw seven random young (and good looking) strangers into a house in a fabulous city and force them to "get real"...meaning live together and try to get along as best as possible.
The third season of the show, set in San Francisco, debuted in 1994. It's hard to imagine, now, after all the events of the past 16 years, that it was at all noteworthy or groundbreaking that this particular season would feature an HIV-positive young man named Pedro Zamora. But it was, and it still is. It's a testament to Pedro's heroism that his efforts in part helped us look back now, from the perch of 2010, and think that this is somehow quaint, an outdated view or prejudice. Or maybe that's giving our current world too much credit. Either way, it's definite that Pedro was one of a kind, a special guy with a rare kind of light that briefly but brightly shone on TV and through it, throughout the world.
Into that setting also came Judd Winick, an unassuming illustrator. He was always the least flashy of the group, which is perhaps one of the reasons he and Pedro got along so instantly and so well. Winick would go on to become a comic-book writer (Green Arrow, The Outsiders, Exiles, Batman, and more), but perhaps his most important work would be detailed here in Pedro & Me.
It's a sobering thought to realize just how much life Pedro missed out on when he died in his early 20s. Winick spares none of the details here, which makes it particularly hard (but real and important and honest). It's wrenching on two levels: Watching the disease take its physical toll on Pedro and its emotional toll on Judd. All of it is unflinching. Pedro deserves that, and Winick accomplishes it.
Pedro & Me succeeds as both an educational tool (Pedro had devoted his life to HIV and AIDS education, so it's a fitting extension of that work) but also as a simple memoir about two young men, one straight and one gay, becoming friends in a very unlikely spotlight. The entire experience is just as powerful now as it was back in the mid-'90s, when we all learned of the exceptional Pedro Zamora.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 12, 2012
Pedro & Me