Tuesday, March 31, 2009

review: Pedro and Me

Note: this review is of the original 2000 edition; I haven't had a chance to see the new edition. As far as I can tell, it's unchanged except for the cover and a new foreword by the author.

Pedro and Me written and illustrated by Judd Winick. Henry Holt, 2000 (0-8050-6403-6); 2009 (978-0-8050-8964-6) $16.95

I started reading this nonfiction graphic "novel" less than thrilled with the heavily detailed, semi-realistic style of the drawings, but when I got to Judd's exquisitely grumpy portrayal of himself as "an unhappy kid," I was hooked. And though there continued to be elements of the artistic style that I found unattractive, overall it is a wonderful marriage of words and pictures, just what a graphic novel should be.

Pedro and Me is the story of how Judd Winick become involved in one of the most important relationships of his life: as a cast member of MTV's "The Real World," he found himself rooming with Pedro Zamora, a gay, HIV-positive AIDS educator, who did an excellent job of educating the tense and naive Judd about the realities of living with someone with HIV. Tragically, that reality also included Pedro's death at the age of 22.

I've never seen "The Real World" so I don't have much of a sense of how "real" any of it actually felt to viewers. (Winick highlights the falseness of the situation from the insider point of view by showing his first meeting with Pam, who would later become his fiance, and then showing the same scene from a further perspective which includes three hovering cameramen.) But Pedro and Me is both joyfully and painfully real. Winick skillfully uses cartooning technique to drive home emotions, sometimes with humor, as in his nervous vision of the AIDS virus walking around on two legs saying "Mornin,'" and sometimes with extreme pathos, as in the final scene of Pedro's death, a small white box against a background of blackness. Biographies of himself and Pedro help us understand how the two of them got to that particular place in time, with an especially germane depiction of the adolescent Pedro willingly being used by older men for sex because he so desperately longed for love. Finally, Judd shows how several chance encounters with strangers helped him grieve for Pedro and understand how important Pedro's short life had been. And he amply fulfills the goal of making even people like me, who had never heard of Pedro, understand and be touched by him as well. (14 & up)

© 2009 Wendy E. Betts

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Blogger Sadako bligged...

I generally dislike graphic novels but this sounds awesome. I'll try to give it a go some time soon.

4/22/2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger web bligged...

I'm not generally fond of them either, they often seem to require more "reading" of the pictures than I'm really good at, despite having grown up with comic books.

4/22/2009 9:55 PM  

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