Twenty-five years ago, future cartoonist, writer, penciller, inker, and letterer Judd Winick was among a group of seven strangers tasked with showcasing what happens “when people stop being polite, and start getting real.” But how did Winick go from falling in love on The Real World to earning success in the comic world?  

Winick was born on February 12, 1970 and grew up in Dix Hills, New York. As a child, Winick was big on superhero comics, but after reading Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, he became captivated by graphic novels. In 2015, Winick revealed that he rereads the Eisner Award-winning novel every year. Bloom County: Loose Tails by Berke Breathed also heavily influenced Winick’s future style. In an effort to emulate his cartoonist heroes, Winick attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbors School of Art. During this time, his comic strip “Nuts and Bolts,” began running in the school’s newspaper. The university later published a small print-run collection of his strips entitled Watching the Spin-Cycle: The Nuts & Bolts Collection. Shortly thereafter, Universal Press Syndicate offered Winick a development contract for his comic strip. Sadly by 1993, UPS decided not to renew Winick’s strip for syndication. Nickelodeon later expressed interest in developing Nuts & Bolts, but this too was short-lived. 

Hoping for a career boost, Winick applied to be on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. The show began filming on February 12, 1994, and marked the first day that Winick met his castmate and now-wife Pamela Ling. In a tweet celebrating the anniversary of the day they met, Winick wrote: “On my birthday – 25 years ago today – I met Pam Ling. It was on the very 1st day of filming Real World 3, San Francisco. This first pic is Pam walking up the stairs into the Real World house and about 5 seconds away from my life changing forever.” The Real World alums chose to pursue their relationship outside of the house, moving to Los Angeles together after the season ended. Winick later proposed to Ling, while wearing a gorilla suit, with a cartoon he made for the occasion and after she accepted, summoned three singing Elvises. The pair was married in 2001 and as of 2008, they have two children – a son and a daughter. 

While filming The Real World, Winick became close friends with fellow classmate and and AIDS educator Pedro Zamora, who passed away in 1994. He later released the graphic novel chronicling their friendship, Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned in 2000. It was nominated for an Eisner Award, awarded six American Library Association awards and a GLAAD award. The novel was also praised by creators such as Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Armistead Maupin. Winick also designed illustrations for The Complete Idiots Guide to... series of books, of which he did over 300 of them. Venturing into comic books, Winick drew for Frumpy the Clown and Road Trip in Oni Press’ anthology series, Oni Double Feature. He followed this with The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, a miniseries about a cynical whiz kid for Image Comics. This series spawned two subsequent miniseries, The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius 2.0, and The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius: Monkey Tales, published by Oni Press. 

After transitioning over to DC Comics, Winick was praised for writing stories that explored gay or AIDS-oriented themes. Along with introducing Green Lantern’s assistant Terry Berg as gay, Winick later revealed that Green Arrows young ward, Mia Dearden, was HIV-positive. Eventually, Winick had Dearden take on the identity of Speedy, making her the most prominent HIV-positive superhero to star in an ongoing comic book. Winick’s work on Green Lantern earned him two more GLAAD awards.  

Additional comic credits for Winick include Blood & Water, Batman, The Outsiders, Marvels Exiles, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, The Trials Of Shazam!, Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, Green Arrow and Black Canary, Teen Titans East, Justice League: Generation Lost, Power Girl, Catwoman, and Batwing. Outside of comics, Winick created the animated TV show named The Life and Times of Juniper Lee for Cartoon Network, wrote the screenplay for Batman: Under the Red Hood, and served as head writer on Hulu’s The Awesomes.

Returning to his true passion, Winick created the all-ages, original graphic novel called Hilo. He was inspired to write this novel after his then 7-year-old asked to read his work and Winick realized he didn’t have anything age appropriate. The full color series, follows a small town boy named D.J. whose life is forever changed when a mysterious boy named Hilo falls from the sky. Hilo then takes D.J. and his friend Gina on adventures that include robots, aliens and a quest to save the world. The first two volumes of the Hilo series, Hilo, the Boy Who Crashed to Earth and Hilo, Saving the Whole Wide World, are New York Times bestsellers.  

Between breaking comic boundaries to earning his place on the New York Times bestseller list, the award-winning cartoonist has come a long way since walking into the Real World house all those years ago.