Zoom Rockman, writer, illustrator and publisher of his own award-winning comic The Zoom!, says he's been drawing ever since he can remember. Which might sound like a long time, if not for the fact that Londoner Zoom is only 11 years old. In March 2009, when he was eight, he started to collect vintage, pre-2000 back issues of The Beano. He now has hundreds, he says; his favourite characters are Dennis the Menace and Roger the Dodger.
Zoom comes from creative stock – his parents, Kate and Mark, are furniture designers – and, not long after he began his Beano collection, he was inspired to emulate the historic title with a strip of his own. His first character was Crasher, a naughty boy with a penchant for vandalism. "He's based on Dennis the Menace," Zoom explains. "I made him really stupid, and I wanted him to get worse with every issue: naughtier and naughtier. So in The Zoom! issue five he goes looting in the London riots, and ends up stealing some nappies." Zoom is proud of having included such topical subject-matter. "It seems more professional," he says.
And Zoom is nothing if not professional. A few months after inventing Crasher, he realised that he had more than enough material for a whole issue of his own comic. The Zoom!'s first edition was launched in November 2009, when he was nine. Nowadays he plans his stories after school, and then draws them on Saturdays and Sundays, producing one strip per week, and printing a new issue of The Zoom! every six months. Detailed, witty, exuberant and packed with larger-than-life characters, it will soon reach its seventh edition.
The Zoom! is stocked at Rajco, the newsagent below Zoom's flat in north London; at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, where he hosted the first issue's launch party; at the Artwords bookshop in Shoreditch; at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury, and at Gosh! Comics in Soho, one of the capital's top comic shops, and where I meet Zoom one evening. He is quietly spoken, nattily dressed. Which is worse, I ask, as the photographer makes him pose with a copy of issue six: being interviewed, or having your photo taken? "Probably having my photo taken," he replies. "My nan always takes loads of photos of me. So does my mum."
Zoom ought to be accustomed to all the attention by now. He's already been interviewed by the BBC, and photographed by Nick Knight for i-D magazine. He received a letter of encouragement from his local MP, Lynne Featherstone, and a letter of thanks from one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, written after he dedicated The Zoom! issue six to the Diamond Jubilee. He has mingled with his Beano heroes at comics events, and been tweeted about by leading comics artist and illustrator Luke Pearson: "I've discovered the future of comics," Pearson wrote. "It's name is Zoom Rockman and we don't stand a chance."
In August 2011, after its organisers spotted an article about him in The Hampstead & Highgate Express, Zoom was invited to represent Britain in the children's competition at the Bucheon International Comics Festival in South Korea, where he won an International Kids Cartoonist award – and an invitation to the 2012 festival, which he's taking up this month. He met other young enthusiasts, swapped comics, and learnt a little about Korean comics culture: "The Asian children draw all their comics on a computer," he says. "I was the only European last year, but I think they've invited a few more of us now."
Earlier this year, at the Band Dessinée & Comics Passion Festival at London's Institut Français, he won the Best Story prize for a spoof strip from issue five: 'Planet of the Ace', a re-telling of Planet of the Apes, featuring his eight-year-old brother, Ace. Zoom was presented with £100-worth of drawing materials, which he now uses to draw The Zoom!. As the issues progress and Zoom gets older, it's clear that he's developing his technique: refining the characters and storylines, enriching the artwork.
Early issues of The Zoom! are now collectors' items. Zoom prints 250 copies of each edition, paid for by his dad, Mark, who gets a 40 per cent cut of any profits. And they aren't available solely at stockists like Gosh!; Zoom also sells them direct to his friends at school. Recently, for issues five and six, he has raised The Zoom!'s cover price from 99p to £1.99. "I put more colour on the front and made it bigger," he says, by way of explanation. Previously A5, the past two issues have been A4. "Also," he adds shrewdly, "I wasn't making that much money."
His commercial instincts are sharp. Each issue of The Zoom! contains advertisements, with artwork by Zoom. There's always a nod to Rajco Food & Wine, for example – to keep his leading stockist sweet. And he's drawn a series of arresting ads for George's Fish and Chips, a takeaway on his street. Often, they include a cut-out voucher – for free salt with your chips, for instance, or a free extra chip.
A lot of the characters are based on people Zoom knows. He's particularly pleased with Grumpa Grouch, a curmudgeonly pensioner inspired by one of his mother's friend's grandfather. The Nutters, a class of mischievious schoolchildren who owe a lot to The Beano's Bash Street Kids, might also, he admits reluctantly, owe something to his schoolfriends. A handful of strips feature dogs, most of whom share traits with Zoom's own Yorkshire terrier, Rocky Rockman.
Zoom's little brother, Ace, first appeared as a character in issue three, demanding new toys. "My first drawing of Ace was meant as an insult, because I drew him with a massive mouth. But I sort of changed my mind after a while. He wasn't that happy about it at first, but now he's accepted that it's quite good that he's appeared."
Watching films is Zoom's other main hobby, and when he grows up, he says, he'd like to be a film director. But he's already inspiring other, younger children to be comics artists when they grow up. He has taught cartoon workshops, and in June he appeared at the children's Pop-Up Festival of Stories in London.
Meanwhile, at school, Ace and his class were recently asked to draw pictures of their heroes. Kate, Ace and Zoom's mum, keeps a photo saved on her cameraphone of the picture that Ace handed in. It's a portrait of Zoom. "My hero is my brother, Zoom Rockman," reads the caption, "because he inspires me to draw."