Zoom Rockman has variously been called a comic genius, the coolest kid in Britain and one of the most inspirational young people in London.
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It’s quite a burden for a 15-year-old schoolboy, and it’s all down to the eponymous comic he has been creating since the age of 8.
“The Zoom” is a laugh-out-loud funny, self-published biannual, its strips riffing liberally off pop-culture references and current affairs.
Zoom (yes, it’s his real name) has invented a detailed cast of recurring characters who gambol through a recognizable London, albeit one where giant rats mutate after consuming used fryer oil from a McDonald’s that was dumped into a storm drain.
There’s Skanky Pigeon — which Rockman also draws for the iconic British comics magazine for kids, The Beano — and outgoing London Mayor Boris Johnson. Rockman readily admits that the Conservative politician with the blond bouffant is “a very cartoony character.”
All this has made The Zoom a cult item, retailing for the not-inconsiderable sum of 5 pounds ($7.25), and its author a noted artist whose work has been displayed alongside that of David Hockney, Antony Gormley and Bridget Riley.
Is it hard to be under such pressure at such a young age?
“I don’t really think about it,” Rockman told Haaretz in an email interview, in between studying for his imminent GCSEs, the national exams that British high-school students take.
“I’m a pretty calm person. As far as expectations are concerned, I just want to continue to work hard and see where that takes me.”
So far, that’s been to South Korea, where he brought home a prize for Britain at the Bucheon International Comics Festival, and 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister David Cameron.
He’s also won a Spirit of London award (an event honoring talented young Brits). This summer, he will continue to run graphic art workshops at London literary festivals.
Perhaps unexpectedly, there’s also lots of Judaism in The Zoom.
Bagel glasses have magical powers in the strip about a zombie bakery, “The Walking Bread.” Elsewhere, Grandpa Grump — aka Hymie Cohen — becomes extra-irritable without his frozen potato latkes. His Vilnius-born great-great-great-grandmother Bobby Rockman appeared in Issue No. 8 — published when Rockman was 12 — ending up by mistake in the insalubrious English port city of Hull, instead of in New York.
Wartime beach vacation in Israel
Judaism is important to Rockman. He attends synagogue regularly and his high school is London’s Jewish Community Secondary School. This summer, like around half of the United Kingdom’s Jewish 16-year-olds, he will visit Israel with a Jewish youth movement — in his case, BBYO, the former B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
It will be his second visit to the Jewish state.
“I went to Israel with my family at the height of the 2014 Gaza war — we were there for three weeks,” he said. “It was our first ever beach holiday abroad.”
His teachers at JCoSS, an innovative nondenominational school that opened in 2010 in north London, are highly supportive of his artistic ambitions and even help carve out time in his schedule so he can work on the comic.
Nonetheless, he gave up art classes there two years ago to focus on more interesting subjects like computing and science. He is too modest to say so, but one senses there probably wasn’t much more they could teach him.
In the most recent edition of The Zoom, he appears in a cameo role as himself, giving a talk on comic art to an audience at a gritty London school.
He is bombarded with questions: Is Zoom your real name? Are you posh? Do you make lots of money? I bet you live in a big house.
It’s funny, but one gets the impression that Rockman is a little tired of the label of coolest kid in London. His parents run a furniture shop, he lives with them and his younger brother in an apartment in suburban north London and is keen to stress that he’s an ordinary teenager, albeit one who watches an awful lot of television series boxed sets.
Rockman’s influences are clear. In addition to the “House of Cards” parody “House of Cardboard,” starring former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, there’s “Homeschool,” a parody of “Homeland” set in JCoSS. It features one Nathan Broskey, who claims to have been hiding in a broom closet for the past eight months. High drama ensues amid fears he is wearing a stink-bomb vest to accept a “High Achieving Mensch” award from the headmaster.
“Actually, I really enjoyed the Israeli show that ‘Homeland’ was based on, ‘Hatufim’ — I’m hoping there’s going to be another series,” Rockman said. “Usually I like to mix up the stories with what’s going on in my own world... in my latest comic there’s a story about Tony Soprano opening a pizza takeaway on the parade of shops I live above.”
In the same issue, No. 11, “Breaking Bad” character Jess Pinkman pops up in a strip set in a kebab shop on the same block, as does Special Agent Dale Cooper from David Lynch’s 1990s cult series “Twin Peaks.” And in a strip called “Ghandi Theft Auto” in No. 10, nonviolent resistance changes the ethos of the popular series of computer games it’s based on, “Grand Theft Auto.”
Although The Zoom is only available in a handful of stores in London, there are several hundred copies of each issue — complete with lapel pins, giveaways and hand-drawn advertisements for local shops.
Rockman hopes eventually to write and direct ads, TV and movies, but for now feels a deep affinity with the world of satire and cartooning.
Last year he attended the only U.K. screening of “Cartoonists, Foot Soldiers of Democracy” (“Caricaturistes, Fantassins de la democratie”), a 2014 French documentary that followed 12 cartoonists from around the world, including Tel Aviv, the West Bank, Moscow, New York, Caracas and Paris.
“It was really fascinating and showed that artists can play an important role in reporting world politics,” Rockman said.
The attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 affected him deeply.
“I was shocked. It was weird to see the cartoon community being part of the main news in such a terrible way. I didn’t know the people from Charlie Hebdo but I knew a lot of the cartoonists who were asked to comment.”
Rockman bought a copy of the next issue of Charlie Hebdo from his local newsagent, in solidarity with the magazine — not that he necessarily agreed with its content, he said.
“I think there’s a big difference between free speech and hate speech. What Charlie Hebdo was doing was offensive to everyone but I don’t class it as hate and obviously nobody deserved to die.”