Wearing a t-shirt under a waterproof jacket, army trousers and sports shoes. True to himself, in his clothes as in life, Zerocalcare's eyes shine more brightly than the slightly sad half-moons that he pictures himself with in the cartoons.
He sits down and zips up, despite the prevailing warmth in the capital, rather like an armadillo - his favourite animal - closes up its armour to defend itself from the outside world.
He has left his native Rebibbia, the only neighbourhood where he can see himself, to come to Rome’s temple of contemporary art.
Here, between the curved outline designed by Zaha Hadid, is the location of his first personal show, Digging Ditches – Feeding Crocodiles, organised with Minimondi Eventi.
A show at MAXXI, and you are not even 35. That really is something …
It is huge. For my mother it is as if I had been awarded a degree.
And what do your friends say about it?
They are not overawed by impressive achievements. And actually it only encourages them to joke around even more. Just think, they once wrote that I was dead on my Wikipedia page.
How do feel about all this attention?
I feel that I am teetering on the brink, always close to falling, at the limit of getting myself sectioned.
And yet, you continue to show your face in the comic strips …
Yes, but there I am the puppeteer. Even though they are autobiographical stories, I can always choose to what extent I expose myself.
The name Digging Ditches – Feeding Crocodiles suggests a separation with the outside world. Why?
It talks about raising walls to protect one’s emotional sphere. Even the armadillo, my conscience on paper, has armour and often closes in on itself. The issue of misanthropy is a semantic area that means a lot to me, and is also the unifying theme of a lot of the work on display.
So an intimate show, then?
The picture boards from the books and the blog are an expression of a story that is mine alone. But there are also posters, fliers and boards thought up with other people, where the collective aspect of my output emerges.
You have put together an ad hoc project for the exhibition. What can you tell us about it?
It is an 18-metre long drawing, with a heart barricaded into the middle and a series of characters surrounding it, and besieging it.
Do you feel hunted?
The biggest drain on my energy is trying to keep a balance between external pressures so as to not betray my identity. I am trying to not get too far away from what I had always felt it was right to become.
Your comic strips reflect a generation. Do you realise you are nearly an idol?
I do not feel as if I am a spokesman for anything. I describe what I feel. But clearly many people feel the same way.
Banksy added a shredder to his Girl with Balloon before it was auctioned. Would you ever do that with your comic strips?
I do not have a fetishist affection to my work. But nor would I set about destroying it in a spectacular fashion. My stuff is all piled up in a draw, and when it spills out I throw it all away. But I am not an artist. I just draw stories and people read them.
Steve McCurry's photographs in Florence
The Icons exhibition, until 16 September at Villa Bardini, presents 100 photographs covering the 40-years' career of the American artist
Paul Klee and the origins of art
On show at the MUDEC in Milan until 3 March are 100 works by the expressionist painter that reveal his relationship with primitivism