Matt and Lauren Johnson own and manage ZaPow! in Asheville, NC. Matt’s background is in video and audio production, while Lauren worked for 10 years as a professional designer and illustrator. ZaPow! is the Southeast’s only gallery and workspace dedicated to illustration, narrative, and pop culture. The studio also offers artists publishing and promotion assistance.
Q. First of all, what inspired you to start a gallery and work space devoted to illustration, narrative, and pop culture?
Both Lauren and I have a geek and nerd streak that runs deep. Lauren is also a fabulous illustrator with a B.F.A. in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.F.A. from Goddard College. After Lauren was laid off from her job as an art director for a small software company, we decided to follow our dream of owning our own business, and ZaPow was born.
Q. Is Asheville an ideal location, or have you experienced more difficulty than you expected?
Asheville is the PERFECT location for a gallery like ZaPow. The art scene in this town is well established, but there really is nothing like our gallery anywhere else in the Southeast, let alone Asheville. We are certainly not “just another gallery.” Asheville has a thriving yet under-represented illustration, pop culture, and geek community and the gallery has been extremely well received by tourists and locals alike. In fact, we are well ahead of our own business plan.
Q. You’re set up a little differently than typical gallery, and it looks like you do more direct work with artists, too. Tell us a little about how you’re set up and the marketing and publication support you offer.
We like to think of ourselves as a brick and mortar convention. Think Comic Con year round. Just like at a convention, we sell artist prints, merchandise featuring original illustrations, hip artist-made toys and books. We have a big secret that we will be announcing in January… We can’t give away too much, but there are a lot of exciting things coming to ZaPow in February.
Q. Do you plan on doing something awesome for/in conjunction with Asheville’s Fanaticon in 2012?
Absolutely. We have attended the last two Fanaticons with a group of friends and have had a blast. We don’t have specifics to announce yet, but stay tuned for exciting details to come. Fanaticon is a great event for Asheville and I see it only growing larger and more amazing in the years to come.
Q. What is an average day like at ZaPow?
It really depends on the day. During the week, Lauren is busy signing artists, working on the books, sending press releases, hanging art for out-of-town artists, following up with artist emails, designing promotional materials, helping customers, selling art, and working on our web site. On the weekends, I can be found behind the counter talking to all the tourists and locals who drop in, fixing what needs to be fixed or producing promotional videos for our artists and clients.
Q. What was your favorite Halloween costume?
Matt: Next Halloween, I want to begin designing and building an authentic Ghostbusters costume. I mean, come on…it’s the Ghostbusters! It may take a few years, but hope to get it just right.
Lauren: As a kid my fave costume was when I dressed up like one of the revelers from the Masquerade Ball from Phantom of the Opera. I had a big, long green tafeta dress and a fancy feather mask. I used to make my My Little Ponies lip sync to the Phantom of the Opera. I have been an art dork my whole life.
Q. If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you say?
Matt: I would love to meet Gene Roddenberry. The man was an amazing storyteller and so far ahead of his time. I love the positive future he sees for humanity. Though he envisions many missteps along the way, he foretells a bright future where humanity has learned from its mistakes and put most of it’s petty disagreements behind it.
Lauren: Up until a few weeks ago I would have chosen Tim Burton, Joss Whedon, Emily Gravett, Gris Grimly, or Neil Gaiman. However, I recently met one of my heroes (it was none of the above) and it was profoundly disappointing. Now I kind of see the wisdom of the old adage “Never meet your heroes.” So, I really now don’t want to meet any of them. I’ll just enjoy their art and writing.
Q. What is in your Netflix/DVD/CD/Mp3 player right now?
Matt: Hulu+ and Netflix: Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Flying Wild Alaska, Mythbusters, Dr. Who, Psych, The Daily Show, The Walking Dead, Mad Men. iPod: Cold War Kids, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Fitz and the Tantrums, Fleetwood Mac. Foster the People, the Kooks and The Naked and the Famous.
Lauren: Hulu+ and Netflix: Castle, Bones, Buffy, Mongrels (naughty puppets from Britain), GRIMM!, New Girl. iPod: Gorillaz, Lady Gaga, The Killers, The Cure, The Ting Tings, Anoushka Shankar, and the Harry Potter soundtracks.
Q. Anything else you want to talk about that I failed to mention?
Nope. You covered everything that we can release…for now. Stay tuned – we have some big plans for ZaPow! with lots of cool announcements in the coming months.[Update: Matt and Lauren have recently announced the “Lusty Ladies and Zombies Art Opening and Party.” For more information on the party, click here.]