Denis Thomopoulos Photographed and Interviewed by Debbie Zeitman
TribeLA Magazine Acrostic Interview.6 – Debbie Zeitman
Indulgence: What is your favorite indulgence? Do you cook? What is your specialty meal? What is your favorite restaurant in LA where you indulge yourself?
Getting a massage and restaurant meals are my indulgence. That can be as simple as a slice of vegan pizza. I assemble more than cook, unless I’m having people over. Then I experiment and improvise a lot. I’ve been vegan for a long time now, and while I love so many vegan restaurants, at the top of my list at the moment for a consistently innovative and excellent meal is Satdha in Santa Monica.
Special: Who or what holds a special place in your heart? How does this factor into your creative process?
Vulnerability moves me, and the mystery of the human experience. And animals hold a special place in my heart, for you can’t explain to them their suffering, so I strive to aid them whenever I can. When I first sought to donate my time to animal rescue groups via photography, I never imagined how deeply I would get involved. I find it extraordinary how vegans are ridiculed in our society as if wanting to end suffering is a position deserving to be mocked. As I result, I aim to normalize it and offer to sit with people one on one and then take them food shopping to answer their questions and to assist them in exploring going vegan.
Time: What is your all-time favorite piece of writing/art/music you’ve created?
How does one answer this? I think back on a piece of writing I did years ago that completely captured an experience I had and that flowed out of me like a song. It’s called ‘Away’ and I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, but it remains personal and meaningful to me, and reminds me to hit the road if I’m ever feeling stagnant. The unfamiliar is my comfort zone.
When friends come to LA, I strive to show them the vast diversity of the city, from neighborhood to neighborhood, but I stay away from glitzy because that doesn’t interest me. We travel to public art and areas with personality, from Venice to downtown to Echo Park…I could go on and on.
Denis’s love of characters started in his youth and art was always a part of him. “I remember my mom saying from a very young age, I was pretending to be Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse and the only way she could get me to the table was to say, ‘Ok, Bugs Bunny, come to the table and eat your carrots.’”
A Venice resident since 1998 (except for 4 years in NY), Denis has a home studio, but says, “One’s actual working space is wherever you are.” An animator, cartoonist, writer, filmmaker, musician, and voice actor, Denis is currently using his art to educate kids about the climate through a collaboration with Unicef and Project Everyone (an educational non-profit which is distributing the climate program to 1000s of educators and children around the World). Denis believes you shouldn’t dumb down issues for kids – even complicated subjects such as climate change. “It’s great to discuss concepts that might seem above a kid’s level – that’s when they ask questions and learn.”
In college Denis designed a best-selling T-shirt on campus and drew his first hippo character, Simon. But he set all that aside to seek an advanced degree in English Literature and a career in film development in England. At age 27, he saw his hippo drawing again and knew that’s what he wanted to pursue. “With characters I was able to combine all my interests and passions.” For years Denis had “a day job which afforded me time to develop the characters” and works full time now as a cartoonist through licensing and collaborating on cartoons with green organizations.
Denis has seen the changes in Venice and, while he fondly remembers “The Stroh’s Days” (a former deli on Abbot Kinney where locals met casually for breakfast), he’s not sentimental about the past, “I always believe now is the best time.”
Debbie Zeitman has photographed over 50 Venice Artists and still counting. Fifteen artist portraits and stories are hanging at Wabi Venice (1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice). Her photographic life began as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press covering primarily sports. Now her eyes drift to life’s everyday rich details, whether tiny or grand. She also spends an extraordinary amount of time trying to capture the meaningful expressions of shelter dogs and cats in an attempt to get them to safety and into permanent homes. In addition, Debbie advocates for all animals and lives a vegan lifestyle.