For this staff spotlight, I wanted to feature a Milwaukee Youth Arts Center staff member who is active in the Milwaukee art world. Harry Loeffler-Bell is our Operations Assistant, as well as an author, musician, and actor.
When I was little I went through phases of thinking I was going to be a scientist, without really knowing what that meant. And I still have some interests in that realm of that universe. The first thing I remember wanting to be when I grew up was wanting to be a professional draw-er. Of course not knowing what that was.
That’s another thing that made me pursue actually getting a job here. Because when I was growing up, playing trumpet was a huge part of my life. So for a while I thought that’s what I was going to do, to play trumpet professionally. Which I ended up not doing, and that’s ok. Because that led into other stuff. I play trumpet, guitar, ukulele, I can fake my way through piano sometimes.
Here’s the thing, I think a lot of kids should know that it’s really easy to self-publish. Amazon has a service, Google has a service. With Amazon you can submit in a PDF version, submit a picture for the cover image, and they have a print on demand service. Billy in Space, and Ned, are both on Kindle and Amazon, so you can get a hard copy or a soft copy. Doing that is really easy, all you have to do is actually write the book—you finish whatever your story is, then you go through editing which is in my opinion harder than writing it, then you just upload that file, and bam—it’s available for people to purchase.
Once the second one is done I’ll spend a lot of time sending it around to publishers. So when you finish your book you have two options, you can either go straight to self-publishing it, or you can do along the route of sending out the book to a billion different publishers and seeing who maybe wants to pick it up. So I might try that.
There’s a children’s book, The Orangest Ninja: Ned, that was the first thing I did. Then there’s a novel, called Billy in Space, and I’m working on a sequel to Billy in Space right now. That’s been taking forever, but that’s what I’m working on.
The children’s book I wrote about four years ago. I just got the idea—I wanted to do a children’s book written in haikus and I thought it’d be fun to do it about a ninja. And I had this cute doodle of a ninja that I’d come up with, so I just decided ‘Alright, self-publishing is a thing, so why not do it?’ So I did it. And then the novel came about, that started as a video game idea actually. But the video game idea was getting too complicated so I kind of just wanted to tell the story.
I took the story, the core concepts, I was working on and turned it into the basis of the book. That was finished around two years ago. The sequel is going slow. The first one, half of the ideas were already formed because I was working on it as a game first. So this one, it’s same universe, same main characters and everything, but I hadn’t had all of my ideas forming in my head through other things, so it’s been taking twice as long.
Billy in Space is very much if you took the movie Alien and made it a comedy. It’s got a similar tone to something like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That was the first book I ever read that I laughed out loud to.
One of the other things that I work on is animation. I’ve done a music video for some of my music, but not a lot. But a friend of mine who I go and play shows with, he’s this really cool folk musician named D.B. Rouse. I became friends with him right after college. Right after college it was pursuing life as an actor, pursuing goals as a musician, then writer, and now I’m doing all of this at once.
He asked if I wanted to do a music video for him, because he’d seen the one I did for myself. And since then I think I’ve done 5 or 6 music videos for him. All animated stuff.
Yeah, the animation is pretty much self-taught. It started because I wanted to make animated shorts, which I did, but if there’s a story you want to tell, and that’s the best medium to do it, it’s just a matter of sitting down and going ‘Ok so how does this program work?’ It’s not hard, it’s just like any other skill; you just have to take the time to learn how to use it.
I went to Marquette, and studied theater there. I started with a focus on acting, throughout college I did some writing, but it was all plays. I wrote a one act musical, and there was another story about a kid and the monster that lived under his bed. It was fun. I was proud of both of them. I used the theater group, Marquette University Player's Society to do those plays.
Definitely, my theater training is helping me now. I think that’s why someplace like MYAC is important, because there’s a lot of stuff that you learn in theater training that is useful for other stuff. Specifically relating acting training to writing a novel. I think one of my strengths is characters and dialogue, because that’s what you really learn to do as an actor—learning to make characters and dialogue sound believable. So those skills easily transfer over. They’re just two different types of storytelling, so a lot of stuff transfers.