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The Sequential Artists Workshop Taught Me How to Love My Art

By Dominique Weldon

Writer and writing instructor Dominique Weldon examines what pushed her out of the art world and how the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) helped her reclaim her artistic identity.

As a writing instructor at a local university, I often provide my students with in-class journaling prompts to help them develop their writing skills so they have time for self-reflection, something we should all do more often throughout our busy lives. Recently, I asked my students to write about their childhood dream job and to consider if they’re still chasing that dream. After journaling about their old dreams, some of my students shared how they had once longed to be an author, a pilot, and an ornithologist, careers full of passion and wonder. As we journey throughout life, we often give up on those dreams for more practical opportunities, and I told my students how I’d also done something similar. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to be a graphic novelist, but I too was steered away from that initial dream.


Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t currently have a dream job, for I long to be a full-time novelist. To many, this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, I’ve been writing fiction since childhood and also had interest in publishing that fiction. However, I always assumed that the first book I’d publish would be a graphic novel. That’s because one of my earliest passions was art, and I kindled that development by studying how-to-draw guides, reading manga, and taking drawing and ceramics classes at a local art center. By building my artistic skills during elementary, I was able to fill notebook after notebook with my own graphic novels, creating stories with power-wielding protagonists embarking on epic quests. By immersing myself into these worlds, I could forget that I lived in a small, rural town in Iowa, that my family required government assistance to survive, and that I had a single parent, unlike most of my middle-class classmates. By creating graphic novels, I could escape from my life and find a sense of control and joy—at least until I reached Junior High.

Before reaching Junior High, my peers rarely belittled my art. Instead, I was surrounded by friends who complemented the cartoon characters I drew in my notebooks’ margins and art teachers who praised my assignments. Their encouragement was necessary for my development as a young artist, especially since I suffered from low self-confidence and anxiety as a child. I hoped those around me would continue to support my art once I entered Junior High; however, I was introduced to people who were more athletic, attractive, and artistic than I was. The little confidence I gained during Elementary School gave me the strength to believe in my art, but not for long. That’s because my love for graphic novels was dismantled after a friend gathered their peers to collectively tell me that my art was worse than theirs. We were having an art contest because it was argued that only one person could be considered “the artist” in Junior High, and on that day, I learned that that title didn’t belong to me. While I, like most other people, have dealt with a fair share of criticisms in my life, few moments were more impactful than that day. Never again would I develop my graphic novel skills because every time I picked up a pencil, I heard those other students’ voices in my ear telling me my art was less than my friend’s work, that my work didn’t matter if it wasn’t the best.

Instead of focusing on my art, I dove deeper into the world of creative writing, specifically fiction. During the remainder of Junior High, I wrote novels and continued to develop my skills into high school, undergrad, and grad school, as well. Aside from perhaps one instructor during my graduate studies, my peers and friends were highly supportive of my writing abilities. I don’t say this to imply that I am tremendously talented at writing. In fact, I still have much to learn about the craft of fiction. However, I’ve gained enough foundational skills to continue writing, even after receiving negative feedback, something I was never able to accomplish with my art.

Still, over the years, my love for art and graphic novels never waned. On Instagram, I’ve followed artists I find inspirational, including @yoaihime, @bunbbyart, and @azume215. I’ve read many graphic novels and manga, and I discovered many new favorite creators, including Lynda Barry, Nick Drnaso, and Shuzo Oshimi. I’ve also attended readings where graphic novelists discussed their writing practice and shared advice to inspire audience members.

Lynda Barry was one of those authors. She presented at the university I teach at, and happened to also sign books. Of course, I needed Lynda Barry to sign my books, leaving me no choice but to get in line. When I eventually provided Lynda my sticky note with my handwritten name, she beamed at me and said that my unique handwriting surely meant that I was an artist too. To this day, I hold Lynda’s kind words close, yet even after that interaction, I remained distant from the art world like an outsider looking through a fogged window, unaware my own hot breath clouded the glass. Time and time again, my heart attempted to pull me back to art, yet I remained distant, all because I remembered the experiences that I had in Junior High — that I somehow wasn’t enough. That’s why I remained solely in the world of literature, where I was safe for over fifteen years, but that all changed when I was introduced to SAW.

Of course, I want to give credit where credit is due, for I did not discover SAW on my own. As I previously mentioned, I continued to read graphic novelists, and a writer I recently discovered was Kelcey Ervick, author of The Keeper, a book centering on the history of women’s soccer and the author’s personal experiences with the sport. I listened to her present at the 2023 Midwest Writers Workshop, where she shared how while she studied literature and published books of prose, she still felt a pull towards art. That’s why she started taking her interest in art seriously, and began publishing comics. As I listened to her speak, I realized that I saw myself in her and that I needed to make a change in my own life. I decided to implement some of Ervick’s artistic habits, the first being to draw a picture every day and the second to take classes the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW).

Before listening to Kelcey Ervick presentation, I had never heard of SAW before. After a bit of research, I discovered SAW was non-profit based in Gainsville, Florida. They offered a comic certificate program, a wide variety of comic classes, and most importantly, at least to me, free weekly workshops known as Friday Night Comics. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a single-parent, lower-income household. Such poverty is hard to rise above, even to this day. After all, I don’t have parents to help cover my rent or student loan bill, and I definitely don’t have extra funds to afford comic classes. Therefore, I was truly thankful that I could check out a Friday workshop without digging into deeper debt.

Although, if I’m being honest, it took, me months before I gained the courage to attend one of SAW’s free Friday workshops. I wasn’t sure if I could handle failing at art, something I care about so deeply. I eventually decided that since the classes were online, I could just turn off my Zoom camera and hide behind a black screen to feel more comfortable. Therefore, on a September evening in 2023, I logged into class to see the Executive Director, Tom Hart, and the guest instructor, Eli Nixson, reviewing Zoom’s tech and preparing for the class. Meanwhile, I remained silent and buzzed with nerves until the class began at 7pm. At the top of the hour, over seventy virtual people were by my side, dozens of them introducing themselves in chat.

Photo: Dominique Weldon

Eli also introduced themselves to the room by sharing their background and interests, which included comics about horseshoe crabs and puppeteering. The lesson began with a quick warmup, and we needed to gather materials to start drawing. I quickly picked up that each weekly workshop had a different focus depending on the rotating guest lecture. As for Eli, they wanted us to focus on non-human characters. We drew mammals, birds, insects, and plants, all to distance ourselves from the “norm” of human characters. Immediately, I was out of my comfort zone, for my previous drawing experiences centered around people, not animals. Still, I gave it a try, and we ended up making up creating two comics with our non-human characters. While I didn’t create anything suburb, my work made me laugh, meaning it was a solid attempt. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to publish this comic. What mattered was that for the first time in years, I was making art, and I was surrounded by others doing the same, others who were open, friendly, and brave as they shared their comics with the virtual room. I immediately knew I was going to return to this weekly workshop.

Photo: Dominique Weldon

Since that first class, I’ve attended over twenty more Friday Night Comics Workshops. After that initial weekly workshop with Eli Nixson, I’ve been introduced to several new contemporary creators, have learned how to approach comics in a variety of ways, and now I am far more confident with my art. My skills haven’t significantly improved, but I’ve finally added space in my schedule for a consistent art practice. The more I’ve normalized Friday Night Comics, the more I want to create, and the more I slowly yet steadily improve. That’s why I’m incredibly grateful for those kind artists out there, artists like Kelcey Ervick, Tom Hart, and the others at Friday Night Comics. While creators need to be pushed and critiqued to grow, we also need to make sure our creativity has a safe space too. Friday Night Comics has been that place for me, and maybe it can be for you too.

As I reflect on my life, I wish my art hadn’t been criticized by my Junior High peers. I wish that myself, my students, and all of you reading never were pushed away from what we love, whatever that is. I wish for so many things; however, I will never get that time back. While that time is lost, we still have today, so let’s pick up those dreams that we once had because our true, authentic selves demand nothing less.


About the Writer:

Dominique Weldon is a Black biracial writer based in Indianapolis, IN. She is a first-generation college graduate of the University of Iowa and received her MFA in Fiction from Butler University. Her work appears in Lover’s Eye Press and DarkWinter Literary Magazine. Currently, she reads fiction for Split Lip Magazine and writes for Erato Magazine. Find her online at

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