I think most readers are generally aware that any creator puts some degree of themself into their work. For those creating fictional narratives like books, movies, and comics, it’s not uncommon for the writer to write all of their characters as extensions of different aspects of themself. Sometimes that’s more evident than others, but a writer who tries writing a character in which they don’t put some of themself into is likely one that comes across as flat and uninteresting.
So it should come as no surprise that webcomic creators do this as well. In cases like Penny Arcade, Gabe and Tycho are pretty obvious analogues of creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. In other strips like Bob the Squirrel, creator Frank Page literally draws himself and his family into the strip as primary characters and the plots are frequently lifted from actual events in their lives. At the other end of the spectrum, there are comics like Hunter Black with sorceries that couldn’t possibly be pulled from real world events. But even here, you’ll find pieces of creators Justin Peniston, William Orr, and Jacob Bascle. I don’t know them well enough to say which pieces, but I guarantee they’re there.
But here’s an interesting twist I’ve been noodling with regard to webcomics specifically. With other creative works, there’s some level of removal between the creator, the work, and the audience. If you want to experience a statue, for example, you have to view it in person. You can reproduce an oil painting in a book or online, but you miss the tactile aspect of it. But webcomics are largely created on the computer, to be seen on a computer. The audience is seeing the art in pretty much exactly the same way that the creator makes it. So the creator and the reader are closer to seeing each other eye to eye than many other art forms.
Add to that that the creators and their audience must both be online. So the creator her/himself can actually be seen in the same manner and environment that their work is displayed in. Even if, like Sinfest creator Tatsuya Ishida, the creator remains almost invisible online, that still leaves an impression of themself.
All of which means that, in webcomics, readers see extensions of the creator in both their work and their online persona. That they’re both in the same environment links the two more directly than if the work (and therefore the creator) were only seen in analog. The work could be more easily separated from the creator, and they could be treated independently. But with the intimacy of the digital space, the lines between creator and creation are blurred somewhat, making what the creator do online a direct reflection of their webcomic. Similarly, their webcomic is a direct reflection of their personal online presence. The two are linked in a way that happens in few other media.
The question that arises, then, is how much of a webcomics’ readership is drawn to the work itself, and how much is drawn to the creator? Which is more significant? From a practical perspective, does it matter?