There are any number of ways to encourage reader engagement with a webcomic. Being active on social media or within a webcomic’s own message board are two of the more obvious ways to do that. That a webcomic have reader engagement isn’t necessarily critical, but it does help quite a bit. After all, an engaged reader is more likely to be committed to the work, is more likely to champion it to others, and more likely to contribute financially in one form or another. So, at a high level, having ongoing interactions with a webcomics’ readership makes a lot of sense.

One method that I don’t see very frequently, but has come up in a few comics last month was the use of guest appearances. Basically, drawing and/or writing the audience directly into the comic. This can allow a reader to feel more connected to the characters and the story since they now become part of it, even if only in a small way.

For several years, Ryan Sohmer has held a contest shortly before Valentine’s Day asking his Least I Could Do readers which character they would want to go on a date with for the holiday. His favorite entry gets drawn into the strip for several days, and actually has a date with the character they were interested in. This year, Diana Davis won a date with Julie’s father, Wild Bill. Sohmer has actually used this as a springboard for some additional character development for Julie.

David Davis took another approach recently, by just asking his Twitter following. Although he initially framed it by asking specifically if other creators would like to see their characters show up in his strip, some people asked to just appear as themselves. Over the last several updates of Cosmic Dash, any number of extras can be seen walking around in the background and a few have even garnered speaking roles. Davis has been adding notes with each strip, commenting on which characters beyond his regular cast are appearing.

A side benefit, for artists who still work on pen and paper, is that any of the people who make cameos in a strip probably have a higher than average likelihood of buying the additional art to that page. So even if the story isn’t particularly special or noteworthy in other respects, the fact that their name and/or likeness appears is a great incentive to obtain the original art. (I’ll admit that I have purchased artwork specifically because I showed up in the work.)

Like any other endeavor with a webcomic, none of this should be taken up cynically. People have become very astute at identifying authenticity, and they have little time for creators who aren’t. But if the creators are genuinely interested in reaching their audience and want to do something special for their more passionate readers, dropping in some guest appearances of their own readers is a great way to make them feel more special and included as part of the characters’ world.