I have always mistrusted the common practice in webcomics where artists include their commentary directly beneath new pages. Often reading this extra material is comparable to watching a movie or television show with the commentary track turned on… and who elects for their first viewing to include commentary? It does a (sometimes minor, sometimes major) disservice to the work when you don’t allow it to speak for itself, and I’ve seen far too many comics lean on those blocks of text to actually convey what’s going on more than the page above does. This is a dangerous trap to fall into. When a comic simply doesn’t make any sense if I ignore the commentary I usually stop reading altogether. “It’s part of the presentation,” some say. So are indexes in books, and like all supplementary materials they should never be required reading to understand what the supplemented work is saying.
What I would like to see rise in the place of piecemeal commentary on individual pages is a separate section for Creator’s Notes where an entire chapter gets mused about at once (and after its completion). I have seen the writer Kieron Gillen do this with his comic book issues and I fancy the idea of applying it to webcomics. Or maybe an audio version! There is potential there. If it’s being released once the chapter is finished then there’s also less concern on the artist’s end of tiptoeing around spoilers for the next page(s), granting an added sense of freedom because now they’ll be commenting on more than just a snapshot of the story.
There are people who contend that including commentary below the comic helps to spark dialogue with the readers, giving them a jumping-off point and offering them encouragement to themselves comment. I agree this is a valid usage and many artists utilize their commentary section just so, posting things like “Zukah sure is in trouble now, isn’t he?” or “Ten thousand imaginary Zukahnaut Points if you can guess what colour underwear Darius prefers!” or perhaps “I got a new puppy and named him Bloodweiser! Do you have a dog?” While I have no issues with this sort of thing, I don’t see why you can’t just say it in the comments section itself rather than present it with the comic like it’s part of the narrative package. If your goal is to have a conversation with your readers then it may be worth considering putting yourself down on their level rather than looming over them above a divider while directing the topic of conversation below.
Another popular usage for the artist notes is relating news. This is well and good for week-to-week happenings of a limited or urgent nature, sure, but when you’re repeating the same information over and over again why would you not just put a news section on your website? There is nothing wrong with a separate news section. Yes it will get less eyeballs on it. That’s to be expected. I don’t seek out every bit of information on most things that I otherwise enjoy very much — I just watch/read/listen to new content when it’s out, and when it’s late or I hear a rumour through Twitter or Facebook or somewhere I seek out a press release or news posting. I think it’s a safe-ish bet that anyone who would be interested in your blog or news posts will probably follow/like you on a social network or two as well. Use those channels to tease them whenever you have something to announce and then link them to the official posting if you’re worried about it not getting seen by who needs to see it.
Ultimately am I saying I wish artist commentary would vanish? No. Zukahnaut does not use one and that was our choice to make, just as whatever you elect to do is at your discretion. I would urge you to consider that there are alternatives, however, and above I have offered a few ideas for you to chew on and evaluate their taste as you will. I would be very interested to hear your own take on the best uses (or most egregious misuses) of the artist notes section in webcomics, especially if it includes an approach that I haven’t considered!