It’s been a couple years since I last reviewed the epic fantasy comic Nahast. Part of this lies with the fairly slow update schedule; at one update a week (and several breaks due to real-life concerns), Alejandro Melchor can only show us so much of the story. Add in the fact Melchor is focusing not only on the storyline, but taking time to develop the characters themselves, and it would seem an impossible undertaking. With this in mind, Melchor has created a fascinating mixture of graphic storytelling for the primary story-arc, and prose story inserts to tell the stories of the young women who are a part of his epic tale.
Perhaps one of the greatest limitations of the graphic venue for storytelling lies with the time it takes to tell a story. While it is claimed a picture can tell a thousand words, the truth is that each panel of a comic can comprise brief moments of the whole. What can be summed up in a thousand words may take a dozen drawn panels to visualize, lest the story become confusing and readers left without an idea of what is going on. Likewise, moments of dialogue, a significant aspect of any webcomic, can be summed up in but a few paragraphs of text, but must be spread out through multiple panels so to avoid crowding out the art.
Mind you, effective use of drawn panels, avoiding the worse abuses of Copy-and-Paste, can bring considerable life to a scene; what would be reduced to a few short paragraphs of text in prose can be transformed into something artistic and presenting a greater story and level of detail that prose alone cannot provide. Despite this, prose can often be the fastest method of telling a story and often will take less time than drawing out the scene (at least until the artist has to rewrite the dialogue to fit into the panels he drew).
Melchor is not the first cartoonist to try and combine prose and graphic storytelling. I myself dabbled with it back in 2002 when I tried relaunching the Tangents Keenspace site with the intent of creating illustrated stories (as I find it much easier to write than draw), and Elf Life has bounced into prose on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, when readers are used to graphic storytelling, shifting to a purely prose or an illustrated prose format tends to be less than successful and risks losing readers. Nor is writing regularly an easy habit… and add in illustrating the story and you risk having intermittent updates which can drive even more readers away.
Nahast has taken a different approach with the use of prose with his graphic storytelling in that the prose supplements the ongoing comic. This is in some ways akin to the background details found in some comics (the detailed background setting for the comics Malakhim and in Alpha Shade comes to mind), but rather than limit himself to fleshing out the background of the comic and on background details, Melchor expands on the main cast and on their stories. Indeed, these secondary stories not only help fill in pertinent backgrounds on the cast, it also is used to tell parts of the story where graphic storytelling would take entirely too long.
With the conclusion of the latest chapter in Nahast concerning the half-elf Niriko and her heritage, another prose segment has been added to the mix. Much like previous prose story segments, it is not essential to read this section. But doing so helps fill in details on what happened after the battle over Niriko, and what happened to Niriko’s mother, Deeta, once the chapter ended. In doing so, the story also explains a little bit of what brought a mother to try so desperately to harm her daughter… and a glimpse into what may yet come in the future for both mother and daughter.
My only regret is that there were no illustrations provided for this story segment; a couple one-panel images would have not only broken up the wall of text that accompanies any story online (which is also one of the reasons why I include graphics with my reviews) but would have also helped link the tale with the storyline which just concluded. It is this mixture of graphic storytelling and prose inserts that allows Nahast continue at a good pace, without sacrificing detail or characterization.