Saturday, 16 January 2016
Broken Telephone Review (Ryan Estrada)
A kid in an airport bathroom stall who overhears a murder. A girl in an Indian call-centre. A wanted man on the run. A riot in a prison. An American ambassador and a Russian Minister of Justice negotiating on a plane. A pair of political activists.
Ryan Estrada’s Broken Telephone interweaves its many strands into a patchwork narrative that highlights the importance of knowing which characters to focus on in a story. A riot in what I’m guessing is a South American prison leads to the wanted man escaping and making a call to Manisha, the girl in the Indian call centre who yells at him and storms out. But she returns, picks up the call from the kid in the bathroom stall who overhears the murder in the bathroom whose killer is the ex-husband of one of the political activists, one of whom’s grandson is being held by the Russian Minister of Justice.
Phewf - that’s a lotta connections! What we don’t need to see is all of these story threads in the same level of detail. The prison riot is dull and totally pointless - really only the catalyst that gets all of this going. Ditto the wanted man thing whose storyline is confusing at best, particularly once we discover his social media background.
The American ambassador/Russian Minister of Justice storyline was ok but descended quickly into a farce, like the kind of story Steve Martin might’ve done in the ‘80s. Also, the weird slapstick-y tone doesn’t fit with the seriousness of the rest of the book. The Indian call-centre part wasn’t bad either but also wasn’t very substantial. The airport assassin’s connection to the activists was completely needless - Estrada trying to make one link too many.
A different artist draws each chapter in the book but, while none of the artists really stood out to me, it’s to their credit that the reader knows throughout which characters are which even though their styles are extremely varied.
I can’t fault Broken Telephone for being ambitious in its storytelling approach but in the end the material itself wasn’t compelling enough to win me over. The message at the start - “Everyone is the hero of their own story and the villain of someone else’s” - only really came across in Manisha’s tale where we see the two sides of that first conversation open and close the book. The comic tried to do too much and in doing so achieved little. A tighter script with more focus, losing the extraneous storylines, might’ve improved Broken Telephone; as it is, it’s an uninteresting narrative experiment.