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Webcomic / Broken Telephone

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Broken Telephone is a webcomic written by Ryan Estrada and illustrated by 18 artist teams. Due to the complexity of the plot, it took Estrada seven years to write the script.

The story begins with a woman in a call center in India who overhears a murder during a customer service call. After that it gets a little bit complicated...

The story is sort of a "Rashomon"-Style exploration of six events that happen simultaneously, yet all affect each other. Unlike Rashomon itself, the actual events which occur are clearly known; what is different is everybody's interpretations of these events. For example, Rick Rogers, the American ambassador to East Rhutan, is trying to get the East Rhutanian government to release a number of Americans they're keeping prisoner. To this end, he's been trying to befriend the East Rhutan Minister of Justice, Krushik, by going to parties with him and buying him lots of drinks. However, other characters in the story believe that Rogers isn't doing his job, he's just going to lots of parties and having fun. Other characters' motives are similarly misinterpreted, leading to a pile-up of misunderstandings that spirals hideously out of control.

There are no true good guys or bad guys in this story. Or, more to the point, there are six good guys and six bad guys... but they're the same six people.

Read it here.

The podcast Big Data is set in the same universe starring some of the same characters.

This series provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Aru. Which is kind of at odds with his job as a prison guard.
  • All There in the Manual: Some of the characters' names can only be found in the author's notes.
  • Anachronic Order / Simultaneous Arcs: The chapters are not arranged in linear sequence, and many of them cover the same time periods as other chapters.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Emel's left arm is blown off by a poorly made gun. Lao's right arm is bitten by a shark and is eventually amputated.
  • Art Shift: A deliberate choice in having eighteen art teams illustrate the comic
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: What everyone thinks Rick Rogers is like. He gives a speech on how he was ultimately powerless over the situation in East Rhutan and the "parties" he attended were actually him trying to get the Minister of Justice to release everyone.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Rick Rogers' reveals his job was this in a speech, and how he was ultimately powerless in the entire situation of American citizens being imprisoned by the East Rhutan government, while everyone just assumed he could have snapped his fingers and freed everyone. He couldn't get them transferred to America because what they did was not a crime due to the First Amendment, nor could he even recommend a lawyer, so they all picked the lawyer with a Western-sounding name who bungled their cases. He wasn't even able to see them in prison without approval by a low ranking guard. Too bad the guy recording it uploaded it as a Vine so only the first six seconds were seen.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Gecko. Her name comes from abandoning her partners at the last minute so they take the blame and she gets off scott free. Emel points out her schemes leave a lot of collateral damage, like setting fire to a pharmaceutical factory, which burnt down four other buildings and killed a firefighter, or freeing zoo animals, which led to a child being bitten by a lion and most of the animals, several of which were endangered, dying in a city because they couldn't survive outside their natural habitat.
  • Butt-Monkey: Rick Rogers.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Early on, Manisha tells off a rude caller who keeps shouting "I am an American", telling him to go to Hell before taking her break, something every call centre worker dreams of doing. It turns out the caller was Lao, who was being pursued by government forces and was trying to call a contact who would get him out the country. He's shot and killed just as Manisha tells him to go to Hell.
  • Cyanide Pill: The Minister of Justice takes one when Rick hints that secrets are out. An air marshall tries mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which only results in him ingesting cyanide and dying.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Emel points this out regarding Gecko's previous schemes, like setting fire to a pharmaceutical factory, which spread to four other buildings before it was contained and killed a fireman in the process, or freeing animals from a zoo, causing a boy to be bitten by a lion and most of the animals, several of which were endangered species, died in the city.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: It is implied that the current government of East Rhutan came to power this way. There's already another revolution brewing underneath them.
  • Heroic Bystander: CJ, who for most of the comic is simply known as "Little Boy", overhears some men in the restroom talking about killing people. He gets on his cell phone to report it, and later follows the men into the food court so he can keep reporting on them.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Khin.
    "My hairdresser has Google, and she printed out all your articles."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Rick Rogers finds out he's been stripped of his credentials as consular general (he was previously demoted from ambassador when East Rhutan was downgraded as a diplomatic mission and deemed to not require an ambassador) and the plane was heading back to East Rhutan, where, without his diplomatic immunity he would be arrested and interred in a military prison, he asks what happened to the drink he ordered.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Just like Die Hard 2, Rick Rogers' plane is forced to loiter around the airport when a disturbance prevents it from landing, then is ordered to fly back to East Rhutan. FAA regulations requires all aircraft fly to the next closest airport — which must grant them permission to land — if they cannot land at their original destination (and carry enough fuel to do so), and a plane would not have enough fuel to fly from a distant nation to the USA and back (even if it had the capacity, it would only be carrying enough to reach its destination and three hours beyond).
  • Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand: Even though Peter and Gerald are assassins carrying weapons, Emel (another assassin) is positive that they're noobs and therefore not a threat to him. He proves this by turning his back on them long enough to urinate (they're in a men's room).
  • Mean Boss: After Manisha overhears a murder on a customer service call, her boss forces her to take another call before attempting to report it to police. This trope is downplayed however, as he does help her mission later.
  • Meaningful Name: Gecko, named after the reptile who sacrifices its tail to escape. She ties the truck's doors shut and jumps off, so Khin is blamed for everything. Before this, she hires a man (who had been drinking) to drive behind her and distract the police, though at least she asked first and told him what he was getting himself into.
  • Mighty Whitey: Though he's not white, Lao is American and completely embodies parodies this trope. He stumbles into a third-world revolution and assumes he'll be their savior simply because he's American. He's actually surprised when he discovers that they've managed to circumvent their government's internet block without his help.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Pretty much the entire plot revolves around this.
    • Manisha tries to call the airport to report a young boy is in danger and overheard a murder, but the person on the other end immediately assumes she's calling in a bomb threat, mostly because she's in India.
    • Rick Rogers tries to bluff the East Rhutanian Minister of Justice into releasing the Americans being held prisoner, but the passenger next to him misinterprets this for threatening to blow up the plane. When he later mentions as part of a metaphor how there are still ashtrays in airplane bathrooms because the FAA realises people will still smoke on planes and it's better than them putting cigarettes out in a trash bin, someone mistakes this for threatening to set the plane on fire. He has another passenger record him explaining what his job is like, but starts it by sarcastically calling himself a Mad Bomber, but it turns out to be a Vine so only that part is uploaded.
  • Operator from India: The story opens in an Indian call center. Manisha and her coworkers work for a telephone company named Speakeasy.
  • Poor Communication Kills: As the title implies, this drives much of the plot.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Gerald looks up plastic 3D-printed guns and finds they're too flimsy to withstand more than one shot and risk blowing up when fired. Emel finds this out the hard way, costing him his left arm.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Rick Rogers, with just about everyone on the plane. The passenger next to him mistakes his bluff to get political prisoners freed for an attempted hijacking, the air marshall gives mouth-to-mouth to someone who took a Cyanide Pill and ingests the cyanide, multiple passengers give out of context information to news outlets, one passenger films his impassioned speech on what his job is really like and why he couldn't get the American citizens freed so easily... but it was a Vine so only the first six seconds, him sarcastically claiming to be a terrorist, is uploaded and seen by media.
  • Too Dumb to Live: An Air Marshall tries to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation — against a doctor's warning — on the East Rhutan Minister of Justice, who has taken a Cyanide Pill. He ends up ingesting the cyanide and dies.
  • Villain of Another Story: The description of the comic specifically points out that every major character fits this trope:
    "A globe-crossing crime story where everyone's the hero of their own story, and the villain of someone else's."
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The bonus story 'Unbroken' is one of these.