Panceroni Toni's Zine Headquarters
Story: Ben Rubin
Media: Toni Ursić
|Diagram 1: Childhood, War, and Dinosaurs|
Rambling Preamble to the Story...
Childhood is a blur. It's a battle between constants and constant change - rules and bedtimes vs. unbridled unfocused energy. Daily life is full of big questions, lame answers from grownups, and constant distractions. For many of us, the boring adult world was blissfully kept at a safe distance by overdosing on crappy cartoons, fleeting media trends, and random holidays involving candy and plastic toys.
I think I barely survived my addiction to He-Man's deranged universe in the late '80's before becoming completely consumed by Ninja Turtles when the movies started popping out in the early '90's. As far as I was concerned, they were historical documentaries and about as real as things could get. It's strange to think that while I was going through the fads collecting Battle Trolls and GI Joes, Toni was on the other side of the world collecting trading cards of Croatian soldiers during a real war.
After a year of being a refugee and returning to his hometown of Dubrovnik - a border city which got a good taste of bombs in 1991 - Toni came down with an incurable case of dinosaur fever at age 7. In 1992, he discovered dino stickers inside packs of bubblegum at the local corner store, which he began collecting inside a notebook he entitled 'Svijet Prije Čovjeka', or 'World Before Man'. Perhaps human violence was too close to home to be entertaining anymore, but no matter the cause, Toni was hooked. When Jurassic Park came out in '93, his dino-mania became a full-blown obsession. Over the following years, his notebook would stretch into a meticulous 120 page field guide following his explorations into the world of dinosaurs.
|Diagram 2: The World of Dinosaurs|
The Most Comprehensive Dinosaur Guidebook. Ever...
To be fair, Toni's book is not without relatives within the historical context. Perhaps closest in relation are the illuminated manuscripts, like The Book of Kells and The Book of Hours, which were possessed by equally fanatical hands in an attempt to give form to something too large to fully comprehend. Akin to those masterpieces from the Dark Ages, Toni's book of dinosaurs is still spectacular even for unfortunate souls like myself who are unable to read it in it's native Croatian script. But unfortunately those books weren't about dinosaurs, or written by a 7 year old.
|Diagram 3: Stickers and Drawings|
The creativity in the book builds slowly, and stems from need. Toni's early materials - really lousy stickers of toy dinosaurs posed with dramatic lighting, just wasn't cutting the mustard. Although he found some better stickers later after Jurassic Park came out and dinosaur fever became endemic, Toni's illustrations began solely as a means to feed his insatiable hunger for dinosaurs, and educate the masses about his invaluable research. Without the internet, he was forced to fill in the gaps as best he could. When he only had half a sticker, he drew the other half doing something exciting, like eating bugs or sneaking up on unsuspecting prey. When he didn't have a sticker, he made his own; carefully labeled with matching descriptions. When he ran out of Dinosaurs, he covered the the extinction theories. After the dinosaurs became extinct, he reluctantly covered mammals - even a few obligatory pages about humans.
|Diagram 4: Puzzles and Quizzes|
But by far, the best part comes at the end, when Toni becomes desperate for a return to dinosaurs and fills pages upon pages with dinosaur puzzles and quizzes. This quickly spirals into these bizarre panoramas blending the dinosaur world with the world of people: dinosaurs playing football, writing graffiti, making snow-dinosaurs, and living on Mars in spacesuits. One of the last pages even includes an eerie reference to the war, the only one in the book, depicting a bus of kids topped with U.S. army missles following a line of fighter planes dropping bombs, but hidden all over the scene are dinosaurs lurking in the shadows (see diagram 1).
|Diagram 5: Dinomania|
Although Toni's amazing book has had few readers since it's creation, it is not without a few original fans. Apparently after it was completed, Toni had 3 friends read his guide and forced them to take a comprehensive dinosaur test covering the finer points of his exhaustive research. Only one passed his grueling test, although Toni admits that he graded on a curve and let the kid squeak through so he could add another name down as a collaborator. Years later, Toni's nephew also had a brush with dinosaur fever after reading the book, and filled the last few pages with original interpretations of Toni's works. But for the most part, the book has remained in the dark these past 22 years.
|Diagram 6: Original Interpretations|
When Toni showed me his book this summer on my visit in Zagreb, I knew I had no choice but to help spread the dinosaur gospel. Although it may have begun as a personal mission to collect information on dinosaurs, it really belongs among the world of print. In form, it's a perfect example of a fanzine; an epic DIY cut-and-paste all-you-can-eat buffet of fanatical creativity. And all these years later, Toni still loves dinosaurs. To quote the author himself, "It's fucking dinosaurs...and they're super cool. Even now, just the idea that those fuckers were roaming the earth, it's super awesome".
To get your own copy of the zine, contact Toni:
An illustrated audio interview (with typed transcript) talking with Toni about some of his favorite pages from the end of the zine "where craziness is ok".