Boys and Their Toys

Gio Toninelo is living the dream -- and his wife doesn't mind.

"But if I was going to start a photo log, it was like, ŒWhat is he doing in there?'" Toninelo recalls. "Does he have friends?" So he came up with a rough idea for a backstory centered around fictitious Mulberry Ridge Pond, which, before being abandoned, had been used by the U.S. government as the site for a nuclear laboratory. After a series of unexplained disappearances by EPA researchers and other military personnel, the Marine Corps deployed a recon unit made of soldiers and scientists to investigate. The mystery grows when they encounter ferocious turtles that have been rendered giant and flesh-hungry by leftover radioactivity.

Initial installments of the series consisted of a short narrative with one or two photographs that readers could access by clicking on a link. But as the tale continued and began generating more interest, Toninelo found himself devoting more hours to creating sets -- almost two dozen different images in episode 51 -- to go along with the increasingly complicated narrative that he writes. Jena sews much of the clothing and props that the dolls utilize, and is the site's editor.

"I'm no writer," Gio admits. "I just started writing a year ago. Getting everything to match up is hard." Not to mention the fact that the Portuguese-accented Toninelo is still learning the details of English grammar and sentence structure. But he's currently recruiting more players into the project to assist with set design and script-writing. To celebrate one year of plastic action, Toninelo is planning a Pond Patrol party on October 3 at St. Mark's, which begins at 8 p.m. and will include musical performances by Porlolo and Josh Novak, along with T-shirt screen-printing by webzine Japan Implosion.

There might even be a special appearance by Corporal John Harris himself, but Toninelo is unsure if showcasing the Corporal would be the best idea. If people saw him in person, it might break the spell. People might realize the soldier is just a plaything. And Toninelo isn't sure if he wants that.

"I want to do it seriously. I want people to identify with the characters a little because I like the characters," he says. "I want it to be funny because it's serious. That's why Pond Patrol is so great -- because it's kind of corny, but I really mean it."

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